“Will you help our son decide what he wants to do?” This question created my first management consulting assignment. The location was a furniture store on the outskirts of Louisville, Kentucky. This business was still owned by the founders, a Jewish couple, who opened the store in the 1950’s . They were prominent community leaders who had made a very good living and reared their only child here. It was now the late 80’s and time had come for the parents to retire and turn the business over to their son, but their outstretched offering was landing on tightly closed arms.
Son told me he was burned out. He would have quit, but for the desires of his aging parents. He went on to say, “When I entered college I was seriously considering majoring in psychology. My roommate was in accounting. He said that accountants make lots of money, so I switched my major to accounting.” Son added, ” My parents were very please with my major. I was just happy to graduate and get back home.”
Three Outside Forces
Knowing what to do with your career direction is not so easy. As the story illustrates, there are three outside forces that strongly impact vocational choices: parents, peers and profit. These are certainly not the only influencers, but the three tend to hold a strong sway regardless of our stage in life. External factors can and do lead to a fulfilling career, but sometimes a more intentional approach is needed.
“Deciding whether you want to run this store or run to another career will not be difficult, but making either choice happen will not be easy,” I told Son. “First you need to consider the affect that parents, peers and profit did have and can still have on you. But you can decide to give them lots of power, or allow each one the influence you want it to have in this career decision.” I asked, “Do you want to figure this out?” He said, “I’ll do anything to feel better.” I gave him a journal and a 10-day assignment to complete our by next meeting.
Two Plans On the Same Page
Two weeks later, Son and I met. We worked together and designed his personal plan based on his goals, motivated abilities, innate work interests and the hard truths of the market place. He was pleased. Afterwards he shared it with his parents. Then we met together several times to lay out their business succession plan, which involved Son going back to college soon.
“How much do I owe you?” Mother asked. “The amount we agreed will be good,” I said. She opened her change purse, took out a brass key, placed it in the drawer lock, and eased out her tattered checkbook on to the big railroad desk. She wrote a check for twice the amount. I was shocked. Mother, Father and Son smiled.
Son ran the business for several more years. During that time he added two more locations. Then he sold it all to a large chain store. His accounting degree was a great asset in analyzing the business deal. Negotiating the nice profit at the close had a lot to do with his mastery of psychology.
This experience helped me realize what I wanted I to do with my career and set me on a course for the type work I do today.
Journal Entry: What experience helped set you on your career path? What challenges are you facing as you plan to make a healthy transition into the next phase in your leadership and life?
“Articulating your hopes is the first step to achieving them.” – Art Stevens: animator, director and producer for Walt Disney Animation Studios
“Some 17 year old kid decided I was going to be a dentist” – A rich but burned out orthodontist.
“Burn out isn’t caused by you working too much, but from working on what doesn’t matter too much to you.” – Michael Alan Tate
“When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. – Viktor E. Frankl
“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
“Self-discovery is the end product of a great challenge mastered…” – Kurt Hahn: inventor of the outdoor education and adventure learning philosophy and practice