What do we do when there is no bridge that will close the capability aspiration gap?
Over the years we change and our mental picture of who we are does not match with what we have become
Just when you thought you had everything sorted in your life and career, wait for your seven year old to introduce you to your new life and the need to move ‘posts’ and change the mental picture of yourself
My earlier column on ‘Stress - Incompetence Conundrum’ (15th January, 2011, People Matters) talked about the individual’s unconscious incompetent state when they take on more responsibility to advance the career ladder. The story defined the direct relationship between increasing stress levels experienced by many, and the increasing number of heart attacks in the corporate sector. This column drew many perspectives from the corporate fraternity, but one question, from a rather reticent colleague, stood out and led me to reflect further into the matter. I am quoting her literally, she wrote: “Some of us find interesting options to bridge and reskill but many of us are never able to reconcile, and this turns into bitterness, negativity and ultimately stress, all of which zap the mind and body of its energy! So how do I reconcile when I know that I will not be able to meet the aspirations I set out to meet?”
Oh my God! How does one respond to such a statement, and keep it optimistic? Fortunately our time was up, so I could get away with the promise to get back to Ms. Reticent later. With this question playing in my mind, I went home that evening, not knowing that I was about to walk into another equally tough question from my 7 year old son. It was a question day for me.
“Appa, do cows give milk through the year, or only when they have given birth?”
I tried getting out of it but he pinned me down with, “You know everything Appa! So tell me”. Thank god for Google, I was able to maintain the façade of knowing everything, and staying a hero.
But this stayed with me, and I knew that very soon he would realize that I do not know everything, that his mum is better at changing the bulb and fuse at home.! It was quite stressful! I would love to be his hero forever but I knew my capabilities would be exposed soon.
I realized Ms. Reticent had the same question. What do we do when there is no bridge that will close the capability-aspiration gap?
I will never be able to figure out how to change the bulb, learn all the trivia, and have all the answers. My son will soon start seeing that I am no superhero. So I was quite upset at knowing I may have to give up being my son’s hero?
They say there is nothing like a crises to get you thinking, and here is what I came up with in response to Ms Reticent’s question and my dilemma.
First, we accept that it is the law of nature that we will all play out Peter’s Principle. My son will outgrow me, the job will outgrow me, my batchmates will out-perform me, and the list is endless. I can either continue to allow this to fester, turn to bitterness, and ruin me, or attempt the following:
Acknowledge that you are not who you used to be – Over the years we change and our mental picture of who we are does not match with what we have become. And as we progress, we are less likely to receive feedback. A friend of mine narrated the story of an ex-army captain who worked with him. When my friend gave the captain feedback that he is not action biased, and spent too much time questioning what needs to be done instead of just getting it done. The captain was very upset and expressed that in the army we do not question orders, but we execute. He said, “I have been in the war front and known for my action bias!” What the captain did not realize was that his behavior had changed since his move to the civilian world, but not the mental image he carried of himself. Fortunately for him, after the initial shock and resistance, he listened and changed.
Change your goal posts - Like in the case of my aspiration to be a super hero for my son. I can sulk about him outgrowing me, or I can change my aspiration and be his confidante, turn adulation into respect, and become somebody he trusts. At 14, maybe he does not need a superhero, but he just needs his adolescent grunginess. Likewise there are parallels at work. I had a colleague who recently moved to HR. I was perplexed as she always abhorred HR and wanted to be a CEO. On questioning she said, “You grow up, you realize what you are capable of” I let it be at that.
As always it is easy to say, though tough to do! But I am glad, if you got through till here you are thinking of managing and bridging as options. Understanding who we have become, moving goal posts, and changing our reference points, will help us reconcile the capability - aspiration mismatch better! It may not help us get out of the mismatch – but it will help us not get stuck in the stress – incompetence conundrum.
Elango R is Chief Human Resources Officer at MphasiS. You can read the authors blogs at http://agastyaelango.wordpress.com/
For those of you who have not read the earlier column, please read it at http://peoplematters.in/articles/cover-story/stress-incompetence-conundrum