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Work & Careers | CAREER MAKE-OVER: Southern Californians
Learning How to Improve Their Careers

His Life's Satisfying, but Is That All There Is?

May 14, 2000|SUSAN VAUGHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Art Mattox admits he has little to complain about. He earns more than $100,000 annually as a Xerox global account manager. He describes his financial status as "prospering"--adding that he's virtually debt-free and that his Eagle Rock home should be paid off in two years.

The 44-year-old also will tell you that he likes his job, gets along with his clients and takes pride in his volunteer position as a hearing examiner for the Los Angeles Police Department, reviewing cases of officer misconduct.

So what's bugging Art Mattox?

Those incessant tales of instant wealth, uproarious excitement and high-stakes gambits at Internet start-up companies.

"I can achieve my goals at Xerox," said Mattox, who's been with the company 19 years. "But sometimes there's a feeling that the parade is passing me by."

Mattox finds himself fantasizing about different futures: leaving Xerox to become an Internet buccaneer; pursuing another vocation, without concern about salary--"something I could do just because I like it"; or continuing on his current trajectory, developing new skills at Xerox and finding innovative ways to serve his accounts.

Mattox isn't one to leap into a risky new vocation at the first whiff of stock options. Because his parents suffered extreme financial setbacks decades ago, Mattox says, he has disciplined himself to be thrifty and cautious about career gambles--even potentially salutary ones.

As he mulls over a slew of vocational "what-ifs," he also says he's struggling with "loyalty issues."

"As a result of the company's training, I've become far more marketable," Mattox said, confessing he'd have great difficulty leaving a company that has been good to him for nearly two decades.

For help with his career concerns, Mattox consulted with Stephen Covey, co-founder of Salt Lake City-based Franklin Covey Co. and author of "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People" (Fireside, 1990).

"You're at a defining moment of your life," Covey told Mattox, after reviewing Mattox's resume and writings about his career dilemma. "Your situation is unusual, because you're a visionary who can look at the bigger picture, and you're also an implementer, because of the valuable technical skills you utilize."

Mattox's combined talents make him very marketable, Covey added. The question is, does Mattox want to test his employability right now or continue on course with Xerox?

The two discussed Mattox's most important values. Mattox said he felt best when he was appreciated and compensated adequately for the work he did. He said he sometimes ruminates over the latter: Is he being paid an appropriate wage for his skills and contributions?

Leaving Xerox for uncharted waters would require Mattox to take one of the most courageous leaps of his life. "You'll need to ask yourself whether you'll be able to make the break from the safe harbor you're in, leave your comfort zone and tolerate living on the edge for a while," Covey said.

Covey then asked whether Mattox had ever penned a personal mission statement that detailed his values. Mattox had, but confessed that he hadn't listed "wealth" or "financial rewards" in that document.

"Maybe I should think about that since it's coming up now," Mattox said.

A mission statement is like a personal constitution, Covey explained. It describes an individual's life purpose, principles, vision, values and relationships. It may also include intended achievements, societal contributions and financial aspirations.

Mattox would profit from carefully redrafting his statement and adhering to its principles, Covey said. This would prevent him from moving forward "by default," allowing others and fate in general to shape his career.

"Once you have this mission statement in place, you can be proactive," Covey said.

Covey urged Mattox to take several weeks to revise the statement. "It's not something to be written overnight, and it's not something to compose in order to please or impress others," Covey said.

Mattox's mission statement should not be a static document, Covey said. Mattox should review it weekly and make minor changes to it each time he gains additional insight or has a change in circumstances.

To do this effectively, Mattox should set aside time each week for renewal and reflection, Covey said. After reviewing the previous week's achievements and activities, he can list what he has learned from his experiences, the goals he's achieved, challenges he's encountered and whatever plans remain unfulfilled, Covey said. Mattox also can look for behavior patterns that may be causing difficulties for him, Covey added.

Two other steps that Mattox can take are to keep a personal journal ("one of the most powerful forms of increasing self-awareness I know of, simply because you observe your own participation in life," Covey said), and creating a "perhaps" list of goals that he may one day pursue.

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