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05/22/2013

Book Review: What You Were Really Meant to Do


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My first boss in Wall Street advised me "All the happiness in the world won't buy you money." I got the message, as did most of my generation. But the recent consolidation in the business has forced many to rethink their career paths. The growth of entrepreneur opportunities is opening new avenues to follow. In every part of the finance and business worlds, everyone is facing many more competitive challenges. Systematic thinking about career paths has become as essential part of staying employed, and moving ahead. 

At the core of What You're Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential is "the difficult task of understanding who you are and what interests you," which is in contrast to following along defined traditional career routes, often becoming influenced by what your peers are doing, and what looks like the fastest road to a big bonus. It goes without saying, the self-discovery theme of the book is much different from the traditional career goal of finance professionals, which is to make money, as much and fast as possible. In an industry now characterized by restructuring and new business models, this has obvious dangers.

There is something to be said for the classic Wall Street goal of focusing on making lots of money to get the freedom to follow your personal interests. Author Robert Steven Kaplan has provided a valuable career guide for those at every stage of a career, based on speaking "with a steady stream of young, middle and later stage professionals." Kaplan also observes that "most of us can't accurately write down our strengths and weaknesses." This should be obvious to anyone who has reviewed a lot of resumes or done career counseling. The job candidate's greatest area of strength is often buried in the resume, and the candidate is hardly aware of what should be the driver of the job search.

JOB PERFORMANCE AND ASSESSMENT

While the main focus of most career literature and programs is on job search, for most the big challenge is doing well at the current job. This is more important than ever now when experienced financial professionals, with great resumes, are finding it hard to even get job interviews. One of the very helpful points made by this book is to proactively get feedback from your employers. Kaplan notes, "...don't be bashful about asking questions." Most of us avoided (or are currently avoiding) this in our jobs, partly for fear of hearing bad news, or putting our jobs in danger. The reality often is that employers want to help employees do better and be productive. Replacing employees can be expensive, risky, and time consuming.

Professor Kaplan advises that if you can't get good feedback from your bosses, go to objective outsiders, including career coaches. You have to be careful not to have this dialogue with those who see you as competition, and would use anxiety and weaknesses as a invitation to push you over the edge.

The key takeaway from Professor Kaplan is that chasing success (or determined metrics of success) often leaves us dissatisfied. Instead, we should focus on our individual talents and skills as the starting point for a fruitful career - and define success for ourselves. The book provides a great starting point to achieve this - the "Follow Up Steps" section at the end of each chapter. The reader gets both insightful analysis, and action steps. If you're tired of feeling unfulfilled, Professor Kaplan has written one of the best career guide books for you.

–Bill Hayes

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