The Lost Secret of Career Success

When it comes to career success, the best advice is offered by Socrates, “Know thyself!” There’s a popular beer commercial, where the most interesting man says, “The secret to success consists in finding out what you’re bad at, and not doing it.” Ah, if only Willy Loman had heeded that advice. Are you familiar with Willy Loman? He’s the protagonist of Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman.” At Willy’s funeral, one of his sons says, “He never knew who he was.

And indeed, Willy never did know himself. Willy was a poor salesman and barely supported his family at it. The sad truth of it is that Willy was very good with his hands and could have been, for example, an excellent carpenter, and made a nice living at it. I might add that sales can be a wonderful profession for the right person. It’s just that Willy wasn’t the right person and lacked the self-awareness to realize it.

Now I’ve a question for you. There’s a profession that people go into because it offers a chance to earn plenty of money, it’s fairly prestigious, and it appears interesting, or at least it’s portrayed that way in the movies. Alas, a high percentage of those who pursue this field soon realize that they’ve made an expensive mistake! Don’t you make this mistake. And make sure that your kids don’t either. The profession I’m referring to is…

[Musical interlude]

Greeting folks. I’m Dr. Mark Dillof. I offer career counseling, business consulting, relationship advice and philosophical counseling. I help people undergoing life transitions and with many other life challenges. And maybe I can help you.

In any case, the profession I’m referring to is attorney. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are people who have a very happy and fulfilling life as an attorney. That said, over the years, I’ve met quite a few people who graduated law school, passed the Bar, and then found that they really hated working as a lawyer. Some, for example, found it dull, while others couldn’t stand the continual pressure to accrue billable hours. The cause of their error is twofold. First of all, they never understood the actual work lawyers do, on a daily basis. Secondly, they failed to know themselves well enough to determine whether, based on their personality, being a lawyer was a sound choice.

I’ve also known people who do chose the right profession — one that they really enjoy and are skilled at. Consequently, they’re offered a position as a manager. Now some people do like being a manager, but not everyone. I had a client once who really enjoyed working as an engineer for IBM. But because he became so skilled, they continued to promote him. Finally, when he became a senior engineer, IBM offered him a fast-track career path to becoming a vice-president. But my client knew that if he became a manager he would miss doing what he truly enjoyed, which was engineering. So he turned down IBM’s offer. Turning down the offer required self-knowledge on his part.

Sometimes a really perceptive person in the field of human resources can tell you about skills and capacities that you didn’t realize that you had. For example, some years ago I offered my executive coaching services to a company. The HR director told me that they didn’t really need an executive coach, but based on my resume, she offered to hire me, fulltime to do conflict resolution.

Conflict resolution? I thought to myself, I’m good at fomenting conflicts, not resolving them! I had never done conflict resolution, and I really didn’t know what it was about. Well, I accepted her offer and it turned out that the HR director was accurate in her assessment of me, for I ended up really enjoying resolving employee conflicts — and some of the conflicts were between different managers — and I became pretty good at it. Thus other people can sometimes help us to gain self-knowledge, for they can discern things about us are that we ourselves can’t see.

Elsewhere, I refer to Ted Williams’ book, “The Science of Hitting.” Mr. Williams was the last man to bat over 400. He contends that knowing oneself is essential for anyone seeking to be a great baseball player. And it’s true universally. What, then, is the lost secret to career success? It’s knowing yourself, which means — among other things — knowing what you’re bad at and what you’re good at. It’s easier said than done.

Finally, I offer career & life coaching, and business consulting. You can probably tell that my approach is philosophical, for I help people to use life’s challenges to gain self-knowledge and emotionally liberating insights. There’s a link here to my website. I’d look forward to hearing from you!


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