All too often I see highly talented professionals gunning for partnership because they don’t know any different. When you are immersed daily in a culture where you are expected to ‘want’ to make partner and anything else is perceived to be a failure, it’s difficult to consider any other career path. This is why in this blog post I look at a series of questions to help you decide whether going to partnership is right for you or not.

Knowing your end game is key

Recently I spent time with a long term client of mine. When he originally engaged me it was to help him move from the junior ranks of his partnership to the ranks of full equity. Over time this goal has shifted – and shifted for the right reasons. There have been some structural changes at his firm, some health issues and a lot more hard-won-experience behind the change to his goal. As a result we examined his new end game and explored what needed to stop, start or continue to be achieving his end game. It was an illuminating conversation. It was also very motivating as he was truly choosing what he wanted to be doing over the next 5-10 years.

“I choose” is far more powerful than “I want” or “I need” or “I should”

Last June my now former business partner sat down with his financial advisor. The upshot of the conversation was that if he chose to retire now, he had between 30 and 80 years of pension to sustain him. Both him and I will never know why it was this conversation which made the difference for him. After all, his financial advisor had been having this conversation with him at a similar point most years for the last 5 or 6. But, the upshot was this conversation precipitated my former business partner retiring. I think it is fair to say that he’d probably not been the happiest for a few years. (But not unhappy either!) Neither he nor I had really taken the time to have the conversation to identify what we both wanted or what our end game now was. This is a similar situation to many people I see in professional services firms; i.e. where you are not unhappy, but not completely fulfilled doing what you do. As a result you get sucked into the treadmill of being in the professions. A long time ago I did a leadership programme ran by an organisation called The Bridge. (I think… it was over 15 years ago now). In the programme they talked about the hierarchy of motivation. Starting from “I should” to “I need” to “I want” through to “I choose”. Of course, the most powerful motivation stems from when you are in a position to really choose. Just like my business partner really chose to semi-retire and spend a lot more time scuba diving, skiing and walking. 

So how do you move into a “I choose” state in regards to your own career?

The first thing to do is be really honest with yourself to understand your end game. For example is my dream to be able to be financially independent at the age of 50, heavily influenced by my former business partner being able to retire at the age of 55? Or has his early retirement just shown me what could be possible? As you may be realising being honest with yourself may sound easy to do, it’s far from easy to do. After all, everyone has an agenda for your career. From your life partner through to the partner you report to at work, everyone has their own agenda for you. Plus our own expectations are often heavily influenced by our start in life and the goals and dreams our parents have for us. It is very difficult to untangle what is our own agenda and what is actually someone else’s agenda for us. To really know your own mind and desires normally takes a lot of soul searching and time out from the hustle and bustle of daily life. You may find completing the Wheel of life exercise a useful exercise to get you thinking deeply about what is really important to you and your career. The Wheel of life exercise may be quick to complete but it is a great way to start asking yourself the right questions to find the right answers to understanding what your end game is and what is you choosing.  If you are in the position of not knowing what you don’t know when it comes to your end game, start looking around at people more senior to you in your firm. Can you see yourself doing their role? Are you excited by the chance to do their role? Do you have the aptitude and character to excel in their role? If the thought of becoming a partner is not exciting you and you are just seeing it as just something you have to do, then either your firm or the role of partner is not going to be right for you.

What next for you?

If you are reading this article and it has thrown up some interesting questions for you then doing these next steps will help:

  1. Complete the Wheel of Life Exercise
  2. Read chapter 2 of How to make partner and still have a life

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