Have you been successful so far in your career? If so, that is fantastic, but it could also mean that you are headed full force towards confusion and failure.
Ok that was bit dramatic. But in all seriousness, the statement is very true, thanks to a little devil called The Clarity Paradox.
I recently heard about this phenomenon, and being the paradox-loving psychology-nut that I am, I was intrigued. The basic premise of the clarity paradox is as follows:
1. True clarity of one’s goals brings success
2. Success results in more options and opportunities
3. More options & opportunities result in distraction & diffused efforts from the original goal
As efforts are spread more thinly, it erodes the clarity that led to the initial success. Put simply, success is a stimulus for failure.
As you paddle your way through the endless sea of career decisions, it is critical be very clear on want you want, what you value, and what your end goal is. You have to know where you want to end up in order to get there. Otherwise, you end up allowing people, events, or fears determine each move you make, and with that approach, you could end up literally anywhere!
As I reflected on the Clarity Paradox, I realized that I have recently been victim to this tricky little meister. I have clarity in my purpose, and my end goal to own a successful career coaching business. I want to help people, and create my ideal lifestyle at the same time.
Once my business was in full swing, I experienced some initial success. As a result, more options became available to me within the field of career coaching. I could go work for an outplacement firm, write a job hunting book, or even get a job at a local university in the career services department. I even had an option in totally unrelated field, and I was tempted to pursue it simply because it sounded interesting.
Over time, I started to focus on how I could get to the top of my field, and become a expert in career management. The clarity paradox had struck its maniacal wrench in my brain. I was distracted by all the possibilities, and had lost track of my real goal – to build a sustainable business that allows me to work on my own terms. When I stopped and thought about it, my goal is not to be at the top of my field (although it wouldn’t hurt). My goal is to run a successful career coaching business, and the actions that will take me there, are very different from the actions that will lead me to being a globally recognized expert in career management. I had to re-focus on what I truly wanted, and put everything aside.
So how can you avoid the clarity paradox as you build your career?
Here are 4 steps to keep you focused on the goals that actually matter to YOU.
1. When you are able to clarify your career goals, WRITE THEM DOWN, and post them on the wall in your office or bedroom so that you can see them every day. This will serve as a constant reminder of where your efforts should be focused.
2. Anytime you are considering a particular career option, ask yourself if the opportunity is going to hinder or help your progress towards reaching your career goals. You may be surprised that some options which initially appear to be in line with your goals, are actually not at all what you want. You have to be willing to turn down incredible opportunities so that you are available when the right ones do come along.
3. Conduct a pre-mortem. Most people wait until they have failed at something before they evaluate what went wrong. To conduct a pre-mortem, write down all the ways you could imagine yourself getting off track and losing focus of your goals. For each potential item, brainstorm what you can do to prevent that from happening. Example: I can imagine my parents could influence me and push me into pursuing work that I’m not thrilled about. Prevention plan: communicate with my parents and make sure they know exactly what my goals are. Each time I talk with them about career options, I will write in my journal and take time to reflect the direction they encouraged me to go in vs. the direction I have decided on.
4. For more ideas, check out the HBR Article: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. My favorite tactic listed for avoiding the clarity paradox is related to the endowment effect – which is our tendency to value something more once we own it. To apply this concept, when you are evaluating an opportunity, instead of asking yourself, How much do I value this opportunity? ask, If I didn’t have this opportunity, what would I be willing to sacrifice to get it?
It may seem like a lot of work, but this is the golden stuff that separates the successful from the mediocre.
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