The two muscles needed to reach your professional success
On how your career depends on two essential sets of questions and actions. [From the Sabi Dot blog]
What’s your idea of “professional success”?
For some people, it’s about reaching the top of the hierarchy. For others, it’s about having a clear impact on the product, or on society. For many, it’s about having a pleasant day-to-day experience. For others — it’s about wealth.
Truth is that it doesn’t really matter how you define professional success.
Each one of us can define what makes them happy and how success looks like in their eyes, obviously; what matters in the end is whether we understand what tools we need to reach our own version of professional success. Most people do their best to land a job from time to time, or frantically navigate the workplace to make sure that they will be on the list for a promotion. Most times it’s unproductive, sometimes it becomes stressful and frustrating.
Experts in the field of career management and professional development have been researching these questions for the past few decades. After learning and working with most of these models and techniques, I synthesized them in one macro framework. I call it the Sabi framework.
The Sabi Framework
“Sabi” is the Japanese concept for wise, experienced simplicity.
The Sabi framework is a pragmatic approach toward professional and organizational development. It recruits models and practices from the fields of career management, adult learning and economics to provide clear, practical pathways to make progress towards your success.
The core idea is pretty simple: most of us strive to reach their professional success; we define professional success in our own personal way, aligned with our experiences, beliefs, values. Still, the framework needed to reach professional success is the same for everyone:
Professional success is a function of accurate decision-making and pragmatic performance.
Accurate decisions-making: great professionals know how to make clarity. How to ask themselves the right questions and find accurate answers. How to connect the dots and reach the best conclusions. Career-wise, they know what they are worth, to which direction they want to grow, and who can help them make progress.
The keyword here is Clarity. If this muscle was a tool, it would be a journal. A place to write down and articulate your insights on what your capacities and ambitions are. Clarity is a function of structured reflection.
Pragmatic performance: great professionals understand what the job markets needs, and have the know-how to deliver it. They are constantly exposed to information related to their industry (what are the new trends? who are the rising stars in the industry — companies, thought leaders, CEOs? what jobs are in demand?) and they can articulate what makes them better than most people in their field in the same age-range.
The keyword here is Practicality. If this muscle was a tool, it would be a map. A macro picture of the area where you are, together with where all the resources, places and measurement needed to understand what a realistic destination can be and what paths can lead you there. Practicality is a function of radical exploration.
To sum it up, we reach our professional success when we know how to make decisions in the best way, at the right time, with clarity; and when we know how to perform at our best: how to do our jobs in a way that is outstanding compared to most of the similar professionals in our industry.
Clarity and Practicality are muscles. If we understand how they work and if we use them consistently, our everyday performance will always be informed by these two. We will train our brains into constantly reflecting on our professional value and ambitions, and into being always in search for relevant data on our industry and job market.
Fighting the Disney Syndrome
There is one more, essential piece to understand.
Using your clarity and practicality muscles is not a magic formula to reach your dream job or enormous wealth. They are core-components of a framework that allows you to move intentionally in your professional life: they balance each other.
I’ll explain: in the same way that Disney movies taught a whole generation to search for the handsome knight and not to settle down for anything else, or that we can go from rags to riches just by being brave and fair, basing our decisions only on our ambitions will lead only to disappointment and frustration.
You can aim at finding a dream job that is close to your apartment, with a great boss, high salary, a job description that matches exactly your passions, with a low-stress routine and flexible work hours. Or a job in a field that is new to you, where you’ll get from junior assistant to CEO within three years. Those ambitions might be an indication of your Clarity level (you might know exactly what you want), but they are also a symptom of very low Practicality: the job market might never allow you to realize those ambitions.
Matching Clarity with Practicality means matching ambition with pragmatism. It’s a viable, yet inspired and informed way to make great career decisions.
Look at the graph down here: the dot on the top right is your professional success. We understand that we need to reach higher clarity and higher practicality to make progress towards your professional success.
Still, we need to understand that achieving a job that provides us with a great salary, an inspiring boss and pampering benefits, and with a job description that is not exactly our dream job but is quite close to it — it’s an outstanding achievement. In the same way that getting a job that allows us to do exactly what we like doing and leveraging our top skills is a great success also if the salary is 10% lower than what we expected and we need to commute an hour and a half every day to get to the office. The bigger, transparent dot behind the green dot on the top right is a realistic area of professional success. It’s the area we can reach if we make great decisions and if we perform pragmatically. It includes your definition of professional success, but it expands it into a range of options that can be still very good for you. Great success — not necessarily ultimate, definitive success. Still an incredible achievement.
Important: this framework is not advancing a “stop dreaming and start working” agenda. Rather, it represents the absolute necessity of understanding the opportunities and limits that you should consider to calibrate your goals. It explains that pragmatic ambitions might be easier to achieve.
This is why I borrowed the concept of Sabi to name this framework: being driven by Clarity and Practicality means having enough understanding. As I wrote before: wise, experienced simplicity. A sophisticated, systemic outlook on who we are, where we are and how can we get to our desired destination. Not perfect, not incredibly complicated, not frantic.
Wise, experienced, simple.
The Sabi framework can help you understand what your options are when you reach a professional junction; it can help you articulate what skills and expertise you should develop to reach your next professional stage; it can help you map out the status of your industry and how relevant you are to it.
I use it to help professionals make progress in their career, when they feel stuck, confused or overwhelmed. It’s always inspiring (and very rewarding!) to see how it resonates and make sense to professionals from different countries, professional fields and walks of life. And it’s even better to see how it always helps them become more intentional with their careers: they understand the importance of their decision-making and they feel the urgency of boosting their everyday performance. They re-align their mindset to a constant quest for a professional life guided by, once again — wise, experienced simplicity.
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