When life throws you lemons, thank it for the snack

Friday, January 29, 2016

Not Having Long-Term Career Goals Doesn't Have to Be a Bad Thing

There are many standard interview questions that, when originally perceived, were meant to get at the heart of a candidate's core. Many questions are asked to actually glean other information besides the surface-level inquiry. Some common examples are:

  • What are your strengths?-->Show us that you are aware of your skills and abilities.
  • What are your greatest weaknesses?-->Show us that 1) you can feign honesty and/or humanity, 2) show us that you understand and/or desire to continuously improve yourself.
  • Tell me about yourself-->We want to know what you feel are the highlights of your personal story and if you think you match our organization based on that (or we were too lazy to read your resume so we want you to summarize it for us).
  • How do you prioritize your work?-->Do you believe you can multi-task and/or are you the type of person who panics when things become unpredictable?
  • Tell us about a time when...-->Skills and abilities are all well and good, but how have you actually applied them?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 (10, etc.) years?-->Are you someone who is in the habit of setting goals?

It's this last question that I don't care for the most, though I take issue with any question that isn't straight-forward. I am honest to a fault. I don't like to lie, market myself, twist things to fit the situation. I am who I am and I accept that the vast majority of people don't want that. I'm not rude or obnoxious, but neither am I toadying or willing to kiss up to anyone for the sake of kissing up to them. I still haven't been able to craft an answer to the last question that satisfies my need for honesty. Don't get me wrong; as an industrial-organizational psychologist, with an MBA to boot, I understand the importance of setting goals. However, I focus on short-term goals or goals with definitive finish lines.

I don't look to the future, especially since my divorce pretty much forced me to live hand-to-fist and day-to-day. I don't make plans too far in advance because I don't have access to the resources to make them happen and I know that every tiny little change in life when you have extremely limited resources has the potential to turn into a minor disaster (like my recent computer issues, which sucked up every last spare dime I had for the month) that any other person with a steady job would have been able to handle with their cushion. I don't have a cushion. I don't have a fall-back plan. Heck, I don't even have a savings account because I don't have anything to put in it. I'm already living off of the grace of God and the government and the generosity of my parents. There's nothing left for me to pull out of my pocket. I've used up the back-up plan to the back-up plan.

Yet, if I'm being completely honest with myself, I've never really had an answer to this question. I had ambiguous dreams of becoming a genetic engineer or a researcher in the field of industrial-organizational psychology, but I really didn't see what those ideas meant beyond a vague concept. I never had any ambition to be a leader in any field, hold political office, run an organization or department, or do anything beyond fully applying myself in whatever job I was in at the time. Sure, I like challenges, but I also relish the comfort of routine. I would welcome the increased pay and responsibility of advancement, but I would also find satisfaction in being really good at my current position.

I finally found some of the words I wanted in a more recent interview when they asked me the five-year question. I told them, in complete honesty, that I had no career ambition per sé . I was looking for stability (NOT mindless routine, but the expectation that I would have a paycheck that I could finally rely upon to meet my basic needs). I believe that my lack of ambition does not illustrate inherent laziness. On the contrary, it represents something that most organizations lost when they started massive lay-offs in the 1980s for the sake of saving dollars: loyalty and dedication. Because I don't want or need to climb the corporate ladder, I can find satisfaction in my job. After all, the way I see it, when you interview for a job that is the position they want to hire you for, not for the job two levels up. If they wanted to hire you for the job two levels up then they would have advertised it and solicited résumés for that one instead. In addition, it means that I won't be looking to replace the person who is interviewing me at that time. I pose no threat to upper management, whom I would assume would like to keep their jobs. My lack of career ambition means that I will focus on the job at hand, not constantly waiting for my chance to jump ship to something bigger and better. I see myself as the foot who is happy being the foot, not the foot who dreams of becoming a hand or eye. Too much career ambition means that a person spends more time looking for the future and less time in the present. This actually jeopardizes that potential future because you're not building the foundation needed to make the future come to pass. Besides, if we were all leaders, then who would we be leading? The tip of the pyramid requires many more stones at the base to support it.

So, I'm sorry (not really) that I don't have ambitions to become the next CEO or vice president. I don't need to have my name in lights to find happiness in life. I understand the necessity of those lower-level positions and the difficulty organizations face in keeping them staffed. If I were running an organization, I would most definitely want some people on whom I could rely to fulfill their jobs without having to worry about how soon I would need to replace them. My current goals in life are to find a job that provides enough income so that my daughter and I are no longer in poverty and to be able to contribute to society in some meaningful, but small, way. I don't mind being a cog in the machine as long as my function can help the machine continue to run smoothly.

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