The Inner Game of Career Development


Today’s increasingly complex and uncertain business environment is forcing disruption within all dimensions of an organization, from technology to turnover, production to people, sales to sourcing—and even career development.

What in the past was a predictable process of advancing from one role to the next throughout one’s time with an employer has changed beyond recognition. Flatter hierarchies, constant change, trimmed ranks, less mobility, the introduction of artificial intelligence (AI), and the rise of the gig economy all contribute to an employment landscape that requires a very different navigational approach. Traditional long-term, lock-step career planning is giving way to more fluidity, flexibility, and responsiveness. And many successful professionals are replacing old “cast in concrete” career action plans with something more valuable and appropriate today: career agility plans.

Agility in any arena requires access to high-quality information. You can be ready to zig or zag at the appropriate moment only to the extent that you have the data needed to do so. And when it comes to career development, this information is available via two key sources: looking inward and looking outward. These two views make up the inner and outer game of career development today.

For millennia, we’ve been advised to “know thyself.” But what does that mean in today’s time-starved world when every moment is spoken for? When productivity and efficiency have become hallmarks of success? When information and media intrude upon even our quietest moments? How many of us can honestly say we know ourselves? And yet, until we can, we are actively hampering our ability to drive our careers in directions that will be most satisfying.

Agile career development is firmly rooted in an intimate and evolving understanding of who we really are today—not the last time we checked in with ourselves. Agility comes from a place of complete clarity about not just our talents, but those super powers that define our unique value proposition. It’s also based on a clear-eyed view of what we’re absolutely not good at—which either dictates what we won’t do or drives development.

But the ability to navigate one’s career with agility demands more than appreciating strengths and weaknesses. Increasingly it also requires a deep appreciation for interests, preferences, and values. The challenge is that this inner game (with the exception of values) is in flux and will change over time; so, it can’t be “one and done.” Agile career navigators develop a lifelong habit of managing their inner games through:

  • Reflection—Although thinking is highly undervalued in today’s action-oriented world, it’s essential to staying abreast of who we’re becoming and how we’re changing day by day. Taking time to routinely journal (even for three minutes daily) offers a discipline for checking in.
  • Observation—We get so swept up in work that we rarely step back to watch what we’re doing, experience how we’re feeling, and evaluate what contributes to (or detracts from) our flow state. Hitting the mental pause button once or twice each day can provide valuable data about what you love, what nourishes you, and more—information that easily gets buried in the barrage of daily tasks and busyness.

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