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3 Questions to Ask Your Own Career

Career Advice

By Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Morphic Therapeutic Inc. Originally published on Quora.

I’ll let you in on a secret: The end (and beginning) of the year is actually a great time to reach out to people.

In November and December, people realize whether or not they’re going to hit their goals for the year. In both cases, they tend to let their guard down a little and resign themselves to what’s happening. In general, things slow down.

Now’s the time to introduce yourself or play catch up, because once the new year is in full swing, people get busy again. So make some calls, see how people are doing, find out what they’re working on.

The lull in activity is perfect for taking bold risks, thinking big, and setting goals for improvement.

If you are trying to further your career, take some time at the end of the year to make those calls and answer these three questions.

1. Whose Job Do You Want?

I actually force my employees to answer this question. It’s part of our career development at Morphic Therapeutic. I want them to have an answer about where they want to be in five to ten years.

I know that’s tough to answer. Things can change quickly. They might have a different answer in six months. But I still make them declare whose job they want in five years because it forces them to take tangible actions.

The point of asking this question isn’t to push you down a rigid career path. It’s simply gets you thinking about the direction that you’re headed. Your career is flexible. Goals can change. But that isn’t an excuse to have no direction at all.

And in order to answer this question properly, you have to answer a couple more questions as well.

2. How Much Autonomy Do You Want?

When answering this question, I create a parallel to Bruce Greenwald’s book Competition Demystified: A Radically Simplified Approach to Business Strategy. He boils strategy down to one variable: barriers to entry. In a similar way, you can boil all career-related questions down to one variable: autonomy.

Let’s think in extremes. You want to take care of your kids, but a few days in the month, you’d like to do some consulting work to stay up to speed in your career. That’s high autonomy.

Or are you willing to tolerate less autonomy in order to be a part of something bigger? In a company, you can create something far bigger — but at the cost of diminished autonomy. In order to function effectively, team members have to give up some autonomy in order to work together.

I’ll give you an example:

My first job after my MBA was in a venture capital firm. Nobody was ever there because the partners were off working with different Boards and keeping busy with other responsibilities. I had a very high level of autonomy.

But honestly, I wanted a team around me. So, I gave up some autonomy to work with a team and be a part of something that I would never have been able to do on my own.

This question can simplify the direction that you take in your career and put a focus on how deep a skill set you need. In most cases, autonomy and flexibility comes with depth. The deeper your skill set, the more autonomy you can bargain for.

It’s a choice everyone has to make independently. Many people feel happiest when they have complete control over their own destiny. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the most fulfilling career, though. Complete autonomy also precludes big and bold endeavors that can only be done together with like-minded people.

3. Do You Really Want Work-Life Balance?

The perfect quote for this question comes from Rudyard Kipling. He says,“If you did not get what you want, it is a sign that either you didn’t seriously want it or you tried to bargain over the price.”

Sometimes people will say they do not wish to further their career because they want work-life balance. And that’s a great reason. But I suspect that sometimes what they really mean is that they’re unsure if the work they put in will produce results.

They don’t want to face that uncertainty.

People will sign up for tennis lessons or train for a triathlon because they know there are steps to take to get their desired results. They can hire a coach. The can follow exactly the coach’s instructions. If they practice for a certain amount of time, they can get to their desired and deserved level of competency. There’s a proven link between input and output.

That’s not always the case with your career. There is not a direct link. You don’t know that extra work will get you a promotion in the same way that you know putting in extra work on your backhand will pay off on the tennis court. The link between input and output is more vague.

So, people shy away from putting in extra effort.

But what would happen if I say: “You are going to see your family much less for the next six months. No weekends. But at the end of this time period, I’ll give you the position and responsibility that you want.”

I suspect some of the people who want work/life balance would change their tune.

Success Isn’t As Uncertain As It Seems

You can almost always predict who’s going to be successful — you just can’t predict when. Some talented people have bad luck, and they aren’t immediately successful. But they almost always rebound and find success eventually.

Almost everyone I admired in my 20s eventually succeeded in the way they wanted. Yet recently, someone very close to me delivered and made over $100M — and everyone had counted him out. It took many iterations, but he got there.

So, ask yourself if you’re really looking for work-life balance, or if you’re not ready to face the uncertainty that comes with putting everything into your work. Forget about thinking about the outcome. That can be paralyzing. Focus on giving it your all.

Don’t rob yourself so easily of your infinite potential. You do have complete control of the situation.

As the year draws to a close, spend some time pondering these questions. The answers you find will put you on the right path to finding a career that you truly enjoy and improving it year-over-year.

By Praveen Tipirneni, CEO of Morphic Therapeutic Inc. Originally published on Quora.
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