From the MD: Perspective - an elusive but important career guide


It is easy to get caught up in your day to day grind and never lift your head long enough to see the horizon. Most of us have, at one point or another, found ourselves in that dreaded cycle of counting down the week days wishing for a weekend. If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that is truly fulfilling then it is quite possible that you don’t experience this and may be caught in the trap of not knowing when to “down tools” sufficiently to make time for the rest of your life.

By Graham Fehrsen, Managing Director @CFOSouthAfrica

Either way this cycle is then interspersed with milestone occasions - birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, holidays and funerals. The last two in particular have the power to help us really stop and look around, taking stock of our lives and gain a little perspective on our course. And in a modern world where our careers take up so much time, life and career are almost not separable.

Without perspective we lack direction and without direction we lack the ability to manage our energy effectively. We all to often subsidise it with short fixes and begin to tell ourselves that it is the system's fault. If you've never felt trapped by your job or the business you work in, I'd suggest you're either very fortunate to have a found that sweet spot job, you're in complete denial or you are really good at stopping to take stock and shape the direction of your career.

With CFO South Africa I am fortunate enough to be exposed to some of South Africa's finest finance professionals and one thing stands out when I talk to them about success. A burning desire to see things through. It is personal and they're willing to do whatever it takes. This is a very conscious thing, in my mind the result of considered thought and introspection.

Some years ago I had the great fortune of finding a cause that allowed me to take stock annually. It is a mountain bike ride that raises funds for the education of children living in wilderness areas ( This incredible four-day 300km ride is an annual pilgrimage that helps me set my stall and do something that matters to me. Unfortunately I have learned that it isn't enough. Neither are the milestone occasions.

"There was a time when my bi-annual performance review was all that happened and on reflection I relied far too much on this process. It wasn't enough."

I have discovered that perspective on my career requires a regular assessment of my surroundings and most importantly my activity and development. Like all things where improvement or development is a desired outcome, it really pays to have a regular and disciplined approach. There was a time when my bi-annual performance review was all that happened and on reflection I relied far too much on this process. It wasn't enough.

As I move into a more flexible and entrepreneurial environment that is CFO South Africa there is an increasing pressure to get on and get it done but I have committed to two things on a monthly basis that I hope will provide me with that perspective.

  1. An hour on the first working day of every month to look back at the road and check my progress as well as looking ahead at what is possible and necessary. I hope that this cycle will gather its own momentum and become the check and balance I have referred to in this piece.
  2. Take time once a month to check in with my wife and ensure my path still meets our collective goals. Two people I rode a mountain bike with last month told me that they were going through a divorce and the root cause of the divorce (although I am sure it is more complicated than this) was that their careers had helped them forge a personal path and when they looked up twenty years later their life partners were no longer with them.

What will you do for perspective? How are you going to create a habit that works for you? As the path in front of us gets difficult we tend to look down and ensure we don't fall off. That is important but so too is ensuring you're headed in the right direction. Otherwise you might just miss your destination altogether!

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