Career Development:Are You Chasing The Wrong Goal? Pocket Knife Story

career development goal achievement personal branding success Jun 15, 2011
Are you chasing the wrong goal? Pencil story

This is a true story. I was recently attending a conference and between sessions I noticed a woman frantically moving down her row asking everyone a question and moving on. She had a sense of urgency as she went from person to person, each shaking their head no at her. And when she got to the end of the row, she worked her across the other way, again asking a question and getting the same response.

Finally, she worked her way to me and asked me:

"Do you have a pocket knife?"

I thought to myself, what an unusual thing to be asking for at a conference in Washington, DC. Being in Washington, DC and with security being what it is these days finding someone with a pocket knife will be a challenge. Of course, she had a goal and wasn't thinking about the implications of where she was.

So, I told her "No" like all the others before. And as she turned to go to the next person, I said "What do you need a pocket knife for?"

"I can't find a pencil sharpener, so I need a knife to sharpen my pencil so I can take notes," she answered.

I smiled and said, "I have a pencil you use."  I handed her the pencil, she thanked me and said "I don't know why I didn't think of that." And then, she went to her seat.

What does this story have to do with your career development? Read on and challenge yourself to see a connection, just in case.

You see, it's very natural and easy to focus on a short term solution and miss the big picture of what you need. She misframed her problem and as a result set out to achieve the wrong goal. Sure, if she had found someone with a pocketknife she could have sharpened her pencil. However, what she really needed was something to write with, and the knife was only one of many possible ways for her to get something to write with. 

The woman in this story had asked at least 30 people for a pocket knife before she came to me. Not one had asked her why she needed a knife. If they had, she may have found something to write with much sooner and experienced much less anxiety. 

Another observation I'd like to make is that so many people went along with her. She asked many people for help, but none of them really could help her. They didn't know how to really help her.

Something very similar can happen when you're thinking about your career and what you need to do to get job or get promoted or change your career. Perhaps you think you need another degree or certification when really you should be focused on gaining experience. Or perhaps you think the way to earn the salary you want must be done in a particular way.

The value of coaching is to look beyond the immediate apparent solutions (your pocket knife) and question what you really want or need (so you can find your pencil). There is likely an easier and faster path for you to get what you want, and maybe more.

How could you be focusing on the a short term objective at the expense of what you really want in the long run? 

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