CEO Insider

Career Clarity in the C-Suite

Tracy Timm
Tracy Timm

Work/life balance and personal life standards in the C-Suite can be a tricky subject.

On the one hand, advocating for some semblance of balance or even blend can make you look like less of a team player, and you could be passed over for promotions. On the other hand, if you don’t create any boundaries at all then you become the leadership team’s catch-all, and you can kiss your nights, weekends, and vacation goodbye.

Is there such a thing as balance? And if so, how do we define it for ourselves?

The career conundrum

Every career opportunity will come with an inevitable set of pros and cons. Based on our cumulative work experience, we’ve learned what we do and don’t like (or can tolerate) when it comes to our work. Yet, in the moment, when the offer is on the table, it’s so easy to make hasty, emotional, and short-sighted career decisions.

Why do so many of us get caught with our professional pants down and make horrible, unsustainable career choices?

The issue doesn’t lie in not knowing our value as professionals. We don’t struggle to stand up for ourselves because we can’t negotiate or speak with conviction. We don’t have a problem navigating this tightrope because we question our skills, capabilities, or interests.

The reason many of us agonize over career decisions or fail to set professional standards and boundaries around our valuable time is actually much simpler.

We don’t know what we stand for in the first place. We lack clear, non-negotiable commitments.

If you stand for nothing…

I spoke to a seasoned CMO just a few weeks ago who was struggling with his latest career decision.

He had reached out to us at The Nth Degree® Career Academy because his career was at a crossroads. Having spent many years in a “high intensity executive culture,” he found himself on the wrong end of a change in leadership due to COVID. In the short term, he had decided to shift gears and spend some time at a consulting firm. He was struggling with a big decision: pursue another corporate, executive-level opportunity or pivot toward a more flexible, consulting-based career.

When we finally got down to what was really keeping him stuck in career-decision “limbo,” I was shocked at the mechanism at play. He knew his professional value, could accurately articulate his interests, and easily voiced his capabilities. In other words, he could tell me exactly what he wanted to say YES to doing.

However, he was completely lacked a set of personal standards to confidently say “no” when the opportunity was wrong for him. In fact, he openly commented on how he felt pressure to accept readily-available offers and an overwhelming sense of obligation to move toward the path of least resistance.

In other words, he didn’t know how to say “no” which led to career decisions that were ultimately unsustainable for him and his family.

How to say “no” when the world wants you to say “yes”

There’s a secret, startlingly simple way to make lightning fast, sustainable career decisions.

I like to call it the career “Easy Button.”

The trick to this process is to know your non-negotiables before the conversation starts. Yes, that may sound like a no-brainer or a “duh” piece of advice. However, I know that most of us are doing this wrong.

A few years ago, I met a Dallas-based CFO. He was speaking to a group of young professionals, and gave us this one wonderful piece of advice. Apparently, every year, he and his wife sit down together and create their family list of core values and commitments. This list includes clearly important items like “Jane stays home with the kids” and seemingly arbitrary items like “living in an old house”. Regardless of the relative level of importance, each of these values goes onto the list and gets committed to for the rest of the year.

Here’s the kicker: this list is then used to evaluate the viability of any decisions the family will make, including career.

For example, if the CFO received a call from a company in Seattle offering to double his salary if he’ll move to the West Coast, all he needs to do is look at the list. If the list says something like “live in Dallas until our boys graduate high school” and the boys have not yet graduated from high school, then guess what?

It’s an easy and obvious “no.”

Zero worries about salary. Zero sleepless nights. Zero guilt. Zero questioning.

Just a clear and confident “no” when “no” is the right answer.

How to use this for your best career decisions

I’ll be honest… I made a lot of assumptions about this guy.

Surely a person can’t ignore doubling his salary just because he doesn’t want to move!

But then, I realized the magic and the simplicity of this “easy button” system. Instead of being ruled by his emotions in the moment, he was able to look at the sober commitments he had made with his family and make a decision that was sustainable for all of them.

I challenge you to use this system in your own life. Set your core values. Turn them into non-negotiable commitments. And then, the next time an opportunity comes your way, evaluate it based on your list.

I guarantee this will lead to more fulfillment, balance, and sustainability your executive-level career.


Written by Tracy Timm.

Tracy Timm
Tracy Timm is the founder of The Nth Degree® Career Academy, the proven career clarity system that helps high-potential professionals discover, define, and drive careers they love. She has a degree in behavioral psychology from Yale University and studied design thinking with the founder of the d.school at Stanford University. Tracy Timm left a successful but unsatisfying career in finance, traveled once around the world on Semester at Sea, and discovered her ideal career. For more than five years, she has applied these lessons in her career advisory work with hundreds of individuals and over one hundred fast-growing companies. Tracy lives in Dallas, Texas. Unstoppable: Discover Your True Value, Define Your Genius Zone, and Drive Your Dream Career is available September 29, 2020, on Amazon and other retail outlets. Tracy Timm is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Follow her on Facebook or connect on LinkedIn.
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