Are you on the right career path?

Each of us has choices to make during our careers. We might regret some of the choices we make, and we might "torture" ourselves into making those choices. After reading the book "Just Listen" by Mark Goulston (see my write-up) I found another interesting book source. Goulston referred Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter to "The Earned Life" book, so I decided to check it out. I wish I had read the book before.

What I will tell you might seem ridiculously simplistic, but we humans tend to focus more on "action" and "ambition." The first one refers to the hundreds of decisions we make every day. Some of the actions we make are linked to our ambitions. These are what we want to achieve within a specific time frame; it is all about our goals, and it is measurable. We can simultaneously have multiple ambitions or goals (professional, avocational, physical, spiritual, financial, etc.)—the one we tend to forget which is the most important. We need to define what our aspiration is. Aspiration defines what we want to become. Dr. Marshall Goldsmith states that aspiration is "our pursuit of an objective greater than any defined, time-bound goal." Aspiration is a "continuing act of self-creation and self-validation."

The book discusses about "inertia," our tendency not to do anything. Inertia is an active event in "which we are persisting in the state we're already in rather than switching to something else." How many of you are currently in your current situation in your life because you don't dare to make the change or are too comfortable as the risk of doing something new is too daunting?

Let me tell you something from my past. If I had stayed in a state of "Inertia," I would not be where I am today. In my mid-thirties, I decided to quit my fantastic job as head of development for a software company. I had always dreamed of continuing my career outside my native country (Finland). I grew up in a small export harbor town, Kotka. I graduated from two business schools in Helsinki, the capital of Finland. I got hired by the second-largest software ERP company when I graduated with my first master's degree from a business school. Fast forward, I got bored watching one software release after the other and wondered if there was something else for me. I decided to put time into "self-development" and ran into a book by a known Finnish entrepreneur, Jari Sarasvuo.

A sentence in the book "clicked" in my head, and a decision was made. I asked my wife, Rita Salonen, if she would consider moving with me to the United States to start a life on the other side of the Atlantic. She responded with one sentence: Let me know when I need to resign from my current employer. She was ready for an adventure.

Twenty-five years have passed since this decision, and here we are as business owners in Texas. I run TELLUS International and Rita has a cruise travel agency TELLUS Travels. I can't believe what I have got to do during my career. I have worked with 100+ global brand names with Microsoft, running and facilitating workshops, helping these organizations take their business and solutions to the next level. I am unsure where I would be today if any inertia had kicked in back 25 years ago. Nobody knows. I wrote a couple of books about my experiences for a major Finnish book publisher, which was an exciting project.

When we immigrated to the United States, of course, multiple people told us how dumb we were to leave good jobs for something that was very uncertain. Some even thought that I would not finish my Ph.D. education. I did finish my studies. Was it hard? Of course, but I had formulated my aspiration to get it done.

There will always be people judging your decisions, but as long as you know what your aspiration in life is, you know what you need to do, and you can leave the opinions of the people thinking they know better behind.

The same thing happened when we sold the company where I was CEO, and I resigned. I was told I would have a great career with the big company that bought us. However, it was outside the aspiration plans I had. I resigned and started my company, TELLUS International, a boutique technology management consulting and advisory firm. We work with fantastic companies like Microsoft, and every day I wake up, I love trying to make a difference and bring value to our customers.

The most significant impact the book had on me was its understanding of the dependencies of action, ambition, and aspiration. I used the lessons from these three words by reflecting on my own decisions in the past and found that many decisions were made correctly, but many were made without thinking clearly about how they would impact me in the long term.

The timing of reading the book was good; I decided today to enter into a partner relationship with an organization where I have, through the dependencies of action, ambition, and aspirations.

When you make decisions in your career or life, you should clearly define "what you want to become." You need to understand how your actions will impact your ambitions (goals), but you need to recognize that ambitions are NOT the same as aspirations. The former is always short-term; you can make ambitions and get them done through your actions. But you might be on the wrong path if you don't define your aspirations.

The book is super important for young professionals who define what they want to become. However, Dr. Goldsmith emphasizes that age has nothing to do with setting your aspirations; it is never too late. The risks are higher for a young generation entering their professional life and potentially making decisions they might regret later.

We are all busy with our day-to-day things, but I encourage you to stop and think if you are on the right path with your career and life. Don't let life "pass by" without making an effort to achieve what Dr. Goldsmith states: to have an "earned life" without regrets.

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Dr. Petri I. Salonen

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