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Dreams and reality - some thoughts on career planning
Aligning a team towards a common goal is hard. It helps to understand where people come from.
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By

Rushabh Mehta

·

Jun, 26 2024

·

5

min read

Recently we had a great team discussion on careers, "life" and how we plan for it.

Participating in civilisation

I started the discussion by stating the obvious, which often does not get articulated. Why do careers matter in the context of the world? The way we participate in “civilisation” is through capitalism - either you can be a freelancer, entrepreneur or work in a team / institution (company, academic, non-profit, government). There are only so many “career” options in front of us. There is no option to go back to the jungle and live in state of nature. Yes there are some ways to “exit” competition, but not the basic building blocks of way things are structured.

The way we came here is via our “education system”. Humans require 20 years to get ready to participate in civilisation. That is insanely high. In these 20 years, we are supposed to learn the “tools of civilisation” - communication, behaviour etc. But our education system ends up becoming too dominating and forces us to become “docile followers”. It ends up indoctrinating us to and extent that we tend to forget that we have a lot more agency to do things than we can.

Everyone wants (almost) the same things

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (though I don’t think it is a hierarchy) forms a good framework to identify our needs and what it takes for us to acquire them. The way we are designed, we can only optimise for our own needs and the way we understand others is also through our own sensory system, so the only thing we can truly optimise for is our own needs. And many of our own needs are related to how the society treats us. So listing them out - Physiological (air, water, food etc), Safety (psychological, economic, health etc), Belongingness (identity, affliation), Esteem (respect), Self-actualisation (maximising your potential), we can see that the needs go from personal to communal and back to personal. A true career is based on us identifying what will help us fulfilling these needs.

Specialists and Generalists

There are two broad ways of classifying work - being a specialist or generalist. A specialist builds a skill and becomes very good at that skill. The ultimate specialist is a sports person, say a Serena Willams who becomes so deeply involved in the game that for the years she is an active player, it will consume most of her time. Being excellent in a skills requires that kind of dedication (10,000 hours) so the specialist does not have that kind of time to dabble in multiple skills.

The world cannot only have specialists because then there will be so many other things that will remain unfulfilled. This is where generalists come in. Adam Smith said companies will need to hire “philosophers” (the term manager wasn’t coined) to make sure things work in harmony. The role of generalists is to “make sense” of the world - understand the market, meet customers, partners, grok at data etc. They have to then identify gaps and then find solutions for those gaps by finding the right “specialists” to do the work. Being a generalist requires a different set of skills - comprehension, communication, understanding people and context, influencing people, story telling, being organised and analytical.

Again, as someone pointed out, this is not deterministic - people are usually a mix of both. And management schools try to make becoming a generalist a specialisation (?)

So when someone is planning their career, they need to decide what they want to be good at - do they want to be generalists or specialists. Most people start off in some kind of “specialist” role and then move on to become generalists - whether they gain mastery of their skill or not.

Sharing time

The most interesting part of the session was that all of us took 15 mins to reflect on our career so far and what we want to do 10-20 years going forward in the context of the discussion. How are they going to fulfil their needs of safety, self-esteem, self-actualisation? What followed were some very interesting revelations.

As you would expect, many people looked at their career primarily for “safety” needs. They wanted to earn enough money so that they can do their self-actualisation elsewhere (go on a farm?). Many felt that the career was a stepping stone to doing what they truly love - they wanted to become entrepreneurs - someone wanted to open a dance studio, someone a non profit, someone wanted do something for soldiers, or become an image consultant etc. This resonated with Cal Newport’s thesis that the first phase of your career should be about building your capital, so that you can truly do what you want to do in your second innings. This is also a common pattern. Many people lose taste for taking on more and more responsibility (or institutional politics) that comes with becoming “senior” and choose to start their own-small-thing so that they get more control of their time and careers. A few were not able to articulate or were in a state of exploration - which is also perfect. Very few people had the vision of “doing something great” - mastery (driven by self-esteem?), or even ending up in a leadership position in an institution.

My own idea of what I am going to do is driven by this need for greatness - whether it is for self-actualisation or self-esteem or even aesthetics or a mix of all of it, I am not sure. My destiny is linked to how well Frappe is going to do, and I seem to have a some “influence” in that matter. The key to building a great company at this point, now that we have the basic building blocks in place, is to have outstanding people (people who are driven by mastery), give the right context, empower them and find meaning in the process. And that is primarily what my focus is going to be.

What I learnt

Maybe we all deep down understand that this is the state of affairs (the truth), but it is still different when it comes out in the open - which I think is a fantastic achievement. The truth is that people don’t look at their companies as their vehicles for self-actualisation. Not primarily at least. And also they are not primarily driven by mastery (maybe they have not known enough role models in flesh-and-blood). Maybe Frappe is not good enough for people to think that it is their chance of self-actualisation (or maybe they have not thought about it).

What I need is for people to at least commit to mastery while they are at Frappe. I think it is totally possible to have your personal vision, and at the same time show the commitment to the team. That is what a true “karmayogi” is. People land up in a team through a random path, and it is natural that it cannot be their most ideal path. But I think there is still there is so much to gain personally for each and everyone by truly committing, making the best of every opportunity that comes your way and using it as a stepping stone to something greater.

Published by

Rushabh Mehta

on

Jun, 26 2024
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M
Martin Fulgueiras

· 

July 14, 2024

Mihaly Csikszentmihaly's ideas on the balance between your skills and how they help your social surroundings, your collaboration to the community, could give you a new approach to some of the ideas you analyzing here.

J
JayaPrakash J

· 

June 27, 2024

This is an insightful post on the basic needs of someone as well as what drives them to achieve the things they desire...

I totally relate with the "Company as a stepping stone" in the path towards the things people actually want to do.

And I also agree with your thoughts on "Giving your best striving towards mastery" even if the company is not your final actualisation of self.

I too look towards game development (a generalist at that) as my final end-goal with everything in between just a stepping stone to acquire the capital for sustenance.

More people need to spend time in retrospecting, and leap forward with confidence.

Discussion

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Paul Mugambi

·

3 days

ago

Beautiful read, and an insight into an individual I respect and have learned a lot from. Am inspired to trust the process and never give up.

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Anna Dane

·

5 days

ago

I must say this is a really amazing post, and for some of my friends who provide Best British Assignment Help, I must recommend this post to them.

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