Is What You Are Doing What You Want to be Doing?

I remember when I was 15 years old I once went to a calligrapher and asked him to write my name on a shell. He asked if he should write my full name, and I told him to write Dr. Sharoq Almalki 🙂 and I still have that shell.

That statement arrived in my mailbox from Dr. Sharoq Almalki letting me know she had just completed the doctoral requirements for her PhD. As I read through the letter my eyes kept coming back to those two sentences. How many of us had a childhood premonition of our career and it came true?

What did you want to be?

Almalki was CHRO for a major bank here in the Middle East before going back to school to fulfil her dream. I thought back to the age of 15; I remember it well because I had just gotten my driver’s license and my career trajectory had not come into focus.

You ask any child what they want to be when they grow up and, for the most part, they give you an answer. An answer that has not been filtered by life. An answer that shows the ability to dream. An answer which could serve as the North Star in their life. Or it could be like a mirage that keeps fading away over time.

Career discovery

One of the most important issues that needs to be addressed – in high school and college — is to help young people with careers. What I find when I speak to people is that they have no clue how to figure out their life’s mission. They bounce from one idea to the next. Although a career destination is never final, the direction you take can lead to interesting insights that may take you on a detour into different world.

However, indecision and no strategic focus leads in too many directions —  young people going away to college and changing their major two or three times; workers floundering, trying to find themselves all because they did not follow that star. But then, the star may never have come into view.

When I grow up

If someone were to ask you at this point the following questions could you answer?

  1. Are you happy where you are in your career? If not, why?
  2. If not, what are you doing about it?
  3. Have you determined where your next step will be?
  4. What is going to be your approach to get there?.
  5. How far are you away from where you want to be?
  6. What is the timeline? In other words how much longer?

If you are in doubt of this small exercise, you may need an intervention. It does not matter whether you have the final answers. It does matter if you have no clarity about seeking the answers.

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It is like those hard interview questions we have all heard about such as “How can you estimate the number of tennis balls that can fit into a plane?” There is no correct answer, but as my old boss was fond of saying, what is the approach to figuring it out. So if you can’t answer the above questions, what is YOUR approach to figuring it out.

CEO of your career

Each of us is the CEO of our careers. It belongs to us. We have to figure out the strategy, the initiatives, the milestones the same way we would approach any business issue. In the end we can’t blame our manager, our organization, or our issues, etc. Every scenario you come up with to explain it away, in the end comes back to each of us. The onus is on us.

So as Dr. Almalki had her future etched onto a shell at 15 years old, it is up to us to find our shell and begin etching.

Age does not matter; the shell is waiting!

Ron Thomas is Managing Director, Strategy Focused Group DWC LLC, based in Dubai. He is also a senior faculty member and representative of the Human Capital Institute covering the MENA/Asia Pacific region.

He was formerly CEO of Great Place to Work-Gulf and former CHRO based in Riyadh. He holds certifications from the Human Capital Institute as Global Human Capital Strategist, Master Human Capital Strategist, and Strategic Workforce Planner.

He's been cited by CIPD as one of the top 5 HR Thinkers in the Middle East. He received the Outstanding Leadership Award for Global HR Excellence at the World Human Resources Development Congress in Mumbai, and was named as one of the 50 Most Talented Global HR Leaders in Asia

Ron's prior roles included senior HR positions with Xerox HR services, IBM, and Martha Stewart Living.

Board memberships include the Harvard Business Review Advisory Council, McKinsey Quarterly's Executive Online Panel, and HCI's Expert Advisory Council on Talent Management Strategy.

His work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Inc. Magazine, Workforce Management and numerous international HR magazines covering Africa, India and the Middle East.


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