By: Abhay B. Joshi (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Note: This is article 5 of the series on “Happiness and Professional Growth”.
Robert Frost’s famous poem “The Road Not Taken” beautifully describes the dilemma of a traveler who has just come across a fork in his path. He peeks deep into each road trying to judge its potential. They both look grassy and inviting, making it difficult to choose. He ultimately makes a choice and says to himself that he can always come back and take the other. But deep in his mind he knows that that would never happen – that there is no coming back in life.
Professional careers are slightly different in this regard – it is possible to return as I will explain shortly. Travelers on this path also come across Y junctions: junctions at which the alternatives look attractive and interesting, and hence difficult to choose from. College graduation is an example junction at which young men and women have numerous options to choose from: jobs, further education, and entrepreneurship.
A common and one of the most problematic Y junctions is faced when one has to choose from a managerial/leadership path and a specialist path.
This is a serious, albeit too common a problem among professionals in the knowledge and technology industries. A professional facing a “fork promotion” – a promotion that offers leadership and technology specialist as two different and possibly irreversible paths – often doesn’t know which way to go.
If you want to achieve a happy professional growth at such Y junctions, you must understand your own psychological/emotional makeup and aspirations. There is absolutely no replacement for becoming “self-aware” – even before you reach such Y junctions. You must indulge in periodic evaluation of your stage in life – your personal values, aptitude, inclinations, what appeals and excites you, and so on.
Of course, without exploration, one can never be sure whether a new type of work is appealing or not. So, there is certainly value in “trying” things out. But, remember to put a reasonable time limit to the trial, to quit unhesitatingly if the trial fails (i.e. if you clearly feel the new role is not for you), and return to the Y junction and continue on the previous path. This may seem like a waste of valuable time, but it is not! It is in fact a great use of time in which you learn a bit more about yourself, and moreover, it thwarts a much more potential gross and disastrous waste of time down the line.
For developing self-awareness, I also highly recommend that you acquire and retain a personal mentor for yourself. A mentor (or coach) is someone with wisdom (obtained through experience, not by reading books!), empathy (visible willingness to help), and some knowledge of your profession. Engage with your mentor periodically and conduct this exercise of self-awareness with his/her help.
Last modified: 27 October 2016