The Aesop’s fable – The Ass and his Driver – centres (as the title would suggest) on a Driver and an Ass.
The story goes that the Ass was being driven along a road down the mountain when he “took it into his silly head to choose his own path”. The driver (who was also his so-called ‘master’) tries to hold him back from going over the cliff. The moral of the story is that people who don’t listen to “reason” and “stubbornly go their own way” and against the advice of those who are wiser are on the path to misfortune.
There are many angles and unanswered questions in this fable. Could the Ass see something that the master couldn’t? Was there more than one way down the mountain? Is going your own way stubborn, or is it something else? You could have lots of fun writing that fable from different perspectives.
It’s a lovely reminder that what is on or off track depends on what matters to you. It depends on perspectives, priorities and purpose.
Progress and career success never come in one shape or size. One thing, however, that is common is that it often requires you to take tracks that may be unexpected.
As the Author of Courage is Calling (and other books on stoicism and philosophy), Ryan Holliday, said, “We like to think we can have an extraordinary life by making ordinary decisions, but it’s not true. It’s actually all the ordinary decisions – the safe ones, recommended by every expert, criticised by no one – that makes us incredibly vulnerable in times of chaos and crisis”.
We make thousands of small decisions every year about our careers. It is the big decisions where we focus our energy and are often more deliberate. However, the small decisions we make each day can add up over time to have a significant impact.
So, as we head into the final months of the working year, it’s a great time to check the decisions you have been making through the year – both big and small. You want to check and assess if you are on or off track and work out if you need to adjust, align or adapt.
- What decisions have you made this year that have moved you forward?
- Which ones have held you back?
- Are you satisfied with where you are right now?
- Are you playing safe?
- Did you take any risks this year? Did they pay off and why (or why not)?
- Are you doing what’s expected of you (by others) rather than what you want to do?
Doing this reflection will likely develop insights into where you might need to up the energy or shift your focus. If that’s the case, here are some additional ideas that can help deepen and stretch your insights.
Know how to say no
The acclaimed author Paulo Coelho said: “When you say ‘yes’ to others, make sure you are not saying ‘no’ to yourself”.
This doesn’t mean you say ‘no’ without careful thought. Instead, it’s about saying ‘no’ with consideration of others and compassion for them and yourself.
When you faced this dilemma, how did you respond? Did you uncover the right thing to do for you, others involved, and the organisation?
If you are always comfortable, it’s a warning sign that you’ve stopped learning. Continued progress requires a willingness to continue learning, not just from within fields related to your professional discipline.
Instead, go broad. You will find unique connections and insights when you look at different fields and then consider how that learning can apply to your industry, sector and profession.
It’s in the discomfort that we have our most growth. Have you grown your learning this year? Where else can you stretch your perspectives and understandings?
We often spend hours proving why things won’t work. What would it look like if you flipped the question and asked, “How can we make this possible?”.
Asking that question doesn’t mean you throw everything out. Things constantly change, but they can stay the same if you want them to. And that’s ok.
For example, ever since the arrival of e-readers, the paperback book has been heralded as heading to extinction. But they haven’t disappeared; as this article in The Guardian reminds us. Incidentally, I love the quote from Tom Waits “If I want to walk out in the desert and heat up a tin of beans on a fire, I still can. In movies such as Gattaca, the space-age stuff is always all there is. But in the world, there is never just one way of living.”
What is your specific and purpose-centred way of living that works for you?
Research shows there are correlations between proactive personality types and career success.
A proactive personality is a tendency to seek to change one’s environment, not be constrained by situational forces, seek out new and different opportunities, and show initiative. While career success (in this research context) includes things like salary, bonuses, promotions, career satisfaction and job satisfaction, and a person’s internal and external marketability.
By being proactive, you are taking control and ensuring you remain firmly in the driver’s seat of your career. Roles change and come and go, and you always want to be positioned well for what’s next.
Importantly, know your definition of success. What success is to you can differ from how other people define it. Create your definition of success and live up to that goal (not an arbitrary goal set by external influences).
So consider, are you clear on your definition of success? Are you living up to that definition or getting distracted by things that don’t matter?
What are you most proud of this year, and how did you acknowledge yourself and your efforts?
It’s always easy to move on to what’s next and never take the time to pause, reflect and enjoy the achievement. Take time to celebrate your progress with the people who matter the most to you.
As the business leader and author, Arianna Huffington remarked, “We only have 30000 days to play the game of life and how we play depends on what we value. If all we value is money, we will never have enough”.
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The award-winning author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.