Is it possible to pursue your professional goals in a tough business climate? The world of Entrepreneurship
By Judette Coward
Stabroek News

September 7, 2003

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One day he was the fast-rising manager in a multinational company with a career that he was passionate about, the next he was unemployed, a victim of the downsizing-mania. Still, he was sure that his stint on the bread line would be short if only because his credentials were exceptional; he had it all: years of experience in the field, a solid body of work to demonstrate his expertise, a degree, and a network of support in the industry.

Instead, what he found was that the world of work had changed.

For starters, the ruling narrative of a career path had been turned upside down. The economy had shrunk from one of boundless growth to harsh contraction. September 11 happened. Tourism faltered. Manufacturing slowed. Multinationals were taking the centre of their operations elsewhere. The MBA was no longer the guarantee of success.

His short stint turned into an odyssey. Six months later he still had no concrete offers. Yes, there had been interviews. Promises. Call backs. Letters of rejection. And the standard, “We’ll put your name on file.” But most of the packages he noted, offered salaries far less than what he was accustomed to. All of a sudden he couldn’t help but think the unthinkable: should he temper his ambitions? Should he settle for less. In other words, was it time to downsize his dreams?

Over Arabic food we meet to discuss just that. “I don’t think I can wait for the perfect offer, and in the last few months I am not sure what I want other than a salary.” Three weeks later his wait is vindicated. He accepts a managerial position in a company with a good salary, a good company car and a perfectly good cell phone.

It is exactly what he had wished for, except that the corporate culture is not his ideal, the company’s professional goals are incongruent with his personal dreams. But he counts himself lucky, after months on the bread line who wouldn’t? Never mind his down-sized dreams and his tempered passion.

When my friend tells me the good news I am afraid for him, afraid that when he discounts his dreams in the face of external pressures, he will hunker down in survival mode in an environment that he does not enjoy and he will get stuck there. A slave to a pay check.

His situation made me think: how do you go about unearthing your passion, finding what it is that you love to do and then just doing it? Can you love your career or should you accept the fact that in tough times most of us end up in vocationally unfulfilled jobs and work simply to pay the bills.

I consulted career guru Wendy Weber, who acquired three masters degrees in her search to find a fulfilling career. Weber says that it is in the tough times that one should go through a period of reflection. This period should include figuring out what you’re good at, looking at where your gifts lie, and unearthing what you’re passionate about. The intersection where your talents and your passions cross, is where your professional calling lies.

But there’s a third element, other than your gifts or passions. A very important component called values. And this is where I am most afraid for my friend. This really means the environment and the corporate culture where he has decided to pursue his path are incongruent with who he is; it’s a place where he’ll have to check himself at the door every time where a birdcage appears to have more room to breathe.

Is finding your calling an unaffordable luxury when you’ve been out of work for three months or more? I think not. True that the search for excellence is a continuous journey but here’s the test that one journalist wrote about so eloquently: place excellent performers who know their core strengths and passions, which they leverage in environments that honour their values against people who simply work for a pay check, and who do you think will be the winners in life?

Judette Coward is the principal consultant at JudetteCoward & Associates. You can email her at

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