The Cubist Career: A Crimson Lens to Re-framing Your Career - Blog

tiled manWhy aren't you more thankful for your job?  After all there are still millions stranded in the purgatory of long-term unemployment here in the U.S. and even worse in Europe.  Greece is currently mired in 30% unemployment, it’s youth unemployment above 55%.  A sorry trend seems afoot in Corporate America:  stagnant wages are creeping up the Corporate ladder.   White collar professionals once confident in the perch of title and the insulation of advanced degrees are transfixed: sapped by increasing productivity demands and kept motivated by arbitrary cost-of-living-adjustments or whittling year-end bonuses.  For most professionals, this efficient “management consultant approved” combination is akin to a tightening shirt collar bursting under the gird of their sweating necks.

Silent pains are the worst. 

How does a heralded pay check transform itself into a back-handed slap? Accessing perspectives can clear the fog of conflicting emotions.   A simple yet effective framework for re-framing your career: 1) time 2) space and 3) beliefs/expectations.  Approaching your current career from multiple perspectives  offers a solution that just might surprise you – depending, of course, on your point-of-view. 


TIME - Counter-Factual  Narrative


Viewing your career through today’s lens can be as insightful as it can be limiting.  A peer is rumored to be getting $X per year provides an early peg.  Neighborhood cost-of-living adjustments, industry-wide benchmarks and crowd-sourced insider reviews (e.g. and  provide final turns to calibrating your salary’s positioning today.  Standard modus operandi.  However the snapshot of your compensation at this moment in time, while clear in its relative positioning, fails in capturing your salary’s future value, security of the cash flow and possible growth trajectory

What is the 3-5 year projection of your current salary?  To go beyond this time-frame would be pure speculation.  According to the Bureau Labor Statistics, the average American worker changes jobs once every 5 years.  Does the company’s growth foresee more leadership spots opening up?  Are senior leaders obsessively talking more about improving their golf handicaps in Florida? Does the growth pipeline contain a game-changing product or M&A target?  Fast-forwarding the clock reveals a projected highlight reel.  Is your highlight reel closer to one destined to be subjected to Donald Trump’s final assessment “You’re Fired!” or one that is to be a special featuring American ingenuity on CNBC (not “American Greed”)?

Another tact to this chronological exercise is to view your career against an alternate timeline to reveal options and opportunity costs.  If nothing else, it is a thought provoking exercise that will add more understanding to your perception of your career.

>>> Actionable Insight:  Focus on the recent past and find one key variable in your career to change.  Then postulate  - if that key variable had been a different choice how might this current reality have changed.  Be unencumbered by the realities of this time.  Note your choice and feel the emotions of your envisioned alternate reality. 

SPACE/SIZE – Change Your Perception; Change Your Reality

In America, we are blessed the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) tying a marketplace of over 300 million people together; making it largely governed by the same business regulations and norms.

This geographic homogeneity belies subtle but important differences in the job marketplace.  Regional differences overlaid by company size;  company life-cycle ; and the demographic make-up of the team reveal a very different .  Visualizing along the dimensions of size and geography can lead to powerful insights.  For instance, how would the same job located in a bulge bracket bank in New York City   look like at a smaller boutique bank in Midwest.  Same job, different context.

>>> Actionable Insight: Find your job in different locations.  Note the compensation differences, length of tenure and cultural or ethnic differences.  Envision yourself in those different contexts and note the feelings as you do so.

CULTURE – Your Chosen Belief System

Culture is often taken for granted.  Absolutes in one culture quickly get mangled in other.  Large topics such as women’s rights in Saudi Arabia or the more recent anti-gay laws in Russia are a bit more obvious. Industry norms are a wee bit harder to decipher.  For instance, utilization rates in big management consultancy is unquestioned as “meritocracy”, rarely is it criticized as a callous and easy-to-manipulate metric with unseemly un-intended consequences.  For many companies, silver hair is a prerequisite for leadership positions and is an accepted norm.   Are there sub-culture norms in your current role that you advocate or that you criticize?  How would you fare in the same job with a different team culture?

<p>>> Actionable Insight: Reflect on the cultural aspect of your team that you appreciate for example, perhaps its diversity.  If your same job were in the same location with everything unchanged but its diversity, let’s say, how would you feel?  Picture it, if you are a male working in a mixed gender professional services firm in a large city, how would you feel if you were 1 male in a sea of 100 female colleagues in the same job. Or you as a Christian professional working in a predominately Muslim business.  Would such scenarios alter your perception of your current role?  Be honest with your feelings and note them. 



FINAL THOUGHTS - Gratitude & Flexibility, a Gateway to Opportunity

Paradoxes exist throughout today’s economy – for example, plentiful listed job openings but little job hiring.  These conflicting feelings can have a corrosive impact on your spirit without corrective action.   The dissonance you may be feeling, may start as conflicting feelings towards your job but may represent latent mismatch: your expectations vs. your perceived reality.  Through accessing various  perspectives and utilizing these simple tools, we hope that you will be able to find balance with gratitude.  If not, then perhaps it will sharpen your path to another opportunity through becoming more flexible.   Embrace all the dimensions of reality and shape it.  Grow & Lead!

Guest Author:
Harvard Business School Alumni Club - Education & Career Chair, Kevin Omar Williams 

Note:  These expressions are not representative of Harvard University or its affiliates.