Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

"In the next five years, I see myself as a middle-management professional in one of the top companies of the world, helping their growth in the process of helping myself grow. I would have acquired the best techno-managerial skills from an esteemed premier institution - like yours :). I want to grow in the industry to as high position as I can where I have the power to bring a change in the working practices for the organization. I want to observe the entrepreneurs closely so that I can learn the intricacies of business from them."

I was scanning through some of my archived mails from 2009 and found this in one of the MBA interview documents that I had prepared. Notice how the 'like yours' is added right after the “esteemed premier institution”. I did not even know which institute would even call me for an interview, let alone offer me admission to the course. It was a generic statement added just to earn brownie points from the interviewer. Ah... The extent to which we would go to please the colleges to take us in!

Another eventful year 2014 has ended! The above document which I found dated back to late 2009 – it was the serious preparation time for MBA entrance tests, group discussions and personal interviews. It has indeed been a full five years since then! I wish each and every one of my readers a very happy and prosperous new year 2015! And this time of the year is usually a good time to look back at the years gone by, to plan for the years to come and to be thankful for all that we have been able to achieve. With that in mind I thought of reviewing the above statements that I prepared as compared to what I actually wanted, and how things actually turned out.

What was written v/s what I wanted?
Back then in late 2009, I was stuck in an organization without knowing what exactly the right career path was for me. Being a software engineer, I loved writing code, debugging and relished the challenges that programming offered, but I failed to see how all of these fit with the bigger corporate goals. Even the world’s largest mobile phone maker that I worked for was going through a very bad phase with no long-term goal/strategy in wake of cut-throat competition in the market. I was too frustrated with the daily work being done in our smaller teams. There was politics, biased decisions, the proverbial ‘glass-ceiling’ and most importantly, loss of precious hours on futile and pointless discussion about product features without out an actual implementation plan for any of them.

So, when I said I wanted to be in the ‘middle-management’ having ‘techno-managerial’ skills with ‘power to change working practices’, it all boiled down to one simple thing – I emphasized on getting things done with some ‘quick-wins’, in a way that it brought returns to the company, rather than sit and discuss about a thousand eventualities, most of which would never happen anyway! And the last part about ‘entrepreneurs’ was added only to know how much of a risk setting up a new business would entail – something which I was curious to know, even though the probability of me setting up one was very minimal at that point of time.

The part about faster career growth, higher salary, and a reputed institution branding were some of the things conveniently left out in that answer. I wanted to attain financial security for me and my family, attain personal happiness and make my parents happy. All those things were like a given which came with MBA – something that the interviewer and interviewee had already agreed to. Who does not want a higher salary anyway? :)

What did I learn in this time?
So, I thought I had it all planned for the next 5 years, and all I had to do was stick to that plan and execute it to perfection. It seemed all set – career, life, love –everything! The five years saw too much happen on all of these fronts – some turning out good, and some not so much or in some cases, outright tragic. I did manage to flatter some of the professors of a reputed institute with those well-prepared answers and survived the rigor of a tough MBA curriculum (once you cross the initial few days, it is quite an enjoyable experience anyway). I got into a company and career track where ‘quick-wins’ and fetching ‘incremental returns’ were a daily mantra. While earlier I used to lament about how slow things moved, the pace with which things happened in the new domain and roles were such that sometimes, I just prayed for things to slow down. All in all, it has been a wonderful five years, every experience teaching me something new and helping me to discover a bit more about myself.

Here’s a summary of the five main things which I learnt with respect to long-term planning in the last five years:

1. World changes every day and so should our priorities and plans: Even when Sachin Tendulkar batted on wickets that were bowler friendly, he batted so beautifully that a score of 300 was always possible in an ODI. But once he got out, there would be few more quick wickets and new batsmen found it hard to adjust. India was always forced to revise the projected score to 250-270. The same is the case in most fields. You can never accurately predict what would happen in the next few days. And things quickly change with disruptive innovations coming in almost every day. Even when I quit Nokia in 2010, it was still the world’s top phone manufacturer. But their devices unit ceases to exist today. And the company itself has faded away in the phone market! It is very important to continuously evaluate your plans and see if it makes sense even today. What seemed a best career choice two years ago might not such a good thing to do today. Hence, it is always important to prioritize in order to stay relevant.

2. Being happy is one of the most difficult things to plan/achieve: You could buy a house, a car, earn a promotion, or have crores as your bank balance. You could sail through a tough professional course, get a promotion and double your salary every 3 years. But the most difficult thing to achieve is being happy with what you do. What is the point if you are stuck in a job which you don’t really enjoy doing in spite of having all things mentioned above? This might be different for different people – so, it is not always higher salary or a great or even having a great car to commute to work. So, it is very important to find out what exactly makes you happy and then plan towards achieving them.

3. It does not matter how many steps/turns you take as long as you are headed in the right direction: I have come across people who always hold back on doing stuff just because they fear that it might “not look good on their resume”. If your job is a real dead end in terms of pay/work, why don’t you quit? “It might not look good on my resume”. If you are really interested to pursue higher studies now, why don’t you do it? “It might not look good on my resume”. Why can’t you do a hands-on role after doing a MBA if it really gives you the growth you always wanted? “Because it might not look good on my resume”. You must be getting the drift now. Nothing can be preposterous than this! As long as you are headed in the right direction, it just should not matter what things would look on the so called ‘resume’. If you are able to explain the real rationale behind your decisions, things always will look good on the resume.

4. There will be adversities to disrupt execution of your plans: Life is uncertain and there will be adversities, unexpected things that bog you down. I have seen people just give up on their goals when these things happen, and crib about them later on saying ‘If only I had got it done then, my life would have been so different’. A better attitude towards handling uncertainties and adversities would be to go back to point one, ie, evaluate and reset your goals. For example, if you failed to get admission to that top college this year, would it be in your best interests to try for it next year? And if the answer is yes, then just go for it! As long as you are headed in the direction of your dreams/passions, the minor impediments should just not matter.

5. Designations don’t matter, nor does the current pay: This one is solely for the people in the corporate world. I often see people in my org looking at some of their batch-mates in totally unrelated domains and grumbling ‘Look at that girl. She is already an ‘area sales manager’, while I am just an ‘accounts officer!’ or ‘The guy from our class has already got a six digit monthly salary and we are still getting peanuts here!’ and so on. It is absurd to be comparing yourself to someone because the kind of work/domains for the two be totally different. And the work that they do there might not at all be something to your liking at all. Maybe if you swapped roles with that other person, you would not enjoy your life/work as much as you would now. So, instead of making foolish comparisons, all that we need to focus on is to stay market-relevant in our passionate area, strive to excel in that and constantly believe in our abilities!

So, where do you see yourself in 2020?
For most people in their early 20s, the answer to this question pretty much remains the same – complete professional courses/training, secure a high paying job, buy a house and/or an expensive car, get settled in life, get married to your college sweetheart, etc. It is once you get past that stage, little bit of disillusionment sets in – whats next? Would you revise your goals? Would you realize the futility of planning for the future and give it all up? It is here most people start doubting, disbelieving, giving up, doing something outrageous, questioning their existence, etc in search of a bigger overall goal of life.

Yes, these things are all but natural feelings of emptiness once you have achieved/are close to achieving what you set out to achieve. But the most important of all to consider in all these is your happiness. If you feel happy doing whatever you are doing right now, then just continue to do it and excel at it so that you earn a good name in your field. If you feel there is still a lot of scope to improve from where you are right now, just continue putting in your best efforts to get to wherever you aimed to be. And if whatever you are doing is not making you happy, just try experimenting to see if there is some other thing which makes you happy. I understand that there would be a high risk and a lot at stake if you want to switch into an alternate career if you are at later stages of your life, but it is always better to take a calculated risk to understand yourself better, rather than not having tried at all. In simple words, in the next five years, we just need to aim to be happier and better persons than what we are right now. At least if your efforts are in the right direction, then all the other things will automatically fall in place. And that exactly would be my answer if I were asked this question in any interview. What would be yours?

“We plan for things to happen in one year, ponder over it for 2-3 years and it somehow takes 5 years to finally get executed”
- Great philosopher :)

1. Securing admission into any professional course follows a lots of sequential steps like score in entrance tests, group discussions, SoP writing, etc and not based on professors getting impressed in one single interview. It has been depicted only to set the tone of the post
2. Video courtesy : youtube; Movie: 'Love aaj kal'- used to depict the feeling of emptiness/disillusionment once goals seem achieved