Three verses sum up the qualities of those rare, yet enormously valuable people who give us advice at critical points of our career. That someone is perhaps a coach, a senior colleague or a friend who knows our industry or our company well. Each one, from various perspectives and with fairly sophisticated tools, prop us up at the crossroads charting our professional future.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
(William Ernest Henley)
The best counsellors do not present us with firm solutions; instead they urge us to face our own challenges. In some cultures, the most important decisions for change are made by others. Many professionals chose their studies without a very clear-cut idea what work they will pursue in the future. The first jobs typically come about from a series of coincidences (opportunities that come up at the right time) or through the influence of someone in our ambience. Afterwards, careers often progress organically: promotions through good performance or simply due to seniority at the company, among others. Sometimes we change jobs only because the previous one is no longer viable or because we receive a better offer elsewhere in view of our experience or our contacts. Suddenly at 40, many people look back on the career path taken acknowledging that control over their career depends much more on external factors than by their own hand. Proactivity means it’s important to have a job that allows us to generate income, but it is even more crucial that such employment makes sense in our greater pursuit of how we want our career to be like.
2. Managing Risk
Se retrocede con seguridad
pero se avanza a tientas
Stepping back surefootedly
But advancing by trial and error
A good counsellor speaks frankly without pretending to please at all costs and without nurturing unfounded expectations. He or she only makes sure that the career decisions we make are right: consistent with our professional aspirations, based on objective criteria, considering all the available information, among others. But no one can assure that the outcome will be unswervingly positive. We need people who help us to take on the risk inherent in any decision and to courageously face professional turning points. Leaving the comfort (often fictitious) of the familiar produces vertigo. We so often step back and put off decisions that in hindsight are ineluctable. As Benedetti says, every step forward takes us into partially uncharted scenery through which we fumble around by trial and error. The alternative is to let opportunities slip by or we put our career changes into the hands of others.
3. Disinterest and competition
Me gusta la gente que sin motivo te busca
Que sin mirarte te quiere
Y sin ataduras se queda
I like the people who seek you out for no reason
And without looking at you
Care for you with no strings attached
To counsel well it is necessary to desire to and to have knowledge. Someone well intentioned out of their regard for you may give disastrous advice. It’s essential to have in-depth knowledge of the sector we work in, the type of organization we work for, the labour market conditions—source and target ones, if changing countries. They say that to give good advice, we need grey hair as a sign of the experience that enables us to understand the circumstances of the person we are counselling.
But good knowledge isn’t enough. Counselling requires dispelling any doubts about the interests that drive us to offer such help. A good counsellor is one who acts solely in the interest of whoever is being counselled. We can listen to other voices representing other interests—be that of the company, the source department or the target department—but only an impartial voice deserves our attention.
Hopefully we will always have someone like that at our side when we face decisions that will shape our professional future.