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Be Like Proteus! Adapt, Change and Thrive in your Career


12 Protean Principles for Personal and Professional Success

 Proteus: Sea god (son of Oceanus and Tethys) who could change his form

Protean (adj.): Readily able to assume different forms or characters; extremely variable

US Labor Department statistics show that the average individual in the US will hold between 9-15 different jobs over the course of his/her work life.

Now wrap your head around this:  Some of the jobs you will have over the course of your work life do not even exist yet, so how can you want them?

Why are so many people (particularly college students) obsessed with figuring out what they are going to do with the rest of their lives and not more focused on what they are going to do right now?

Like it or not, the work place has changed. The social contract of “lifetime employment” large employers had with workers in the 1950s and 1960s expired quite some time ago. We are just adapting to this change very slowly.

“Free agency” in employment is the new normal, so we have to change our practices to thrive in this new world.

The twelve principles below articulate the collaborative idea of a group of career & employment professionals who all believe that to thrive in the 21st century workforce, we need to act more like the Greek sea god Proteus.  That is, we have to be responsible, adaptable and ready to change as circumstances require.  So, be like Proteus:  Learn how to adapt and change and you will be able to thrive personally and professionally.

Establish a High Standard of Personal Responsibility

  • Identify, clarify and adhere to your core values
  • Recognize the significant role of your own personal ambition
  • Realize opportunities always exist, but you will have to make choices
  • Establish your own personal and professional expectations and standards for goal achievement
  • Appreciate what  you have in pursuit of what you desire

Anticipate Change and Look for Trends and Opportunities

  • Pay attention; remain observant and aware at all times
  • Ask high quality questions…. as they will lead to high quality answers (breakthroughs)
  • Be a life-long learner: Think, assess, research, and analyze
  • Create a long-term vision to guide your short-term decision-making
  • Anticipate and prepare for unexpected change
  • Be tolerant of ambiguity
  • Respect and learn from the past in preparing for the future

Embrace Curiosity

  • Be inquisitive; ideas and imagination “turn nothing into something”
  • Explore opportunities to gather information and gain new experiences
  • Wonder; think differently and become self-inspired; value dreams
  • Listen to both your head and your heart
  • Be curious but don’t miss the obvious
  • Envision your future: What would you do differently today to get there?

Be Adaptable and Diversify

  • Understand that change is constant, so your ability and willingness to adapt and change must also be constant
  • Continuously broaden and develop your skills and abilities so that you will remain relevant and appear indispensable
  • Embrace and master technology that will enhance your skills and abilities (not just technology for technology’s sake)
  • Ask “What if? Rather than “What is?” Challenge your preconceptions about what is and isn’t possible
  • Seek to understand other people’s opinions and points of view in crafting and defining your own
  • Stay grounded even in the midst of change and diversification

Build and Maintain a Positive Circle of Influence

  • Surround yourself with positive and beneficial advisors, mentors and friends
  • Define and inhabit work, home and leisure environments in which you will thrive personally and professionally
  • Seek advice from quality “voices of influence” (people, media, research, etc.)
  • Embrace and nurture a positive relationship with yourself
  • Include “silent” mentors in your personal and professional development (books, audiobooks, seminars, online study, thought leaders, etc.)
  • Learn how to collaborate across disciplines (e.g. The Medici Effect)

Forge Beneficial and Reciprocal Relationships

  • Be a person of influence; seek first to understand, then to be understood
  •  Offer to help as you ask for the assistance of others
  • Create mutually beneficial relationships in your community, industry, and profession
  • Broaden the scope of your impact by establishing relationships outside your current sphere of influence (e.g., The Strength of Weak Ties Theory)
  • Challenge yourself to forge relationships that seem “out-of-reach ”

Assess, Manage and Increase your Market Value

  • Benchmark your value to your target marketplace; don’t neglect the big picture
  • Identify the results you can produce and the contributions you can make
  • Identify and leverage the skills, abilities and qualities that make you uniquely valuable as an employee, associate or business partner
  • Enhance your marketability by making continuous education a continuous part of your personal and professional development

Generate Financial Sustainability

  • Clearly understand what you need to make to make ends meet and what you need to make to achieve your desired standard of living
  • Learn how to live within your means and do so with discipline
  • Understand that your desired standard of living is inseparable from  your career choices
  • Pursue multiple streams of income
  • Save aggressively, invest wisely and contribute generously
  • Create a long-term, financial plan to arrive where you want to arrive

Create, Sustain, and Display Vibrant Energy

  • Nourish your mind, body and soul
  • Manage and channel your emotions (energy creates like energy)
  • Safeguard your physical health; do your own research and develop your own health philosophy
  • Defend and cultivate your “self” and your spirit
  • Develop a sense of adventure
  • Don’t neglect yourself or your personal relationships

Leverage your Time Advantageously

  • Safeguard your time;  it is a non-renewable resource
  • Invest and allocate your time wisely; you can’t control time, but you can manage what you do with your time
  • Balance time and energy; all work and not play DOES make Jack a dull boy!
  • Focus on high payoff activities; avoid low payoff activities
  • Practice discipline: Do what you DON’T want to do; in pursuit of what you want

 Compose and Execute Strategic Achievement Plans

  • Construct and execute achievement-based action plans that are strategic, achievable and meaningful
  • Put your strategic achievement plans in writing to hold yourself accountable
  • Establish worthy goals and set aggressive but realistic timetables for completion
  • Be flexible to make “course corrections” along the way.
  • Seek to optimize you time, energy and finances resources

Act Deliberately; React Appropriately; Adapt as Necessary

  • Implement your strategic achievement plans with precision, confidence and mastery
  • Actively avoid procrastination, stagnation, and indecision
  • Take calculated, “smart” risks while mitigating potential liabilities
  • Learn from failures and turn adversity into opportunity
  • Measure and evaluate your results; readjust when necessary; celebrate your successes
So, what do you think of our 12 Protean Principles?  Comment on this blog or join the LinkedIn Protean Careers Group and join the conversation.

Note: The preceding is an outgrowth of a collaborative effort of members of the LinkedIn Protean Careers Group, spearheaded by Jay Block to build upon pioneering work by Dr. Douglas (Tim) Hall.   Participants in this initiative included Jay, Eugenia KaneshigeLenore MewtonTara OrchardMatt Berndt, and Jonathan S. Ross. While there is collective agreement on the actual twelve principles themselves, readers may encounter slight variances in the expression of sub-principles associated with each major principle.


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