Building robustness in your career

April 18, 2012 (originally posted on April 9, 2012) | Hamilton, Ontario
Contributed by Jim Matthews, '96

Part 1 of a series

Woody Allen said, “90% of everything is just showing up,” one of the most famous references to never giving up, but when you are frustrated, failing or just doing something you don’t want to do, these words can sound simplistic. In spite of this, I quote him all the time because I have observed countless people prevail in difficult circumstances by applying this simple principle. More often than not, the prize goes to those who just keep moving and refuse to quit.

Tying efforts to goals that are energizing or especially worthwhile has a lot to do with success too, especially for longer or more difficult challenges. When I coach people, I will almost always ask “what do you want or what does success look like to you?” If someone is struggling, they often can’t answer this question right away. When I took my first golf lesson, the first thing I learned was to pick the spot you want the ball to go. Not only does this focus your efforts, but when people know what you want they can help you and, perhaps more important, you can recognize and manage opportunities and hurdles because you see them.

One of the secrets that top achievers know is that no one does it by themselves. It is critical that you have at least a few trusted people who can help you gain and maintain perspective, provide you with feedback and kick your butt when you need it. It is almost impossible to be totally objective with yourself, especially in tough times. A good mentor or coach is often a game changer.

Finally, chunk big tasks down, prioritize and reward yourself for small wins. It is well known that most successful people identify the critical tasks and generally do them first. However, it is equally important to create some time to recharge, reflect on progress and create many small wins that add up to the big ones.

Building a robust career is not easy, but it is vitally important in light of the fast changing work environment we live in. What distinguishes top performers is that they develop the habits of clarifying and committing to their goals, cultivating a support system and maintain tools to help them be effective. I will still suggest though that the most formidable competitors are not the smartest, strongest or even the most skilled, but the one who have a system and simply will not give up.

Jim Matthews B.Com ‘91, MBA ‘96, is senior director of demand management, at Research in Motion (RIM). Jim builds on many years of senior customer, operational and supply chain responsibility, primarily in high tech (IBM, Celestica, RIM). He brings a passion for the customer and pragmatism to complex business solutions. He is a graduate of McMaster University, and is a member of various volunteer boards.

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