Executive Careers Blog

Are You in the Wrong Job?

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My evil secret.

Skip business school, I advise those who want to accelerate a management career; instead, spend a few years in a mental hospital.

You could even work there.

It's good to know something about irrational behavior because there are days when everyone at work seems, more or less, insane. Usually what that means, of course, is that we just don't understand them.

What's more surprising—we often don't understand ourselves.

"The key to what you really want," says David Maister, a consultant and former business school professor, "lies in something that you don’t like to admit.

“'I don’t like to admit it but I really want to be rich.' Fine; go out and get rich. 'I don’t like to admit it but I’m a snob.' That’s all right; go work with 'upper class' people.

"Play to your 'evil secrets,'" advises Maister, "don’t suppress them" (Maister's Laws of the Job Search).

I'm sure there are exceptions.

If you secretly dream of becoming a world-class homicidal maniac, suppression may be in order.

But most secrets aren't evil, they're energy.

The hard part: figuring out your secret. Before consulting, and before working in mental health, my jobs seemed random. But they weren't. Take a look:

  1. Mailman, New York City. Great job, several summers during college.
  2. Encyclopedia salesperson, Boston. Terrible job right after college; I lasted 30 days.
  3. Taxi cab driver, Cambridge. Ok job, but lots of negative feedback. When I drive, even now, passengers often become agitated. They seem desperate to escape.

Are you desperate to escape your job? Maybe you've suppressed your secret. Mine didn't become obvious till later, in business school.

Ed Schein, a business school professor, had researched a concept he called "career anchors." Your career anchor, said Schein, is your #1 priority at work.

Schein identified eight anchors.

When I saw his list, one anchor jumped out: autonomy. That's what had attracted me to those jobs, and later to consulting. That was my evil secret.

What's yours?

Tip: You can't sustain enthusiasm if your job doesn't fit. Notice what energizes you. Do more of that.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (www.expresspotential.com),  Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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