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Four Career Lessons from Goldilocks
May 2011

Remember the tale about Goldilocks? After getting lost in the forest she stumbles across a cottage where she finds porridge, a rocking chair and a bed. For everything she finds, she has to do a little trial and error to get just the right "fit." The porridge is either too hot or too cold. The chairs are too big or to small, and the beds too soft or too hard. Looking past the fact that the owners of the house she finds are bears, and that technically Goldilocks is trespassing – there are some lessons we can learn about building a successful career.

Long-term goals vs. Short-term needs: Goldilocks' long-term goal was to find her way home, but in the meanwhile, she had an immediate need for food and rest. Sometimes we can focus so much on the end result that we forget things we need to get there. Want to be your own boss someday? Unless you have the resources to make that happen tomorrow, focus today on building your network, getting experience and generating the funds you need to start your business the right way.

Take advantage of opportunities: Goldilocks could have kept walking, assuming it too risky to approach and enter the cottage. Her willingness to take that risk allowed her to get what she needed. When opportunities in your career present themselves – take them. When I received a job offer to work for Barnes & Noble that would require me to relocate to New York where I didn't know a soul – I remember a few co-workers scratching their heads. "You're really just going to pack up and go?" they questioned. Taking that job and making that move was a big risk – and a little scary, but it turned out to be one of the best professional decisions I ever made.

Instead of settling, explore your options: One of the repeated phrases in this story is, "And that one was just right." Instead of settling for a too soft bed or a too big chair, Goldilocks explored what her options were to get the right fit. Sometimes we can be quick to judge an opportunity only as it is presented it to us. Wise professionals ask questions, negotiate, look for alternatives or even change course in order to get what they need. Are you looking for flexibility, exposure, an opportunity to stretch or grow? Having clear career goals and prioritized values help prevent the eventual disappointment from settling.

Know when it's time to go: In at least one version of the tale, the bears aren't so friendly when they find Goldilocks sleeping in their house. If only she hadn't gotten so comfortable and stayed longer than she should have. Ever been there? Stayed in a job longer than you should have because it was comfortable? This has been the case for a number of people who were bolted awake by reorganization or downsizing. It's important to pay attention not only to the external factors impacting your career, but those internal hunches urging you to make a move.

To recap the lessons we can learn from Goldilocks: Find a balance between short-term needs and long term goals, look for opportunities where you are right now, explore any options before you settle, and pay attention to signs that it's time to go. Work may not be a fairy tale for most of us, but if we make an effort to take action where we can, we are sure to end up with a successfully ever after ending.