What Grade Are You In?

I recently met a precocious nine year old and asked him what grade he was in. He said he was in the fourth grade. He raised his eyebrows when I said I was in the 55th grade.

But my offhand comment did get me thinking. Have I approached my career as an educational experience with a lifelong learning program I designed specifically for me? Have I learned enough every year to graduate to the next grade?

I think people now realize that graduating from high school, college, or graduate school is not the end of their education, but is really the start of the next phase. It is a more difficult phase because it is largely self-directed, self-structured, and self-motivated. There is really very little guidance to help determine what courses, programs, and work experiences will accelerate your career. The next phase is also fraught with distractions – work, social relationships, possibly kids and spouses, video games, the list goes on. There are no final exam deadlines to force you into action.

Personal development is important in every phase of your career and at every age. If you’re a newer grad, you need a development plan to stay current and competitive and to advance your career. For older workers, it’s a matter of staying employable. Again, you need to advance to the next grade every year.

Take a look at your progress so far. Have you repeated grades, fallen behind in your learning because you didn’t do your homework, didn’t study hard enough, goofed off, became distracted, or didn’t get out of a static, same as last year job?

Did you seek out and take advantage of opportunities to skip a couple of grades – an international assignment, a high profile, high visibility, challenging and stretching assignment, a major product launch or entrepreneurial opportunity?

Are you building on strengths? I have been in the proverbial third grade for forty years in the school of bridge, so I don’t focus my career on becoming a professional bridge player. On the other hand, I have developed the skills to become pretty good executive career consultant. Speaking of career advice, do you have a mentor or two to act as career guidance counselors (hopefully better than the ones you had in high school)?

The key here is that you need a long term career plan and a personal development roadmap so that you can learn at least one new marketable skill every year. You might start by taking the CEO Test (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/take-ceo-test-john-decker) and looking at the CEO Pyramid (https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/ceo-pyramid-your-key-career-success-john-decker) as a self-assessment. Then develop a personal plan and execute for the rest of your career (and beyond).

If you don’t, I’ll see you in detention!