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Mapping the dream

Published on Friday, 12 Jul 2013
Photo: iStockphoto
Book: What You’re Really Meant To Do
Author: Robert Steven Kaplan
Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
Robert Steven Kaplan
Patricia Kopstein

One book says be bold and follow your heart for success

I share the occasional beer with a local sci-fi writer by the name of Steven Lau. Last month, he told me: “My latest book was well received. Then I got an e-mail from my old school pal, Eric.” He showed it to me on his iPad. It read:

“That was indeed very impressive. How come you can write so well whereas I have no ink at all? I thought we were taught [by] the same teachers at school!”

Then Lau scrolled down to reveal his reply. “God simply chose you to do one thing and me another...”

Now if you subscribe to this view, the two most indispensable professional- and personal-development books available are Morgan Scott Peck’s 1978 epic The Road Less Traveled, and Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life, which came out in 2002. Even if you’re not religious, there is much to glean from these inspirational works.

Robert Steven Kaplan, a former vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs and now a professor at Harvard Business School, takes a wholly secular approach to the issue in his latest book, What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Road Map for Reaching Your Unique Potential. While it might not have quite the same burnished lustre as the two titles above, it is concise, practical and invigoratingly thought-provoking.

Kaplan says that developing a fulfilling and productive career is a lifelong mission, strewn with daunting challenges. Many of us travel down life’s road on maps charted by others – the route of least resistance – and in the world of work, this can lead to a host of problems, not least forfeiting one’s vocation. In What You’re Really Meant to Do – the follow-up to his 2011 best-seller What to Ask the Person in the Mirror – Kaplan addresses this issue head-on and delivers a specific, actionable approach to defining one’s own success and fulfilling one’s maximum potential.

Drawing on his years of experience, Kaplan sets out an integrated plan for goal-setting and success. He outlines specific exercises to help increase one’s self-awareness and take greater control of one’s career and life through the power of passion. He also lucidly conveys what he believes is the number one imperative for any job-hunter today: be true to your dreams.

This work could equally have been titled “Choose Passion Over Fashion” or “Find What You Like – and Do It”, for that is the central message.

Kaplan acknowledges that people face formidable barriers to reaching their goals. He’s not indifferent to the effects of family commitments, health woes, financial straits, and partners’ own careers and ambitions. He does, though, explain how obstacles morph into self-defeating excuses.

He also posits that career development is a lot about managing trade-offs. His take on this is that we need to make trade-off decisions consciously for ourselves, and not by inertial default, peer pressure, societal convention or parental expectations.

Kaplan offers “a road map for reaching your potential”, accompanied by a wealth of information, insights and counsel, plus self-diagnostic tasks to help readers decide what they are really meant to be and do.

There are dozens of captivating passages that will likely prove useful to the Hong Kong job-hunter or casual reader. These cover especially rewarding subjects such as “who defines your success?”, “the power of narrative”, and for the countless victims of this city’s cannibalistic office politics, “dealing with injustice”.

Another expert on the thorny business of finding one’s true calling in life is Hong Kong-based Dr Patricia Kopstein, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who specialises in mid-career and mid-life transitions.

“Career building in Hong Kong can be very exciting, wonderfully fulfilling and terrible perplexing,” she says. “Kaplan’s book goes right to the core of both success and floundering: defining a path to success in a way that uniquely fits you. [It] sets out clear steps in a plan to help individuals find their own successful path through understanding and defining personal career goals and one’s own potential.

“The book asks, ‘Are you doing what you’re really meant to do?’ Don’t waste time and risk disillusionment heading down someone else’s path – take some time to find your own path to success and you can take control of your career, build skills, embrace your passions and meet your aspirations.”

Kaplan sums up with: “If you follow your own path, I don’t know how much money you will accumulate, how much stature you will achieve, or how many titles you will garner. But if you’re true to your convictions and principles, I know you’re far more likely to feel like a big success. In the end, that feeling will make all the difference.”

What You’re Really Meant to Do is an easy and accessible read, though it does perhaps contain a few too many truisms. It will, however, steer many a reader onto the road most intuitively and intelligently travelled.



DO FOLLOW YOUR DREAM and follow it with courage. It is much better to do this than be consumed by regret later in life.
DO THINK ABOUT YOUR NEXT JOB strategically in the sense of how it helps you towards your end goal – even if it is not directly your dream job.
DON’T GO FOR A JOB just because friends or peers are doing it, even if you can get an offer. If you dream of being a top sportsman, follow that path – don’t become an investment banker.
DON’T TARGET AN AREA where, objectively speaking, your skills and competencies will always fall far short of your being able to reach your full potential.
DON’T COMPROMISE YOUR PASSIONS for the sake of short-term gains, while thinking you can always pursue your dream five or 10 years down the road. We all know that guy and he never gets there.


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