The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers

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"This book should be read by anyone interested in pursuing a special career."
Terry Semel, chairman & chief executive officer, Yahoo!

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Pattern 5:  Find the Right Fit (Strengths, Passions & People)

“Failure’s hard, but success is far more dangerous. If you’re successful at the wrong thing, the mix of praise and money and opportunity can lock you in forever.”
-- Po Bronson

“When love and skill work together, expect a masterpiece.”
-- John Ruskin


What does it mean to achieve an “extraordinary career”?

After thousands of interviews and countless hours of analysis, we’ve developed our own idea as to  what constitutes career success. Here’s a hint: it’s nothing like what most people imagine. For most folks, getting top dollar for a top position is about as far as they think. We’re talking about something else. For us, an extraordinary career depends on three critical elements:

1) Playing to your strengths

2) Set ting your passions free

3) Fitting in naturally and comfortably with your work culture

Attain these three things in your working life and contentment will reign. Our research revealed that Extraordinary Executives lead careers that leverage both their strengths and their passions more than six times as often as those of Average Employees. The implication of these findings is profound. Not only is it possible to leverage both your strengths and passions in the same job, but success requires it.


Find your strengths, passions and cultural fit and you will be happier and more successful in your career. How simple indeed.

Given the clear-cut nature of this principle, what percentage of professionals do you think are in jobs that maximize their strengths, and where they are passionate about their work and the people they work with? How many professionals have replicated this critical pattern of extraordinary careers?

Nine percent! Yes, only nine percent of those we surveyed believe they are in jobs that fully leverage their strengths allowing them to perform  activities they are passionate about in an environment they like, with people they respect. And remember once again that our survey was strongly biased toward professionals who had succeeded greatly in their careers. Therefore, they are in positions of influence, presumably with a much greater ability to navigate their careers toward their strengths, passions and people than an average professional. Yet even in this group of successful executives, fewer than one in ten had managed to replicate this success pattern in his/her own career.


A common way that many people think about managing their careers – either consciously or subconsciously - is something we call Career Push. This entails pushing to climb from one step on the career ladder to the next, and the next and the next. Knowing the pitfalls of this approach will help explain why so many people are unable to implement the straightforward pattern for success and satisfaction.


There is a more effective approach to managing your professional journey – allowing your preferences for strengths, passions and people to “pull” your career steadily in a better direction.

Using the Career Pull approach requires allowing your career to migrate, often gradually, to the activities, roles and environments you know from experience that you prefer and are most passionate about. It requires clear reflection and in some cases making difficult choices like swimming against the current of traditional promotions, or turning down jobs others would envy. It requires taking the long view when managing your career and thoroughly assessing the various career alternatives afforded to you through a variety of lenses.


Finding the right fit is not easily accomplished. But here are four strategies to help you get closer and closer to the mark:

Manage your opportunities:

1. "Macromanage" your career.       2. Create career options.

Make the right choices:

3. Watch for "career flares".            4. Work with the right people.

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This extract is taken from
The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers by James M. Citrin and Richard A. Smith, published by Random House. Order your copy now!

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