We do not do this. Instead, we often spend our career focus on the exact opposite – focused on the medium term. We focus on the next project, next promotion, next job. We want a faster return on investment (urgency, impatience, selfishness) rather than putting in the thoughtful work to get better at our craft. We obsess about things we have only limited impact on – eager and frustrated with the often-times random results. Yes, I am guilty of this too.
I first heard this idea over dinner. The Work Place Therapist was asking me questions about my work life, and honestly, talking me out of a mental career cul-de-sac. He pushed me to think bigger about my career goals, and more immediate with my actions. Short-term action, Long-term goal.
Medium-term is angst. You don’t have to read until the end of this blog post to get to the punch line – medium term should not be your focus. What happens over the next 6 months or 3 years depends on a number of factors often beyond your control. Your boss can change, your project can lose its funding, your family may move, you may take a sabbatical. Things change and the medium-term is the least reliable part of your equation.
You control the short-term. What you focus on now is up to you. You decide what today will look like. Seth Godin says (paraphrase) that artists need to ship art; they need to get things done. Inaction sucks. If you want to be a linchpin (100K, pdf) – someone that others value, need, seek the advice of – you need to get things done. Become irreplaceable.
You control the long-term. When it comes to your career, only you can set the goal and direction. You set your own “North Star”. You determine your competitive advantage, and strategic positioning, where and how you will compete. What will my brand be? Who will I seek out? Who will I invest in? It’s all up to you; it’s exciting, empowering, and gives you nowhere to hide.
Short-term input. Long-term output. If I were to draw out this idea, it might looks like this. If you are starting on the left-hand side, there are a lot of steps (some known, and many unknown) between you and your long-term goal. Yes, you can break down your plan into workable milestones, but frankly, the more ambitious and innovative you goal, the less tried-and-true the plan will likely be. Gotta be open to serendipity. Get some hustle on. Make your weather.
Do the work. Put in the 10,000 hours. If strategy is about creating a sustainable competitive advantage, what can you do to develop yourself? What is your “unfair advantage?” What steps can you take now to make yourself uniquely valuable – create an economic moat around yourself?
I don’t want a business that’s easy for competitors. I want a business with a moat around it with a very valuable castle in the middle. – Warren Buffett
Dream bigger. Don’t limit yourself to the short-term promotion, project, or job. Think about what the economic castle you are going to build for yourself, and using the Buffett analogy, start digging the moat today.