Thinking about your long term career is one of the most intimidating subjects of our time – particularly for young people. If you asked the average 25 year old about their long term career, half of them would say “I don’t know” and the other half would say “I want to be a _______” (i.e. CEO / Lawyer / Doctor / or the recently popular Entrepreneur). Regardless of which bucket you find yourself in, this article is intended to provide some structure when building your roadmap toward a long-term career.
1. Harness your talent. Don’t chase your dream.
Most of us who have achieved any level of success in business probably did not imagine early on that we would be doing the job we ended up in. I’ve met hundreds of CEO’s, CFO’s and Regional Directors who did not study business in college, but rather History, English Literature, or other liberal arts. They probably saw themselves becoming a professor or artist or musician. They had no master plan to become the titan of industry they eventually turned into.
So how did they do it?
All of them had similar versions of the same story. After college the first job they landed was simply that – a job – an entry to some company or career that would become a stepping stone to something better in the future. After time, some of them discovered they were really good at that job and were hungry and eager for more. Others discovered that they were pretty bad at that job and either moved to another company or transferred internally to another job function. Eventually however they found something they were good at and harnessed that experience to grow and develop as a specialist or expert in their field. The journey to discovering your talent varies from person to person. Some of us are lucky and nail it in the first job. Others take years to find their talent. But eventually every successful person discovers what they are good at and uses that as a core to guide and shape the rest of their career.
When we are young, we are often told to “never give up on your dream”. Although an inspiring statement, I believe it more often provides false hopes to people who don’t actually have the natural talent or experience to succeed in the “dream job” they have chosen. When I was young, I watched all three Indiana Jones movies and dreamt of becoming a treasure hunter. However I quickly realized that I didn’t have the language skills, physical strength, or natural charm of Harrison Ford to become a successful treasure hunter so I unfortunately had to abandon those dreams. Although this example is obviously absurd, it illustrates that many times the “dream jobs” are exactly that. “Dreams”. You are more likely to succeed if instead you chase an opportunity that takes full advantage of your key strengths compared to chasing a fantasy that few people actually attain.
2. Find a Role Model
Once you have narrowed down the area you want to focus on, find someone who has achieved success in that field and learn from them. In business, we call this best practice – i.e. studying from those who have actually done it. You might think that you have your own style, or your way of doing things. I am sure this is true. But don’t let your own pride be your downfall. Irrational confidence is not a virtue. Seek guidance and council from those who have walked the same path and benefit from their wisdom. It may not be from someone within the same company. Often, those with at least two degrees of separation are most qualified to judge your situation dispassionately. Enlist a role model to be your teacher. Don’t smother them with frivolous questions, but adopt them as your mentor and eventually you will know what they know. In time, you may achieve a similar or even greater level of success with far fewer scars.
Surrounding yourself with obedient people will doom you to failure. Associating with smart people who disagree with you will lead to success.
Although understanding your strengths and finding a mentor will take you quite far in building your long-term career strategy, you also need to spend a great deal of time in self-study. Aspiring to intelligence over time has taken a back seek to the likes of YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Wikipedia, in this age of instant gratification so it’s ever harder to make the decision to just sit down and read a book. Some of the greatest leaders in the world – Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos – say they read one book a week. Whatever your chosen field, there is wisdom in books and sometimes you will get your most powerful inspiration from words written by others. For those of you who do not like reading, Audible may become your best friend. You can listen to books while jogging or on your daily commute. In either case make sufficient time to absorb the knowledge contained in books.
4. Be Gritty
Above all else, understand there will be obstacles in your path. If you fall down, pick yourself back up. If someone spits in your face, smile and move on. If the project you’ve worked for months and months gets rejected by your boss, have a shot of tequila and get over it. I remember a few years ago an interview I had with a collections agent working for a large commercial bank. This guy worked for three years during the height of the financial crisis, in a call center chasing down deadbeats who couldn’t pay their bills. This has got to be one of the toughest and most difficult jobs in the world. When I asked him how he survived for three years, his answer was simple: “I saw each failure as a learning opportunity”. This simple mind shift change helped him to persevere and, in my opinion, served as the cornerstone of his character. If everyone could approach their job with the same level of dedication the world would be a much better place.
Having a plan and sticking to it is critically important to building a long-term career. The four pillars above should provide some framework in this process.
■Read a previous article >> 11th Month “Reflecting back on the past year and how to set goals for the next year”
Vice President, Japan Sales
Chris Kobayashi is Vice President, Japan Sales and has been in recruitment at en World since 2005 supporting bilingual talent in the gaishikei market. He left the firm in 2017 to join Robert Half International – a US based recruitment firm – and returned to en World as Vice President, Japan Sales in 2020. Chris is responsible for 5 divisions – Tokyo Functional, Nikkei, Executive Search, Project Contract Specialists, and Nagoya/Osaka Branch offices. A native of California, he holds a bachelor’s degree in Japanese and Economics from Georgetown University in Washington DC.