A few years ago, I met with a group of trainees newly hired to an Integration meeting. The first question I asked was, “What is your biggest dream?”. I was listening to the answer of each one until a 24 year-old said with a big smile: “I want to be CFO (Chief Financial Officer)” The conviction in her voice was such that possibly she felt she was ready to fit the position, but I realized it was not the case.
During the years I had contact with trainee and internship groups, there was a line of collective thought that claimed to be important to have focus and ambition, and you should be proud to want the top job, even being so young. This would boost your career to success, said this line of thought. It was exactly that.
I kept talking to the girl, but with a slightly different approach, and said, “Do you believe, being CFO in a few years, will make you feel fulfilled and happy?”. A new way of seeing the situation made her hesitate, but she still said yes. So I went a step further and asked, “Do you know what a CFO do every day? How is his/her routine, his/her duties and responsibilities?”.
As expected, the response was as superficial as possible, and she clearly only longed for the position and status of it, but not because she was a shallow person, but because no one had stimulated her to think differently.
Thousands of young people coming out from Universities are bombarded with the information they need to be great executives. And the sooner the better. I myself have been one of those young ones and there was nothing that would make me disagree that an accelerated corporate career was the best option. There was only the glamor of positions, no information about the routines or any minimal discussion about life’s purpose.
Returning to our young girl of the beginning, after her talk about what she believed to be the functions of a CFO, I decided to finally bring the challenge to light clearly and believe this is a valid reflection not only for young people who are beginning their career, but for anyone who at one time or another is carried away by the automatic mode.
The first thing I said to her was, perhaps few people feel accomplished with only a title and yet, most of this minority should become dissatisfied in very little time. You know that phrase “Looks aren’t everything”? It’s the same thing. It’s like salary recognition. It’s amazing how an salary increase loses its value so quickly.
To base your life choices that way, at a position, a number or a nice name, without delving into what it means can be dangerous and obviously frustrating. We want to pass an image to society that is not consistent with the message that we really mean and this is a trap that many people fall every day. This leads to an incomprehensible emptiness: “If I’m a CFO, why am I not happy?” Or “If people recognize me as deserving of this position, why do I still does not feel accomplished?”. To put the expectation of happiness in a job or on what people think possibly will take you to an therapist one day.
It is very easy to get a model of the market and look up to him. Even more if it came out a few times on the cover of business magazines. No one will find that this kind of ambition is silly, but what few people ask is: what does fulfills me for real?
I’m sure that further reflection on this question will not lead anyone to a position only. It will lead to a much simpler answer. “What fulfills me is to help sick people.” or, “What fulfills me is to solve mathematical problems.” or “What fulfills me is to organize what is messy.”
Going deep in these responses not only will take you to get to know yourself better, but to understand that no matter the position or the company where you are. If you like to help sick people, it is possible that the doctor position is much more attractive than that of Hospital’s Director. Or if you like to organize what is messy, perhaps the position of Vice President of Supply Chain is far from what you want and working directly in the factory would be so much better.
Each person has a way to get to that answer and, as I said in other texts, this response can also change throughout life, but one thing is certain: if you do what fulfills you, there is no doubt that you will be happier. And probably successful.
Photo credits: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/936083