Fast Company has published the next installment of its Generation Flux series, in which they outline how “professional missions” can help shape careers in times of rapid change. The idea of having a “professional mission” is not something I’ve ever really articulated to myself; but it turns out I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it…..crafting and refining mine.…without really knowing that’s what I was doing. It has helped me forge a career path....ok, make that "paths"....and it’s also been an effective guide to saying no to opportunities that weren’t the right ones.
Now that I’ve thought about it a bit, here’s what I can share about defining a professional mission:
Think hard about what you’re good at, and not so good at. Me? I’m a research analyst by training and temperament. I am happiest with an Excel spreadsheet and can pull patterns out of numbers. I also like to write and love the back-and-forth of a debate. I’m not a full-on process person or a conventional-wisdom-follower (to put it mildly). What is on your “good at” and “hate to do” lists?
Ask yourself what you care about. What do you care enough about that, once you get going on it, your friends shoot each other the “Here he goes again” look, and even start backing away? For a period of time, for me, it’s been how to prevent the next financial crisis. My work on that led to a real interest in the impact of the financial and economic engagement of women.
Your interest doesn’t have to be just one thing. And it can change.
Ask yourself how what you’re good and what you’re passionate about can intersect. That is the point at which you can use your skills to make a difference in something you care about. Perhaps you can make films about the crisis in education. Or write blogs on global health challenges. Or work as a Financial Advisor to help families get their finances straight.
Note that your mission might be right in front of your nose. Heck, it might be part of your company’s value statement already, if taken literally. For example, almost every Wall Street firm, for as long as anyone can remember, has said they put clients first. At Bernstein, we chose to really, really do it. We defined who our client was (the investing client) and then asked ourselves what truly putting them first mean. Our conclusion was that it meant getting rid of the conflicts inherent in also working for clients issuing stock, since their interests were in direct opposition.
But it may not be that easy. Getting to these insights sounds easy, but it’s often not. Experiment, and give yourself some time. For me, these insights involved lots of trial and error, lots of time with paper and pen, lots of glasses of wine, and lots of discussion with colleagues and mentors.
I didn’t realize I was a research analyst at heart until I was nearly 30 (which felt pretty old at the time). I didn’t find a different path for navigating the conflicts of Wall Street until I was in my mid-30s, and I didn’t come into my convictions on the positive business and economic impact of diversity until I was in my 40s.
Be prepared for some near-term sacrifices. At Bernstein, as we changed the way we did business, we lost revenues. We even had existing clients (whom our actions were intended to help) tell us that our strategy was a poor one.…and that they wanted us to continue to work for underwriting clients. Their rationale was that this would mean more profit for us, and thus more investment into our business on their behalf.
Finding your professional mission in a never-ending process. Your interests change, your skills can change, business changes. What you’re passionate about in your 20s may not be the same as in your 50s. Thus, this process is in fact a process, not a one-time question.
Sallie Krawcheck is the Chair of Ellevate Network and Ellevate Asset Management. Ellevate Network (formerly 85 Broads) is a professional woman’s network, operating across industries and around the world. Both businesses are committed to the full economic and financial engagement of women.
(Photo: Flickr, Horia Varlan)
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