We have all heard it said that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
Then -- what are we supposed to think about career self-management?
Unfortunately there are very few options for professional petroleum geologists in the world today. No one else will manage our careers. No one else has a stake in our future. No one has the incentive to invest in our training and development, and we come without a manual.
This is a good time to take inventory. It is time to inventory where you are in your profession and your life, assess your achievements and decide what kind of life you want from now into the future.
We must be flexible and quick, like a boxer or a dancer, always on our toes. We must be prepared to seize opportunities as they develop, because timing is everything.
Most importantly, we must identify the key points of tension in work and in life -- and learn how to manage them.
To manage anything -- including our careers -- in today's more chaotic, creative and competitive environments requires that we learn balance and the interplay of tension among opposing forces.
This, then, is the starting point for the manual on career self-management.
We must learn how to manage the tension between:
You and your employer.
Knowledge represents the major tension point between employers and employees, because knowledge is power. This tension must be managed well by both employers and employees in order to have profitable, competitive companies.
As knowledge increasingly becomes the critical commodity in short supply, those who possess it can and should demand a new level of respect.
It seems that respect for the individual has been rare lately, despite the fact that it costs nothing to provide and it reaps huge rewards.
Where do you stand in this tug of war?
What can you do to improve your relationship with your employer while maintaining your own self respect?
Work and the rest of your life.
Finding this balance is at the top of the list for many people.
If you are self-employed, finding time away from work can be especially difficult -- and most people working in the corporate world find themselves routinely putting in 15 hours a day. For some this has even become a mark of distinction.
I know (and we probably all know) one or more managers who put in grindingly long hours -- and expect everyone who works for them to do the same!
It's too bad that such people do not have a life, but it is doubly unfortunate that companies allow them to impose these limitations on people around them -- and that the people allow themselves to be intimidated by the system that condones it.
High technology and your intuition.
Perhaps the biggest job each of us has is the management of burgeoning technology in our lives. This includes everything from cell phones to e-mail.
I just heard an entire program dedicated to "techno-stress" on National Public Radio. Clearly it is a widely experienced phenomenon in this country. But you know that.
My wife and I always said that the one place where we could get away from it all was in the car. There was going to be no intrusion of the tech-wars to drown out the stereo as we drove down the road.
Time passes. A couple of months ago we drove down the freeway to Dallas. I was late for an appointment there. I suddenly realized that I was on my cell phone to Dallas at the same time my wife was on her phone back to Tulsa -- and the speedometer was pinned at 100 mph.
I pulled over and took inventory. I have canceled my cell phone account.
I no longer measure the success of my day by the number of e-mails I get.
If I cannot understand a computer program (or a computer) I sure don't buy it -- no matter how great other people say it is. This is one place where I do not need to be on the leading edge of technology. I doubt if I will ever master HTML.
Am I dropping behind? I don't know, but I feel like I have just done a spring housecleaning. I have lightened my load so that I can do better what I think I do best.
Years ago James Naisbitt identified a major trend in our society that he called "High Tech-High Touch." It was clear then, as it should be to us now, that the demands of higher technology have the side effect of depersonalization and isolation of the individual. It is easier to carry out layoffs if those affected are first depersonalized. But to get the most from high-tech it needs to be coupled with high touch, the link between machine efficiency and human creativity, accumulated experience and intuition.
What this means is that we need a balance between hard technology and people skills, and the training that goes with it.
In today's climate would that kind of training ever get to the top of an individual's priority list?
Competition and collaboration.
There is clear tension between competition and cooperation throughout our industry.
The concept of the team and the culture of the individual have never been fully reconciled in our industry. People are constantly torn between the need to stand out and be seen as a winner individually and the requirement to be a selfless team member in order to attack and solve complex technical problems.
Self-interest is a powerful motivating force. Reconciliation of the interests of the individual with the interests of the team/organization requires an exploration of shared values that is rarely undertaken.
The price for not doing it is the disruptive -- often expensive -- conflict that always comes later.
The culture of your generation and that of older -- and younger -- generations.
One of the unexpected outcomes of the recent downsizings has been the elimination of an entire generation from the industry.
It is difficult for people more than a decade apart in age to relate to one another -- it takes effort, because generations are cultures all to themselves.
People the same age develop distinct values, language and culture that are stronger than any bond within a company or a profession.
Given the opportunity, it is not surprising that people want to hire people in their own age bracket. It is a matter of personal comfort, or "chemistry."
It also tends to further homogenize the thinking of the organization. That is great for efficiency and left-brained activities. It is deadly for creativity and innovation.
People of different age bring diverse experience and viewpoints and language to the overall creative process.
People who can "bridge the gap" between generations should be worth their weight in gold.
Order and chaos.
Everyone wants relief from stress. What people need is a balance between chaos and order -- and our industry hasn't done a very good job recognizing this.
Just as there are boom and bust economic cycles there are cycles of order and chaos. Each one is carried to an extreme before the pendulum swings back the other way.
Order is the accountant's dream and the entrepreneur's nightmare. Chaos is the accountant's nightmare. Somewhere in between is the balance that produces useful and productive creativity. Without some order, new ideas cannot be implemented. With too much order, new ideas do not get heard.
This same principle holds true in the lives of individuals. When it is well managed, this tension produces a healthy energy that spurs innovation. When badly managed it produces out-of-control, debilitating stress.
Over the last few years the pendulum has swung toward order, and it needs to swing back toward more "chaotic" and creative climates in all organizations.
The present and the future.
People need balance between the pressures of today and the promise of tomorrow.
Simply put, you must live fully today and constantly anticipate the future. The only way that you can make a rational decision about the investment of your training dollars is to find ways to anticipate change.
When you were in college you gambled that the major you chose -- the investment in your education -- would pay off later. You must continue to make that gamble today.
Do you invest your dollars to strengthen your technology skills? Business skills? Leadership and management skills?
The decision depends on how you imagine the future unfolding.
What is and what can be.
Creativity is also a process of sustained tension between what is and what can be.
This is almost certainly the most fundamental area of tension in our professional lives -- the need to be creative and unique, to leave a mark on the world is almost universal. The challenge is to maintain a sustainable level of tension, driven by our dreams, without losing hope that we can make it happen.
All of these areas of tension define the healthy levels of stress that make life an exciting journey. Career self-management becomes the ability to identify and manage the key tension points in work and life so that you are self-motivated toward the achievement of creative, constructive goals consistent with your personal values.
This is the framework. It outlines what you need to do and where to focus your energy. It does not begin to tell you how to get it done.