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Conveyer Belt Career
Issue # 31
"People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty,
successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly
realize were far more valuable to them. People...often struggle to
achieve a higher income, more recognition or a certain degree of
professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve
their goal blinded them to the things that really mattered most
and now are gone."
"Goals are dreams with deadlines."
"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going,
because you might not get there."
"I guess I've had a conveyer belt career," a woman lawyer, nine-years into practicing at a large firm recently said to me. "I went to a good law school, graduated Order of the Coif, and felt like I'd hit the jackpot when this firm hired me. I've worked incredibly hard, received glowing evaluations, billed 2700 hours this past year, and am the 'go-to' lawyer for several of our big clients.
"I was scheduled to be put up for partnership this year. I simply couldn't believe it when they told me they wanted me to wait a year or two longer. I'm stunned and disappointed - and their reassurance that the decision is political and has nothing to do with me doesn't help. I can't continue at this pace. I miss my kids, even though I know they're fine because my husband is home with them most of the time.
"Since joining the firm, my goal has been to make partner - but now I'm beginning to wonder what that goal means to me. I have this vague sense that I went to law school for some reason other than to make partner, but it's all pretty fuzzy now. I'm so used to thinking that I value the same things that the 'system' values - I'm not even sure what my own values actually are."
WHO IS MANAGING YOUR CAREER?
Most attorneys approach their work without understanding just how crucial it is to actively manage their careers. As a result, lawyers often work in their careers, rather than on them.
But it's an unfortunate reality that if you're not directing your career, odds are you'll end up some place you don't want to be. Considering the enormous sacrifices you're undoubtedly making, you need to be able to look at what you're doing and affirm that you're making a worthwhile investment.
In my experience coaching attorneys, it often takes some kind of crisis to jolt an individual into recognizing just how far off course she's gone.
- In spite of her lack of enthusiasm about her practice area, a woman attorney decided to negotiate an 80% schedule with her firm. She hoped that she'd derive sufficient satisfaction from her non-work life to allow her to tolerate her work.. But a new partner had just assumed the directorship of her practice area and he was a staunch opponent of reduced hours. He began to schedule "crucial" meetings at times of the day when she was supposed to be home with her children, and he insisted that attendance was mandatory. This tipped the scales - she could no longer ignore her work dissatisfaction. She decided to hire a coach to help her identify and pursue career goals she genuinely valued.
- An attorney and father of two had taken an in-house position hoping this would allow him more time with his family. He appreciated the greater flexibility of his new position but realized his new work was no more engaging for him than it had been at the firm. He'd decided that it was enough to provide for his family and have dinner with them most evenings - until the corporation for which he worked moved - and he had to add 90-minutes each way to his commute. This prompted his decision to work with a coach to pursue some meaningful career goals.
- After several years of being a "service partner" in her firm, a woman attorney failed to get the salary increase she'd anticipated, despite the fact that during the prior year her billable hours were higher than they'd ever been before. She spoke to a partner on the compensation committee who told her that unless she was bringing in significant business of her own, she should not expect her compensation to increase. She'd spent so long working on the assumption that just doing good work was enough. Now it was time to consult with a coach to help her overcome her discomfort marketing her services.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU TAKE CONTROL
Perhaps you wonder exactly how you arrived at where you are now. In what direction is your work taking you? It's incredibly easy to get caught up in the overwhelming demands of your work. As Stephen Covey says, you can "work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall." 
Not long ago one of my coaching clients realized she was trying to achieve goals she really didn't value. She'd spent years working in a large, prestigious firm but realized that fulfilling the expectations of others was motivating her far more than any intrinsic passion for her work.
Our first step was to clarify the kind of work that would truly engage her. She was able to identify which of her talents she derived the most satisfaction from using, and the area of practice which would allow her to feel like her work had a meaningful purpose.
After establishing a clear vision of her career and work/life balance goals, she became somewhat pessimistic about ever finding work that reflected her vision.
We developed a plan which included all of the steps she'd need to take in order to get this kind of employment. One action step at a time, she networked her way into job interviews even where no positions had been advertised. She remained steadfast in her efforts in the face of false starts and disappointments.
Not surprisingly, her best interview was for the position that perfectly fit her dream. She found herself with an offer to do exactly the kind of legal work she wanted, with like-minded colleagues, at a salary far higher than she'd anticipated and work hours which would offer her the kind of work/life balance she needed.
HOW TO ACHIEVE YOUR GOALS
Don't Be a Victim
- When your career is controlled by your boss or your bills, it's easy to feel like a victim. Deciding to actively manage your own career puts you in the driver's seat.
Choose Goals that Reflect your Interests and Values
Psychological research indicates that a frequent reason for the failure to attain goals is choosing them based on the expectations of others or the norms of the system. Goals that are not congruent with what's most important to you will only make you experience internal conflict. Instead, choose career goals based on what truly matters to you. This way, it's much easier to sustain the effort and energy you'll need to pursue your objectives.
Career resilience requires setting smart goals: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, and attached to a time line. Being clear about what you want dramatically increases the probability that you will get it.
- Develop a Specific Action Plan
Effective career-self management requires having a strategic plan to achieve your goals. Your objectives will seem more attainable when you've mapped out every single action necessary to get where you want to go. A frequent reason for ineffective goal pursuit is the failure to develop a specific action plan which includes preparation for how you'll persist in the face of obstacles and distractions.
Executing your plan one action step at a time makes it manageable - especially if you're trying to meet day-to-day demands while becoming the manager of your future. Also, it's hard to sustain effort when your goals are set far into the future. Breaking them down allows you to experience success in the short-run as well as in the long-term.
You may spend a lot of time laying the groundwork, and at times you may feel like you're not getting any closer. The support and structure provided by a good coach can be invaluable at these times.
- Maintain Your Determination
Be persistent. "Success is goals, and all else is commentary." 
1. Covey, Stephen R. (1990) "The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People." New York: Simon & Schuster, p.98.
2. Tracy, Brian (2002). "Create Your Own Future." New York, John Wiley & Sons, p. 49 (Tracy quoting a friend.)
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