Roopa Unnikrishnan









By Roopa Unnikrishnan

Why you should jolt yourself before the world jolts you

“Let well enough alone”, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – sure these are pretty good bits of advice, but only if you live and work in stable times. I can’t remember such a time – the past decades have been all about technological and market disruptions and just delivering on one’s job description has never seemed to be adequate – innovation has always been in the air. That’s why creating personal disruptions, or Jolts, may be the best way to be prepared for the change around you. Either that, or be ready to have change done to you!

There are circumstances in life that only a shock can free you from: The relationship that hasn’t been going anywhere for far too long; the 20 extra pounds you put on when you quit smoking five years ago; the half-finished manuscript of your novel stuffed into the desk drawer; your dream of exotic travel stuffed into the other desk drawer. And most importantly, the job that’s seen you coasting along, or where you can see change coming, but for now, all seems well. Rather than letting things be till you are pushed, what if you made change happen – becoming the change you wish to see in your life and career?

In many ways, my time at Oxford was a jolt, besides all the great jots that got me there in the first place. Those jolts included my early vision of becoming a head of government evaporate due to personal circumstances, and that loss meant that it broke open a whole world of opportunities. And then a chance trip resulting in me finding that I had a skill – which soon had me representing India in international sport shooting competitions and winning the medals that then fed into my getting a Rhodes scholarship. I also write about the role of serendipity in my book – and for me, it was a chance Sunday morning chat with a Rhodes Scholar already in SBS that opened up my eyes to an MBA. That summer morning, I got on a bike and called on an SBS tutor and right after I was off to the Warden at Rhodes House explaining why an MBA would be a better option for me professionally and personally. Change encounters – but used to the greatest impact. (Thanks, Sir Kenny! Thanks, Clyde!)

A jolt stops you in your tracks, turns you around, and pushes you in another direction—unnerving though it may be. It catapults you from where you are to some other place. In the Career Catapult, I outlined five steps to manufacturing your jolt, before the jolt find you. It’s about creating a kind of transformation that clarifies, cleanses, and liberates.

My interviews with startup founders, innovators inside large companies and CEOs have tended to generate a series of common themes, one of them being the willingness to play out change and build out options. Few cling on through untenable situations – and if they seem to do so, they are in reality learning and growing through alternate routes and projects. The Google 20% is one of the most systematic ways to build out a non-routine set of options and capabilities besides the “day job.” Jolting your career through first understanding yourself deeply, stalking trends to understand where the work is headed, activating your network so you can challenge your own assumptions, design and imagine career options that you test or prototype, and then position yourself for the big leap or Jolt into a new career dimension.

Career jolts come in different sizes and shaped. ER doctors jolt themselves into being a social entrepreneur saving lives in Africa; a white-shoed accountant jolted into a sandal-wearing Silicon Valleyer; and an assembly-line worker jolted into his company’s chief technology officer. The jolts were deliberate—and took work.

We think of jolts as happening to us. They’re a surprise—sometimes a shock. We understand them only in retrospect. But what if you could control the jolt, just as the ER doctor, the accountant, and the assembly line worker did? What if you could cause it to happen, program its content ahead of time, and command it? Couldn’t you then shape the transformation it produces, as they did? Couldn’t you ready yourself for a new love, lose the weight, finish the novel, free yourself of those silken shackles, and change jobs or careers or lifestyles and head for the life you imagine? You could, and you can. That’s what this book is about.

For the most part, the average career-management guide today reads like a warrior’s manual. It tells you how to draw up your battle plan, deploy your forces, and take that hill. It trains you to go out and engage “the enemy”—the enemy in this case being the job market, the organization you want to work for, or the dream job you want to define for yourself.

Reality is actually a lot more complex, and it makes little sense to be at war with it. Taking the hill is rarely enough; the hill is only a stopping point between where you start and where you want to finish. Reality is about the finish, and it is about the journey towards it, day after day, as you grow into the person you want to be and can be.

Creating the disruptions that will take you forward and upward on that advance, therefore, begins with digging deep to understand who you are and who you can be. It requires knowing the context in which you advance—the economic environment and the business trends and the resources that you can draw upon. But, above all, creating the jolt is an act of the imagination and intellect, and it must be challenged and tested against the facts of reality. That is why each chapter provides worksheets that help you quantify your progress through each action step, enabling you to do the hands-on scrutiny and analysis that is so essential to the process.

Your work shapes so much of your life in so many ways, and if you have reached the point where you’re wondering whether it is worth it, you need to find out if it is. If it isn’t, jolt yourself into a career that is.

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