By Sandy Burgham
I am lucky enough to be on my fourth career reinvention, each one building on previous learning and experience. Having evolved into leadership development means I am also observing adult development and career development, both at once. A bittersweet observation I make is that at the same time as you’re becoming increasingly at home in your skin — and perhaps even realising what you do want to do now you’re grown up — there is a corresponding appreciation of mortality. (Darn, how much time is wasted in younger years caring what people think, wanting to do the right thing versus the right thing for oneself?).
Because of the ticking time bomb we all live with, as we get older it is easy to justify “running away”. I call it the “yoga teacher in Bali syndrome.” When the going gets tough, wouldn’t it be better to go to Bali, live in a hut on the beach and meditate? While I have nothing against those who live that simple happy life, the question is are we running to something, or running away from something? If we are not really in tune with ourselves, or perhaps too wedded to our own ego, we can mistake our fears for real inner desires.
So how do we test our own thinking and feeling, to lessen the risk of reacting to what life throws at us, versus creating a life of greater purpose, meaning and achievement? Enter the “personal board of directors”.
I came across this phase a few years back and have adopted it as my own. We all have trusted advisors in our life, but to help navigate our working lives we need a diverse group of people who have our development at heart.
Just like a company’s board of directors has retaining and growing shareholder value as a core intent, a personal board of directors prioritises future-proofing your professional value. They know you, believe in you, call you out when you are operating out of fear and limited thinking, and offer other ways of looking at things. They assess the risks, and test your thinking.
Clearly you don’t need to call board meetings, prepare board papers and other formalities, a personal board is a loose arrangement! But, when it comes to personal and professional development, having a considered objective viewpoint on your work/life is hugely valuable.
There are four quite different female colleagues whose advice I call on either separately or collectively on work-based matters. Yes, they are friends as well, but I have particularly singled them out to help test my thinking on my own career development.
I even have someone I fondly refer to as my Chair, a very wise experienced businessperson who is top of her game and really tests my strategic thinking on where I want to play. Then there’s my accountant, who knows more about my financial position than I do. She’s on speed dial. Then there’s a leadership coach, top of her game. She ensures I am experiencing what I give my own clients. And lastly, I share my thinking with a truly global player to ensure I am not being too parochial. Before you call me out on gender diversity, I also have a couple of male colleagues who I use as confidantes to give me another perspective.
What is really important is that your spouse does not sit on your board. Spouses come with loaded agendas and tend to offer annoying commentary like “I told you so,” or “I could have told you that,” or have a viewpoint on your talents out-of-step with reality. Your BFFs may also not actually have enough relevant experience in your business world to give a balanced, objective opinion. And need I say it, avoid having family members whom as lovely as they are, can often with a passing comment call forth the inner 14-year-old who lies dormant in all of us.
If you think this is all a bit egocentric and overworked, consider this. If you are still interested in having a rewarding career with meaning, if you want to keep progressing and achieving, then how do you know you are constantly evolving to retain market value? Enlisting the help of others ensures you are looking at your working life objectively versus subjectively, which often leads to worrying about what other people may think. It also means that you are not boring your other mates with career woes.
And besides, how about taking the advice of Warren Buffett – respected investor and generous philanthropist. When asked for investment advice, he once famously declared:
“The most important investment you can make is in yourself”.
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson April, 2016