Rewards are what make you feel that a major effort was worthwhile. A rewarding career happens when you make a determined effort to achieve the result you want and see it come to pass, in spite of whatever challenges you might have encountered along the way.
The question is, Can you have what you would consider a rewarding career and, if so, what would you need to do to achieve it?
In a recent article on LinkedIn Pulse (“Career Management Opportunity Costs”), I talked about the power of choice and the inherent risk it carries, including the possibility of making a wrong choice that causes loss of a career opportunity. You can take actions that tilt the odds more in your favor than against, but you can’t completely preclude the element of risk.
For example, if you draw attention to a potentially big problem that your immediate boss has chosen to ignore and offer a practical solution, you might ultimately gain a promotion based on your contribution to the company. However, it’s also possible that your boss could somehow preempt you and open the door to push you out of the company. Before you take action to raise awareness of the looming problem, you need to carefully consider the worst-case, what-if scenario.
Some people might think it was smarter to keep a lower profile and wait for a risk-free opportunity in order to progress. This choice has two drawbacks: (1) The risk-free opportunity might never occur; (2) You might not be viewed as a strong candidate because senior management perceives you as overly risk-averse.
Besides taking calculated risks when the risk-reward ratio justifies it, you have at least one excellent method for forging a path to a truly rewarding career: Learn how to become an invaluable asset to your employer, develop a career management plan focused on that goal, and execute whatever actions are appropriate to implement the plan.
By significantly increasing your value to the company, you put yourself in a much stronger position to identify and capture career growth opportunities, to be offered a chance to secure a prized promotion, or to achieve whatever else you have decided would make your career rewarding in the long run.
You can become an asset in a variety of ways. At a minimum, you need to add value that more than offsets what you cost your employer to retain. However, that in itself is not enough to cause the company to consider you an invaluable asset–one that’s difficult to dispense with and might be nearly impossible to let go without causing the company to lose too much.
Your core value might lie in the extensive knowledge base you’ve gained, your ability to pull disparate people into a cohesive team, your success in attracting hard-to-get business that’s financially important to the company–or any one of a number of other factors. The point is that you must be able to contribute high value to the company in a way that’s uniquely yours and can’t be readily copied by your competitors.
Another aspect to having a rewarding career is recognizing when the answer to the “is it time to leave?” question is a yes. Staying makes sense if there’s still strong career satisfaction and opportunity for growth where you are; if there isn’t, you need to look at your next step as a move outside the company–that is, a job search based on the criteria you want most in your career.
Your image of a rewarding career might focus heavily on financial rewards–bonuses, substantial salary increases, and so on. On the other hand, you might be more interested in recognition, in acknowledgment throughout the company and beyond, of the value you are contributing. We don’t all need huge ego strokes to feel rewarded, but most (if not all) of us appreciate being recognized and valued for what we do.
If you find yourself dissatisfied because the rewards you want are lacking in your current job or company, you don’t have to accept that as the unchangeable status quo. Find a way to “fix” the situation where you are or find a path to the outside that opens up the desired opportunities.
If you really are among the best of the best, you deserve a rewarding career. However, as I’ve said before, it won’t be handed to you on a platter. You need to earn it and go after it–with vision and determination–and don’t stop until you get it.