Mark Freebairn 5 Dec 2017 01:14pm

Career clinic: make your work difficult

There is a better reason than you may imagine for making work hard for yourself, says Mark Freebairn

Surreal is the word I use to describe a regular conversation I have. It goes something like this. I have two roles to discuss with you.

The first is a good business, it’s growing nicely, the previous incumbent was talented, the team is motivated and settled, the CEO is lovely and the work-life balance is decent. The second is a nightmare. It’s a turnaround, the team is in bits, the function and infrastructure needs rebuilding, the CEO is lovely and the work-life balance is non-existent. Both pay the same. The latter will take five years off your life expectancy. But if you are successful you will be able to see the difference you can make.

When I first started in headhunting, I used to discuss both options assuming everyone bar me would opt for the former. But I have come to appreciate that most people happily opt for the latter. I used to ask why they were choosing to create havoc with their life, to take the risk of failure on. But I have learned that my job puts me in front of a group I have come to call Professional Masochists.
What is it that makes many of us all turn towards the flame rather than away from it?

Clearly for many it’s about developing self worth. It’s about taking on a challenge that few can succeed at and being one of the few that do. It’s about being able to look back and see the increased value you made, and know that only you could have made it.

It’s about a fear of boredom that you might find in an easy job. It’s about wanting to know at the end of the week that you deserve the money you have earned. And it’s about waking up every day and going to do a job that matters – and knowing how successful you are at it makes achievement even harder next time.

This matters for two reasons. First – the quicker you realise this about yourself the quicker you will stop complaining about how stressed you are, how little sleep you are getting, how little hair is left and how much work you have to do at the weekend. Because deep down you know you wouldn’t have it any other way. If all the fires went out, you’d look for another one or set something alight yourself.

And second – because the sooner you realise this about yourself the sooner you can plan at what point you reward yourself with a nice, simple last job that can ease you into retirement.

And finally – thank you. Without you, business, health, education, government and frankly the global economy would be in pieces. Because the difficult jobs wouldn’t get done and many businesses and roles would vanish.

But luckily you choose to do this – long may Professional Masochism be a credible and stimulating career choice.


Career ladder 

Ma Huateng, the low-profile, high-achieving co-founder of Tencent

Born, China. Education: BSc in Computer Science, Shenzhen University

He joined China Motion Telecom Development in 1993, working on software for pagers, but 
saw the potential of instant messaging and co-founded Tencent in 1998. The company’s name in mandarin means galloping message.

Developed by a small team in Guangzhou, Tencent launched text messaging and group chat app Weixin (Wechat), in 2011. It’s now the largest instant messaging platform in the world.

WeChat pushed into mobile commerce. People could hail a cab, for example, and pay for it with their app, no cash required. 
It makes its money by selling games and integrating online payment functions that encourage shopping through the app. Users tend to spend more time on WeChat than they do on WhatsApp.

“We are much more focused on the direction of where we are going and the process than on the share price”

Tencent’s interim report, which revealed 59% year-on-year revenue growth, also said AI will be a focus.