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  • Writer's pictureDavid Tong

A Brief Encounter with your Career Dreams

Updated: Mar 23, 2021

Winter weekends are a good time to indulge in a classic movie and I recently settled in to enjoy Brief

Encounter for the first time.

Made in 1945 this story of forbidden love spoke to the post-war virtues of commitment and selflessness. This was fitting for that era but how relevant in 2020?

‘Reach for your dreams’ seems to be the spirit of our time: repressing emotion is bad, breaking with conventions is good. Yet Brief Encounter has remained popular because it deals with an eternal dilemma – do we take our chances, with all the associated risks, or do we settle for what we have and make the best of it? This is a choice many of us face as we plan our careers.

Shooting for the stars is the right thing to do when we are young, and millennials are wonderfully brave in their search for the right career fit. Promotions come quickly at the start of a career and new responsibilities lead to rapid learning and big changes. But as we head towards our mid-career the opportunities become more constrained and the risks of change increase – will the grass really be greener in a new role?

One of the benefits of greater career stability is that we can be more ambitious within our role, trying to stretch ourselves in new ways. Alternatively, we can use phases like this to re-consider the very nature of our ambition. Is this the time to consolidate to avoid burn-out, is it the time to invest in self-development to learn new skills and increase resilience? Is it a time to appreciate the more nuanced satisfactions in our work? All this may lead us to more selfless contributions - raising team spirit, investing our experience to help others learn, and promoting innovative ways for the team to work more effectively.

But if in the later stages of our career, the job has gone stale and the options for escape seem limited, this is most definitely not the time to give up and accept our fate. Rather it’s the time to build a campaign to find a way out. We can position ourselves for success by building our network and actively engaging with it, by raising our profile and promoting our personal brand. We can volunteer for activities that increase our exposure to new ideas, new people and fresh challenges both within and outside our organisation. We can also look for ways to document and publicise our successes and achievements, by writing case studies or making presentations about projects we have completed – this is no time to be shy or modest. And if this all seems too remote from any immediate career payoff, we have to accept this can be a long-term game and that the benefits may come through unexpected channels.

An interesting read on adapting your plans over the course of your life is ‘The 100-Year Life:

Living and working in an age of longevity’ by two London Business School professors - Lynda Gratton and Andrew Scott.

Am I ambitious enough?’ is a great article that reflects on different types of ambition, written by Anneke Bots in Flow Magazine.

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