What if your career was a car?

Today’s article is inspired by two great men, one of whom was a client I worked with this week in my capacity as a Coach and the other was a previous manager of mine, the best leader I ever had.

I start with the latter. In my former role as Head of Learning and Development, I was focused on ensuring my department were one of the best, if not the best, in the company. I was continually looking for ways to improve efficiency and the quality of our outputs. While in a performance review, discussing plans for my department, my manager, the COO, asked would I support other departments to be similarly as efficient as mine, to which I responded, ‘Would this not have a detrimental impact on my department’s performance?’ I was always focused on my goals and deliverables, the areas for which I was being measured. In this past life, I was a reward and recognition junkie, and I knew focusing on achieving objectives assigned to you and for which you were measured against, was the key to a good reputation, increased income, and career progression. Don’t judge me, long before I was the Life Coach I am now, I was ‘successfully depressed’. Back to the conversation, my manager, with a simple metaphor, completely changed my outlook on working in a business, he responded,

This business is a Formula 1 car, pulled into the pitstop, you’re tinkering with the engine, but haven’t noticed the car has no wheels.

Now, to the former great man, a loyal coaching client. In a recent session, he described having focused 50% of his career on helping other people, often with little or no reward, recognition, or progression. The remaining 50% focused on his goals, objectives, and the deliverables for which he was measured. This led to a discussion on where he might have been now had he focused 100% on his own outputs and not on supporting those of other individuals or departments. I couldn’t help but recall the words of my former manager and how challenging it can be in your career, or in life, to balance or indeed choose between serving yourself and supporting others.

Through our conversation, the following metaphor formed itself. As we were discussing careers, we’ll continue with this within the descriptions, although since the session, I can see how easily this could be a metaphor for life.

Imagine your career is a car and the road is the direction in which you should be travelling, for the good of you and your company. At any one time you find yourself in one of the following positions:

  • Accelerating full speed ahead to meet your goals and objectives as quickly as possible. The downside is you run the risk of leaving your colleagues behind, particularly a challenge if you need them to complete the race.
  • Driving within the limit, so everyone else has the chance to keep up with you and you can keep a line of sight should someone need you or you need them. You’ll all arrive at the finish line at a similar time, and maybe you’ve got a sprint finish in you, once you move out of ‘cruise’ mode.
  • Towing another vehicle to get them either to safety or across the finish line. If you’re doing this, I’d recommend you have a good reason for doing so. Otherwise, you risk everyone else passing the finishing line first. You’ll be applauded for being a helpful colleague but might fail to place in the race.
  • At the starting line, tinkering with the engine to maximise potential performance or mapping out the best route to take. This is often where you’ll find perfectionists, who, if they get it right, will potentially win the race and be applauded for their ingenuity, but also risk everyone else passing the finishing line before they’ve set off.
  • Crashing and burning, long before the finish line. No concern for the other cars and keen to do anything to get ahead, making dangerous manoeuvres and ultimately creating their demise.

If your career were a car, where are you be on the road, what gear are you in, and what type of racing are you running? What are all the benefits and risks associated with your strategy, and what might happen if you try a different approach?

Me? Cruising, cars ahead but I’m fearful of moving up a gear, spending a little too much time looking in the rearview mirror. Maybe it’s time I also change my strategy.

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