Probably, you have seen tapestries (just in case, see Figure 5.1). A tapestry is an object that has two completely different sides. One is the beautiful image it represents and is visible for everyone on the front, but when you turn it around, it shows all the knots and jumbles of threads.
This is a good metaphor for a career. On the one hand, the visible picture of an ambitious career is exciting, and on the other hand, it implies countless sacrifices and tradeoffs only few people are aware of. In the short run, a successful career might look difficult and unattractive, but if the dots are connected and the threats are linked, the career in the long run becomes meaningful and successful.
Source: (Metropolitan Museum of Art n.d.)
A career implies many tradeoffs, meaning that there are things we must give up in order to accept opportunities. At the end of the day, all of us are confronted with decisions on what we do and what we give up.
In the previous chapters, we have learned how to create a vision that fits our values and personality—the front side of the tapestry. From this chapter onward, we will work on the back side of the tapestry: the different decisions we need to take regarding career choices, competences, business opportunities, and developmental objectives. We should keep though our vision always in mind, as that is the way to keep consistency in the decision-making process.
Our careers can be represented like a tree where the roots are the personal and professional anchors, the truck is our career plans, and the branches and leaves are our skillset. The land where the tree grows is the work environment. In the big picture, these are the four elements of any career development. These four influences the development of our careers, and we will go into detail of each of them during the next chapters.
When we talk about our vision, we are talking about the main personal and professional anchors of our careers. If they are deep and strong, it will serve as the tutor for the tree. The work environment, the career plan, and the skillsets affect the speed and height of growth. However, the stability of the tree is guaranteed by the vision.
Risks of Not Defining a Vision
As aforementioned, the vision gives consistency of the big picture of our careers and stability to the career plan.
If there is not a cautious identification of our vision or if our vision does not become a guiding pattern in our careers, then we might face substantial risks.
Some of the risks are the following:
1. We might face a hard time understanding other people.
The vision represents our deepest motivations and a cautious decision to follow them. If we are not aware of them, we might have difficulties understanding other people’s motivations simply because we generally tend to see other people as we see ourselves. We already discussed the relevance of self-awareness in Chapter 2.
2. We might develop the wrong skills.
If we do not have a vision, then it is very difficult to understand and define our career objectives. Skill development takes a lot of investment, and it makes sense to think carefully about whether the skills we are planning to develop serve the right purpose.
3. We might develop only what the system (aka job market) requires.
A vision guarantees a proactive approach toward career decisions. The alternative is just to become reactive to whatever the system requires from us. It means that our career is not driven by us, but is driven by the hidden hand of the market. Though it is important to observe what companies require to adjust to the system, it is also important to have a feeling of self-determination of our careers. (Please, watch video RSA Animate: Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.)
4. We can be trapped in the wrong career.
Once we access a specific career path, we can become part of the system; however, after a certain time, the possibilities of changing our career path become increasingly more difficult.
The Kaleidoscope Strategy and a Definition of Success
The kaleidoscope is an old-school mechanical device that you hold up to the light and play with. It has four separate chambers, colored chips, and mirrors, which form ever-changing patterns when you are turning the end of the tube (Nash and Stevenson 2005).
Following Harvard professors Nash and Stevenson (2005), we will use the kaleidoscope as an image, a framework, of our own life. The colored chips are our regular activities; meanwhile, the chambers are the different categories of our life. Hence, different combinations of activities will produce different visible shapes of our life through four different chambers of our lives: achievement, legacy, happiness, and significance. It is what Nash and Stevenson call the kaleidoscope strategy. The definitions they give to the different categories are:
• Achievement: Accomplishment that compare favorably against similar goals others have strived for
• Significance: A positive impact on people you care about
• Legacy: Establishing your values or accomplishments in ways that help others find future success (Nash and Stevenson 2005)
The kaleidoscope strategy is a framework we have been using extensively to help the participants of our programs to understand how to decide the tradeoffs of our careers and align our activities with our vision and life’s bigger picture. Before we proceed to an exercise to understand it, it is important to clarify that the kaleidoscope strategy assumes a very specific understanding of what a successful life is.
According to Nash and Stevenson, an enduring successful life consists of “a collection of activities viewed affirmatively by you and those you care about, now, throughout your life, and beyond,” This definition has important consequences that the authors of this workbook consider valid to mention, as they challenge the general conception people have of success:
1. Success is not the sum of certain goals that have been achieved. Rather, success is the sum of certain activities we regularly run. In other words, what is important is the process, not the outcome.
2. This collection of activities should be viewed affirmatively. It means that the perception we have of these activities is as important as the activities themselves.
3. Our perception of success will also depend on the appreciation of our activities by our beloved ones. A person is a social being, we cannot handle our decisions only on our own.
4. The long-term impact of our activities is relevant for perceiving them as successful. That is the reason why the definition highlights “now, throughout your life, and beyond.” In a society where immediate satisfaction is so relevant, this perspective is a challenge to the general mindset.
“Whatever you cannot understand you cannot possess” (Von Goethe 1853). The concept of the kaleidoscope and the definition of enduring success highlight the relevance of reflection: in order to be successful, understanding the meaning of our activities is as important as the activities themselves. In the next session, we will clarify further the kaleidoscope strategy through an exercise.
In this exercise, you will be asked to implement the kaleidoscope strategy based on the book Just Enough: Tools for Creating Success in Your Work and Life (Nash and Stevenson 2005). Dr. Rivera has developed an in-class exercise to use the kaleidoscope framework as part of the Personal and Career Development course at Riga Business School. This exercise follows the essential elements of the kaleidoscope, though it has been adapted to the classroom setting in order to allow the implementation of the exercise and the debriefing in the time slot of three hours in total.
Before you start: we assume you have already written the vision, as indicated in Chapter 4. Now you should follow these steps:
1. List your most regular activities. No less than 15–20 activities. These are the activities you do daily, weekly, monthly, annually, and are not immediately obvious, for example, sleeping, eating and so forth. Napping once a week in the garden is a regular activity, eating Sunday dinner with family is another. Regular activities can be in and out of professional settings. Example: riding a bike, reading, gardening, cooking dinner for family, meeting friends, taking a bath, going to church, doing homework, doing chords, going to the gym, visiting your parents, traveling, visiting an animal shelter or other types of charity work, donating blood, going to hairdressers, helping a colleague, washing your car, buying new clothes, going to the beach, voting in elections, going through training, and so on.
2. Indicate up to two real beneficiaries of each one of your activities. They should be one or two of the following: self, family, work, or community. Example: riding a bike (self), reading (self), gardening (self), cooking dinner for family (self, family), and donating blood (community).
3. Indicate up to two outcomes (chambers) of each one of the activities (happiness, achievement, significance, or legacy). Please, review the definitions of the chambers previous to this task. Example: riding a bike (self, happiness), reading (self, happiness), gardening (self, happiness), cooking dinner for family (self, family, and significance), donating blood (community, legacy).
4. Draw the kaleidoscope (see figure 5.2). Put the activities you listed earlier into their correspondent space.
Source: (Nash and Stevenson 2005)
5. Finally, it is time to analyze your personal kaleidoscope.
Are some chambers empty? Are others too full? Where are you devoting most of your time? Is that in line with your vision?
Now, please turn to the exercise in your personal and career journey “Leader’s Journal” and start filling in your roadmap—1.2. My Kaleidoscope. When you have done the test, please fill out the conclusions from this test.
How can we manage our career by our personal vision? In the last two chapters, we have at length discussed the relevance of defining the vision for our career success. The kaleidoscope strategy is an excellent tool to understand how aligned our current activities are with our desired vision. In a way, the kaleidoscope displays our real vision—we like it or not!
If your kaleidoscope is well balanced and in line with your vision, then congratulations, because it means that you are on the right path. If it is not, then you should consider the possibility of spending your time in a different way, hence changing your activities.
We have limited time; the question is what would be enough for us to be satisfied. We cannot keep all the chambers full; we cannot leave chambers empty either, as success implies a certain level of balance. Seeing success as a question of tradeoffs and equilibrium counters the popular idea that success depends on passion and focus. The latter is based on a wrong conception of the human being, and they lead to the most common problems of success today: stress, burnout, personal disappointment, and indecision. This is the reason why we have always been relatively suspicious of the wisdom of a start-up career style.
On the contrary, according to Nash and Stevenson (2005), the characteristics of long-term achievers are in alignment with the previously mentioned definition of enduring success:
• Outward and varied success
• Multiple goals
• Positive contribution
• In it for the long term
• Autonomy or empathy balance
These values fit the current trends of aligning the corporate world with the global aspirations of taking care of our planet’s sustainability, social justice, and well-being of the poorest. United Nations has defined the so-called Sustainable Development Goals, and they require a commitment of all the main forces of our societies, including business. We need leaders who responsibly lead themselves and their organizations.
Leading with responsibility implies considering the long term, being empathetic toward society’s needs, trying to impact the context positively, and not reducing the management work to a very narrow set of goals. Frameworks like the kaleidoscope can certainly help leaders have a reality check of how their current careers fit this aspiration of responsible leadership.
This chapter has been a bridge between defining our ideal (vision) and making our ideal concrete and specific in our goals and activities. We cannot do that only with intuition, and that is the reason why we offer a framework (kaleidoscope strategy). A framework is always limited and somehow on abstract representation of reality. However, a framework, if well-designed, has always the capacity to help us refine our intuition considering the main elements of the reality under analysis. In our case, the kaleidoscope strategy can help us describe the current reality of our life or career in a holistic and research-based way.
Behind the kaleidoscope strategy, there are important assumptions you could agree or disagree upon but where there is strong empirical evidence. The first one is the understanding of success as the result of choosing activities rather than relying on outcomes. This definition is in full alignment with our previous cited definition of Victor Frankl where success is considered as a byproduct. The second assumption is that a successful life implies choosing several activities that keep our life in balance in its different sides. As Nash and Stevenson said: “the core message is that success is not about one thing nor an infinite number of things; it is about ‘just enough.’” This perspective is in alignment with defining our vision taking into account a stakeholder perspective and limiting our ambition of maximizing choices.
Before concluding this chapter, using the Gallup World Poll (Cantril ladder), we will ask you to quickly calculate your current level of perceived happiness or rather of enduring success:
Please, imagine a ladder with steps numbered from zero at the bottom to 10 at the top. Suppose we say that the top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder represents the worst possible life for you.
On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time, assuming the higher the step, the better you feel about your life, and the lower the step the worse you feel about it? Which step comes closest to the way you feel?
Please, be advised that our audiences are generally composed of better-off people. The reasons—the problems around success today: stress, burnout, personal disappointment, and indecision, lack of balance between life and career goals, and so on.
The answers to those problems are not neither simple nor purely intuitive. And, as Nash and Stevenson say, the “key to this complexity is alignment and calibration.” In order to do that, we need a tool, a disciplined framework, and an inspiring vision.