Sep 27, 2009

A Perspective on Career Management

"The Darden School of Business improves society by developing principled leaders for the world of practical affairs."

That is my school's mission statement. I came to Darden in the hopes of broadening my business skill set beyond my core competencies of auditing and control. Darden offered expert assistance in this endeavor: career development center replete with printed and on-line resources, a rich tapestry of alumni, career discovery forums, company briefings, and career counselors. As my classmates and I embarked on the search, we were told to "trust the process." In summary, that process consisted of gaining an understanding of what makes one tick or what makes one happy (so called life themes) and then finding a company that could best cater to those themes. In other words, it was a two fold process of self awareness followed by matching the needs of the corporate employer. We were shown an illustration in which a twain cookie represented on the one hand the corporate needs, and on the other, individual skills and needs. The idea was to find the other half and make the cookie whole. It was understood that one may not be able to match all of the desired life themes, but more the merrier.

As I reflected on what it was that I wanted to do, why it was I came to business school, and what sort of employment I might seek, those career management sessions and illustrations came back to mind: trust the process. It struck me that in a way, Darden's career management advice espoused a very selfish worldview. Does one become a principled leader and improve society by following a career path that makes her happy? Should she seek those jobs that best cater to her desires? It occurred to me that happy workers are more likely to be productive and excel in what they do. At the same time, I felt that sometimes improving society would require one to sacrifice one's own desires and happiness for the sake of others, to aspire to a nobler cause, to heed a greater calling. If we were asked to go to war to defend our country, shall we say no because it does not fit our opinions or because it's inconvenient? Is there not a time in our lives, when we are led to do something that may not best serve our individual purpose, but which might best serve those around us?

What, then? Does this mean that all corporate careers are selfish? Are we to work pro bono? No, I think it means that as we search for the right fit, we should be aware that there's more at stake than our individual ego. In the cookie illustration, it's not the corporate half of the cookie and our half. Rather, it's many pieces, some representing our community, another representing us, another our families and friends, and so forth. There is more at stake in my career than simply money for myself, happiness for myself, recognition for myself. There is a calling to put those those talents and gifts given to us to apply it toward a fulfilling and happy career in which we can also bring greater benefit and happiness to those around us, and if we are really lucky, then the world at large. Then, I think we shall have made progress in realizing Darden's mission statement.

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