Mid-career Growth and Rebuilding

Our society is geared to the need for periodic renewal of our surroundings. We accept as a matter of course that our automobiles need periodic maintenance, and even an occasional overhaul. The appliances in our homes are repaired, modified, or even replaced when the job for which they were acquired changes and the old machines and methods no longer do the job satisfactorily.

It would seem to follow, then, that we should be both willing and able to extend this thinking to our own careers and even to our basic way of life.


To many people the concept of change IS frightening. Change is not to be taken lightly. It always leads into the unknown. And if the familiar is comfortable, it is possible that the unknown may be uncomfortable.

A widely held belief holds that maintaining familiar structures and systems will keep conditions the same. But so long as time goes on and people continue to grow, conditions cannot avoid changing. Thus man is faced with the paradox of the need to find stability in change.

Change also can be thought of as a form of renewal in your career. This article is written to show you how to master the various changes through which you must pass in your life and in your career.

Each person develops a system of living to which he becomes accustomed. We call it his life-style or his career-style. Every few years this life- or career-style needs periodic maintenance; it may even require a total overhaul. Unfortunately, too many people feel they can't be bothered with this effort.

Things often go well early in careers. Progress is fairly rapid through the lower economic levels. Many long in management and the professions probably have surpassed their original expectations and now tend to feel that a little slowing down is no cause for concern.

It isn't really, if - and it is a big if - if everything else slows down, if young people who like to move ahead fast don't enter the job market and if they don't shove when they do, if things don't change as much in the future as they have in the past - and a long list of other ifs.

As people climb their career ladders it is natural for them to become more concerned with maintenance of their job and their status than with growth and change. The logical result is that they establish their own ruts. As their salaries and status increase they realize they have more to lose. Thus they attempt to avoid risk and resist change. In short, they block progress and they bring on themselves the very disasters they sought to escape. “That which I feared has come upon me.” Job foretold that thousands of years ago. Franklin D. Roosevelt put it another way: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Today's psychologists call it a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Each person has his own career-style and each adopts style changes for different occasions. Off the job your career-style becomes your life-style, even though you may associate with many of the same people.

Your career-style is influenced by the environment of the organization within which you work. You may be part of a pyramid-type organization, with clear lines of responsibility and authority going up to the top. You may be in a more democratic structure, in which responsibility and authority are spread around. There are other types of organizations in which some divisions or departments operate under different organizational setups.

In the traditional, pyramid organization, the boss not only has the final word, he also needs to hear all the right answers. The latter is impossible. Further it puts a crimp in the career-style of someone who likes to act independently, particularly if he must get prior approval before he tries something a little different.

The democratic, or participative, management organization provides the individual with considerable freedom for action within guidelines he has set for himself with the help of his supervisor. The professional in these surroundings has more freedom to take risks. He is encouraged to make positive changes to attain or surpass agreed-upon goals more efficiently. This system requires open personal relationships and communications, with freedom to disagree, to cross the often imaginary lines of organization.

Most managers and professionals follow four main career-styles.

Some men and women become self-satisfied with what they have attained. They do as much as possible to resign from the rat race. They concern themselves with doing as little as necessary to maintain their hold on their jobs. These are the “maintainers.” Unless protected by higher-ups, and this is temporary protection at best, they are prone to obsolescence and terminations.

A second group can be called the “convergers.” They move things along by pulling and putting things together in improved ways, by consolidation and coordination rather than through serious experimentation or radical change. They aim for smooth operations.

A third group may be said to have an “impersonal” career-style. They flourish in bureaucracies, both public and private. They are more concerned with manipulating their own progress, without particularly changing anything. They are attached to their organizations for fiscal, ideological, or other reasons; they aim for survival despite the coldness, impersonality, and even alienative qualities of their environments. The impersonal type hinders change with red tape and substitutes: the appearance of activity for progress.

The fourth group consists of “metamorphics,” who are concerned with improvement. Rarely content with things as they are, they attempt to change them. They value creativity and like to leave their imprints on experiences. They seek self-actualization through growth where they are, through growth elsewhere if conditions are not right where they are, through changing their environments; sometimes through serving as consultants or operating their own businesses. Metamorphics are deeply concerned with good performance. They tend to be decisive and self-confident, taking risks and accepting the pain of losing. They usually are authoritarian, but are open to sharing power when it seems likely to help in achieving desired changes.

Almost all organizations have people who fit each of the four styles or mixes of them. Each person expresses his style in his own way and changes that style to meet the needs of changed conditions. It is not too difficult to change your main career-style. But it does require you to reexamine some of your behavior priorities.

A handsome man of 33 was trying to make a job change because his income had not been increasing at the same rate as that of others in his graduating class. He had a respectable Wall Street position and dressed impeccably, albeit in a somewhat peculiar fashion.

Fashion is part of career-style because one dresses according to his self-image. What this man regarded as one of his greatest achievements revealed the cause of his peculiar choice of clothes, which was an influencing factor in his financial status and a basic component of his maintainer career-style.

The achievement was his election, years earlier, as the best-dressed college student. It had really hooked him at the time, and he resolved to stay on top. But although the business world was now his environment and structure, his emphasis on being the best-dressed college student remained unchanged - he looked and dressed like a college student.

The image conveyed by his appearance belied his actual age and his competence and knowledge and negatively affected customer relations. When he was helped to recognize the appropriateness of dress, he opted to seek self-actualization in his career rather than to maintain a long-past structure of campus appearance. He soon was moving ahead on Wall Street.

This example is intended to illustrate how seemingly simple some of our hang-ups can be, how easily some of them can be recognized and overcome. It also demonstrates the basic process essential to modification of one's career style.

Role disengagement is the first step in the process. This means examining carefully the many roles you play. You then will be able to explore with an open mind how those skills may be applied differently to achieve your goals.

The second step, and this is an aid to open-minded exploration, is to try out the behavior patterns you would like to develop.

There are many places around the country where you can investigate and try out new behavior and life-styles. These places have a variety of names, as do the projects they conduct. Perhaps the term most often used is “human relations training.”

Behavior Change Experimental Centers

Two nonprofit organizations that can recommend competent training leaders in your area are the National Training Laboratories in Arlington, Virginia, affiliated with the National Education Association, and the Association for Creative Change Within Religious and Other Social Systems in Syracuse, New York. In seeking help from either organization, be sure to ask for the names of fully accredited professional members.

The projects in human relations training courses run from a long weekend to a week or longer. In them you meet people who have concerns similar to yours; they want to become more aware of how they feel about themselves and others, how others interpret their behavior. They also want to experiment with changed behavior and get feedback on how that comes across.

Although participants in the small groups are likely to be strangers to one another, they are expected to be open and trustful if the goals of the training are to be realized.

The procedures applied by competent professionals have been in use for some 30 years. However, since the participants are experimenting, outcomes are not always what each person expects. Sometimes another experience, such as a conflict lab where participants are helped to learn how to cope with conflicts, would be useful.

The human relations lab really lifted the participants and made them aware of their feelings and clarified where they are right now in terms of their career. They can see where they are going and what they have to take them there. They now have a means for changing their behavior to meet new conditions.

They felt renewed in their vocations. They felt freer to choose what they would do and has improved self-confidence, clearer goals, and better understanding of how to improve their interpersonal relations.

A basic assumption is that each person has excellence in him. It is then theorized that this excellence is most likely to be demonstrated in experiences he feels to be achievements rather than in other kinds of experiences. It is assumed, then, that his greatest achievements will show the greatest concentration of the elements of his excellence and that study of these elements is likely to reveal a pattern of skills used repeatedly in making his greatest achievements happen.

It follows that this pattern of excellence components is likely to appear in future “great” achievements of the individual. Identification of skills is the process that helps a person, usually in a small group with a professional leader, to become aware of the pattern of skills or talents that form the matrix of his ever growing excellence.

With this additional self-understanding, all kinds of human relations and development programs gain in value. Risk taking is more intelligently recognized, handled, or refused. Experiences are more wisely accepted and evaluated because the purpose of the experiences can be more clearly identified - whether they are for fun, for education, for the experience itself, or for other reasons.

Mistakes usually are the result of misuse, nonuse, or overconfidence in the use of motivated skills or strengths. When applied to a person, this knowledge gives a different understanding to the statement “a chain is as strong as its weakest link.” The traditional interpretation of that statement is wrong because it stresses the need to search for weakness rather than strength in an individual.

Many men and women who speak well cannot spell; many who write well are poor at arithmetic. There are men without hands who paint beautiful pictures, and men who have survived heart attacks and gone on to become active athletes.

Man has the power to forge his own chain. If he chooses, his links can be his motivated skills, the ones that insure his progress. But he cannot choose them if he doesn't fully realize what they are.

This helps him develop that awareness; it enables him to conspire with good fortune; to plan for and attain goals; and then to surpass even his greatest ambitions.

The system establishes facts and direction, both derived from learning through study of experiences, that add to feelings and hopes that may be neither defined nor directed.

An important contribution, not emphasized before, needs to be made clear - the data produced can be put on paper and tested against the widest range of uses.

Strength-pattern elements, for instance, can be identified and crosschecked. The way these motivated skills relate to effectiveness in present or projected assignments can be explored by using the functional self-analysis process. In other words, the standard risks associated with personnel selection, placement, acceptance of assignments or new jobs can be evaluated on paper before they are accepted or before modifications are negotiated. This opens up a new form of job freedom because it allows a person to explore the viability of his potential in relation to the content of the task under consideration.

When he has completed this exploration process, the individual will know if he is likely to be challenged and stretched by the task, if it is one he can do easily without challenge and still enjoy it, if it is one that will make little use of his motivated skills and therefore carry numerous risks and frustrations.

Increases in national output have been large in comparison with increases in land, man-hours, and physical reproducible capital. Investment in human capital probably is the major explanation for this difference.

No one is going to stop change. Most managers who are doing well will, because they are human, resist change. All managers and professionals, because they are potentially wise, will try to plan for their own changes. They now have a means of doing it that will be a help not only to them but to their employers as well.

Psychologist Erik Erikson said: “Turbulence and reorganization occur at major points of transition.” His life-cycle theory implies that development takes place by accumulation of knowledge or skills between stages, followed by transformations at critical points of growth. This process is familiar to every student who graduates from one school and moves into another, with its different society and different challenges. Attitude toward these differences and turbulences changes as one gets older.

Dropping Out Takes Many Forms

Things are changing too fast for comfort. This makes awareness of the elements of continuity persisting in this climate of “discontinuity” even more important. When job titles change, often with departmental changes, there are new duties, new associates, old relationships to be loosened or dropped. This happens whether the move is lateral or upward.

The elements of continuity, however, include your pattern of motivated skills and your career-style, even though some adjustments may be needed in their application. These are familiar accoutrements, stable and dependable accompaniment to your song of life. They can be companions when you feel yourself a stranger; they can be your lifeline as you swing from one career crisis to another.

Part of our changing world is a new career-style, that of the “dropout.” The college graduate who takes to wilderness and communal living is very much a part of today's scene. That scene includes a multiplicity of symptoms that reflect the malaise in prevailing organizational structures.

Among these symptoms are chronic complaints of poor service and workability of products, heavy absenteeism before and after weekends, increased frequency of complaints about job boredom and frustrations, President Nixon's suggestion for legislation to encourage job satisfaction, wildcat strikes, increasing refusal by strikers to accept first agreements recommended by their leaders, a slowing down in the starting of large new businesses. But the people who care little about the quality of their work constitute the highest number of dropouts.

There is a story of a magna cum laude graduate searching for deeper quality in life. Each of us wants a better quality for his or her life. But we have to work for it, to exchange our own labor for things we want. Money originally was designed to facilitate that exchange. But it has become a commodity of dubious worth on the scale of values.

That honor graduate, now 26 and with about four years' work experience as an editor, was vice-president of his class, editor of his college literary magazine, public speaking champion, and captain of his swim team. He now enjoys, he says, “good food and all the space I want.” He adds that it is the first place he hasn't wanted to leave after a few days. For some six months he has been living in an isolated village with about 200 residents, working at every kind of job to earn his keep.

He made a special effort to get to know people who were bad because he had always been good. He developed skill in design and silk screen processing to earn money. He raises most of his own vegetables. Mostly, he trades his labor for things he needs. He gets his clothes at rummage sales and gathers bits of junk for which he might someday have use.

Let's examine what we know about him. He claims to be using none of the skills he learned in school. Yet he is using the intelligence he developed and proved. He is using the versatility he developed in school. He is using his speaking and persuasive abilities, as well as his facility with words, all of which were demonstrated and applied in school. His concern with people, shown by his major in anthropology, also is being applied. His concern with physical activity and movement was demonstrated by his swim team activity in school and by his location shifts across the country. The limited data give no background for his design and artistic skills.

In brief, this former editor is very definitely making low-level application of several of his motivated skills and, consciously or not, is maintaining their continuity in what he does. He is even considering the use of his leadership skill through organization and direction of a skills center in the village.

This is leading up to the constancy of motivated skills, even how pre-agricultural ones may be developed for industrial application. This has meaning not only to developing nations, but has particular meaning to those whose occupations become obsolete because of a change in general needs or in technology.

Many teachers are finding that their skills are not needed in teaching jobs, and many space scientists continue to find the labor market inhospitable. Retiring military officers, at only age 52, are in the same boat. These are professional people, many in middle management, who have to develop, however temporarily, new career-styles; they must change.

Consider the possibilities for change provided by motivated skills when applied to developing nations. As an extreme case, consider a jungle tribesman who is unfamiliar with modern conveniences. Somehow a person has reached him, in his own idiom, and gleaned from him the following experiences as his greatest achievements. First, he makes necklaces for his village chief's ceremonial rites. He collects teeth and bits of bone and stories to trade with occasional visitors for shells and pieces of metal. He also made necklaces, not as good of course, for two other village chiefs.

Second, for many years he has organized and led groups of youths on training-type hunting trips. Third, he trained two younger apprentices in making the necklaces. Fourth, he has been honored for creating a particular color dye he alone is able to make.

In explaining how he made the necklaces, he spoke about having to shape some of the pieces, soften sharp edges, drill in the right places, then put them in the fight order for stringing. He had to dye certain pieces and then arrange them in proper fashion to match the ceremonial robes.

To select and shape and drill the necklace bits, he applied design and spatial relations skills; he needed great hand skills and touch sensitivity and talent in the use of crude tools; he showed talent in recognition and use of colors; he arranged, or organized, his materials. He is able to negotiate for use of his necklaces with other potential buyers. He is observant and skilled in physical movement. He is a leader of youth and an organizer and trainer of men.

If this man were shown a series of shapes on paper, then the going reality of a simple machine - first idle, then in use - it is highly probable he could quickly be trained to use it safely. He could then learn to train others, pick up organizational and management skills, and serve as foreman or better within a year. All this could be accomplished without the need for him to learn much more than a few signs or words relating to designs and operating practices. But he would want to be mobile and outdoors, and some way would have to be found to provide him with outlets for these motivated skills.

Fearful of change, this pre-agriculture man would tend to welcome opportunity to stretch and multiply the effectiveness of his skills if he could see the new tasks as a continuation of the ones with which he was familiar.

He doubtless would tend to resist if he were asked: “How would you like to try something new?” He probably would be interested if he were asked: “How would you like to make better use of the skills you have by using them in a different way?”

A bridge or cushion to change, one that enables a person to see stability and growth in changes, is the knowledge that his motivated skills continue to be with him. Such knowledge helps a person to be more accepting of changes, more adaptable, and more willing to cooperate in making changes happen.

This should be viewed in the light of how people are affected by the traditional process, the old method, of learning from mistakes. You find out what you did wrong so that you never repeat that mistake. When you do find out and eliminate the cause of that particular error, however, nothing new is added to your experiences. The reduction of that something, the mistake, is important. But this may be compared to cleaning rust out of a ma, chine. It operates better, but it continues to deteriorate.

A very different set of conditions develops when a person applies the humanistic process of learning from his achievements. Under the new method he studies the steps he took to reach his peaks, with the basic concern of learning how to take them in more effective, easier, or faster ways. He seeks to learn how to do something rather than preoccupying himself with those that caused him pain and failure.

Although anti-traditional, this can be done with joy. It should lead to faster and more frequent reaching of peaks. In addition, when being at the peaks becomes more customary, the person looks for ways to raise them. His concern shifts from the avoidance of errors to the attainment of positive, useful changes. The measurement and release of this self-motivation, or inner motivation for change, has been largely overlooked by most behavioral scientists.

The process used by Exxon for early identification of personnel with managerial potential, which it calls its personnel development series (PDS), has elements in it that are strikingly similar to identifying motivated skills. However, PDS is used as a test by management to gain information about the person's potential, rather than as a means of helping him become aware of and develop potentials on his own. Exxon regards PDS as an important proprietary asset and does not permit other organizations to use it.

A very high proportion of American men and women say they would like to have their own businesses, that they would like to be managers or executives. Some of them do reach that status. Each year more than half the new businesses started in that year fail. More than 25 percent fail in the following two years. Each year too high a proportion of those promoted to management positions find themselves in jobs that are over their heads in many respects.

This combination of facts indicates the need for a way to prevent the start of career ventures that a few hours of self-examination could show are almost sure to fail for lack of self-motivation factors.

There is no certainty in systems that attempt to help a person recognize his potentials and drives. But identifying skills does provide a pattern of facts to indicate the level of risk involved in an undertaking that requires known capability.

The operation of a business, for instance, requires ability to manage figures, to manage operations or production, to manage people, and to make sales. It also requires motivation to own, to take moderate risks, to initiate activities, and to lead. Examination of the kind of business contemplated will reveal other specific needs.

Frequently a person with just one of the four key strength elements - figures, production, rapport with people, sales - decides to go in business for himself. An excellent salesman and promoter did this. His achievements showed no trace of anything connected with figures. He lost his business when he didn't get things done on time, when he overlooked coordinating the delivery schedule of different elements of what he was selling, when he neglected to send out bills for completed work.

After his oversights came to light, he tried to get a figures-motivated partner or even a dependable employee who would handle that part of the operation. But because of his earlier failure, people had lost confidence in him.

Accountants who are familiar with controls, costs, collections, and other figure matters often have failed in their own business because they lacked the ability to sell or to manage operations, Likewise, inventors, engineers, and production executives often have failed in their own business because they were not sufficiently self-motivated to drive themselves in the other key areas of business operation.

One basic element of entrepreneurship is the self-motivation to own. Some of the entrepreneur's early motivation to own, found mainly but not exclusively in middle-class families, is rooted in the built-up newspaper or magazine route, which is treated as a property and sold; the coin collection, the stamp collection, and other collections, which may be kept up, traded, or sold. The serious coin collector also demonstrates motivation to work with figures and money; the serious stamp collector demonstrates motivations associated with travel and geography, as well as with design or some other art form.

All ownership motivations have a price on them. Time must be given to them. The price of giving extra time - one that all successful entrepreneurs know about - is learned early by the youth or child who is a serious collector of stamps or coins or who handles his own newspaper route.

Another price is isolation, as well as relationships for a purpose, relationships that could be called semi-manipulative. Don't let the word “manipulative” upset you. Babies “manipulate” by crying and making noises. Mothers “manipulate” by rocking cradles and appearing to make promises. Each person to some degree manipulates others.

Benign manipulation is an essential element in human relations. The trouble is with the technician, the person doing the manipulating; if he's a sonovabitch, what he does will be destructively manipulative.

To get back to the entrepreneur. Where early indicators of ownership motivation are absent, and where indicators of any of the four major factors are absent, he should seriously consider abandoning the idea. If he decides to go ahead anyway, then he should consider bringing in others (partners or strong employees) who can be relied on to provide the missing basic self-motivations essential to entrepreneurial success.

Biographical Vocational Profiles

T his can be applied to the person who wants management status. It has identified early “symptoms” of managerial skills. A key indicator, understandably, is demonstrated leadership. Others include demonstrated planning, organizing, human relations, and communication skills.

When a person who never has been in a leadership role is put in charge of a group, the risk is not just that he may fail. The real risk is the impact of his failure on the persons he is supposed to manage. What will they think about the person or organization that put him in charge? There also could be damage to his relations with those he is supposed to manage. What we have considered here so far is only the human side of an enterprise. The desired quality and quantity of output are also risked.

Too often people are given management responsibilities on the premise: “Just because he hasn't done it before doesn't mean he can't do it. He should be given a chance.”

Early opportunities are available to almost all people to demonstrate many managerial skills. Class leadership in school, election to student government, business manager of a team or yearbook, running the annual dance, organizing a fair, planning a program, captaining the debating society, running the school office - these are among hundreds of different early-life examples that have been given by good managers in their thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties.

The man or woman who has not demonstrated the various forms of management skill in early life should consider carefully the risks associated with trying to adopt the behavior and responsibilities associated with management. The status may be fine, but it may riot be worth the loss of respect from others who quickly spot inadequacies. It also may not be worth the guilt and frustrations that develop when a person feels he is inadequate to the tasks but does not think it would be proper to give up any of them. These inner conflicts can lead to a variety of diseases.

Sometimes it is wise to bite the bullet. The manager who feels he is in trouble should collect data and organize it to determine his personal career goals. If his goals differ too widely from his present responsibilities, he should look within his organization for something else he would enjoy doing.

Next he should practice with a capable friend or professional counselor what he might say to a trusted higher-level associate when asking for advice on how to go about getting it or preparing for it, as well as how he


should approach his boss and the person who could be his future boss. It really doesn't matter if the position he wants is available. What does matter is that something close to what he wants probably exists and that a plan to move into it can be initiated gracefully.

The relief of knowing such a change is in motion will remove much of the stress, and steps can be started promptly to eliminate, in full or in part, some sections of his present job that are responsible for his greatest stresses.

The very positive side to such change is the opportunity it affords people who have the potential for certain jobs but who have been bypassed for some reason. There are many ways to help insure that a person's motivated skills are no longer overlooked in the pressures of time and events.

This is not the answer to all career problems. It enables you to develop fact patterns to help you choose the career battles you are willing to lose and to identify those you have a very good chance of winning. After the diagnosis judgment and values enter the picture. Sometimes the “doctor” is in a mood where his attitude is, “when in doubt, cut it out.” But, this may not be a desirable prescription for you at this time. Other times the idea of letting it ride, or letting it burn itself out, may or may not be the right prescription.

Actually, the only safe assumptions are that there will be frustrations in careers, and in the need to change careers; crises in careers will come more and more frequently. Before these factors become unbearable is the best time to begin the diagnostic measures that help a person to cope, to adjust, to adapt. Being human, people tend to wait until things get really bad, until obsolescence sets in, or until termination or illness results.

A few, of course, do a good job of coping and preparing to r their growth. These few tend to be aware of their strengths and their impact on the careers in which they are doing well. These few - and they probably number not more than one in five - know the strength-stability factors that enable them to contribute to changes, to be in the flow of the changes, to be on top of them, and to be renewed through them.

More and more management and professional people are facing more frequent career changes. As changes in organizations become more necessary, career-styles of men and women will need to change. Almost everyone resists change, while wanting its benefits. The stresses of these changes, which are affecting people all over the world as well as in the United States, call out for a mode of stability, something a person can hold onto while everything else seems to be moving around. His motivated skills can be his stability.

There may be times when he needs to think about demotion and lateral movement in his career, as well as times when he sees opportunities for progress - opportunities that seem to require skills he hasn't used in the past. A coping mechanism is needed to meet such crises.

Identifying motivated skills is a diagnostic tool to help the person recognize his central core of career stability and to help him develop changes in career-style and behavior that free him to adapt to the new demands. Reexamination of the motivated skills data affirms self-confidence and helps bring about renewal.

Society | Self-Help | Work

QR Code
QR Code mid-career_growth_and_rebuilding (generated for current page)