THE BRAZEN CAREERIST- Special opps: Don't answer some of those knocks

When opportunity knocks, open the door cautiously.

Maybe 2008 won't be a boom year, but pundits say we won't stay in a recession forever. When the economy eventually picks up, doors will start opening for many of us. Beware of career opportunities that look like quick fixes, because often they may really be career derailments.

Figure out now what you want for your career so when opportunities pop up, you can judge them in the context of long-term goals you believe in.

Managing a career is a difficult process full of risks, disappointments, and feelings of hopelessness. People who stay on track are people who trust themselves to know what will make them happy and trust themselves to meet their goals.

Here are some examples of opportunities that derailed careers:

The family-business derailment

Manny loved computers and spent 10 years as an information technology consultant. Then he got laid off. He had never had to look for a job in a bad economy. He sent out 20 resumes for IT jobs and heard back from no one. He got frustrated and scared that no one would ever hire him. His dad, on the other hand, wanted to retire and sell his construction business. Manny saw a golden opportunity to avoid a prolonged job hunt and simply took over the family business. But Manny never wanted to run a construction company. He says he often finds himself fixing the company's computer network instead of building the company's client network to drum up business. In hindsight, Manny says he could have suffered through a difficult job hunt and remained in IT, but he can't dump his dad's business now.

The grad-school derailment

As a college senior, my dad knew he wanted to be a history teacher, but he took the LSAT because his father wanted him to be a lawyer. My dad got a near-perfect score. So while he was applying to Harvard's graduate program in history, he filled out the application for law school, too. He got into a grad school for history, but it wasn't Harvard. He did get into Harvard's law school, though. And he thought, "Who passes up Harvard law?" So he went there. He was hired by a top-tier law firm, but he never liked law, and he was never good at it.

The gold-rush derailment

Harry was an economic development whiz. He turned run-down cities into hipster destinations, and he had his eye on Los Angeles for his next big job. But then he saw people making millions on the Internet, and he wanted to make millions, too. So he decided to dump his government-pay-scale field for the Internet. He hated his Internet company and the manic pace, pretentious twenty-somethings, and waffling management that went along with it. He suffered though months and months in the name of making millions until the company went under. By then the economy was a mess, and most cities had some form of a hiring freeze. So the man who was a rising star in a field he loved is unemployed after spending a year doing something that made him miserable.


These people knew what they wanted, but at a crucial point diverged from the paths they set out for themselves.

An opportunity is only as good as its long-term effects on your life. Career focus will help you tell the difference between a good opportunity and a bad opportunity.

Trust yourself to set goals and meet them. That way, when opportunity knocks, you won't budge for a quick fix or a big sellout– you'll focus on the path that's right for you.