Although problem-solving, creativity, intellectual curiosity, energy and passion are deemed desirable traits for ambitious executives, especially in professional services firms, few mention ‘insecure over-achievement.’ Yet companies have found that ‘praise-hungry perfectionists’ tend to be particularly productive. So much so that one HR director, interviewed in Cass Business School research, admits acting ‘like a drug dealer, deliberately seeking out vulnerable people and getting them hooked on the high-status identity.’ If there’s one lesson about how best to harness anxious energy, it’s to avoid undermining the executive’s self-esteem and potentially ruining a career in the quest for ever greater output.
Whether similar insecurity applies to executives looking for a career change is touched upon in these FT profiles. Mainly in their 40s and 50s, these executives express a range of fears and emotions, but all embrace change as a means of self-realisation—something that HR professionals might bear in mind as they try to engage and enthuse their staff. A forex trader who became a costume designer is following a long-held interest and is more excited than worried about the life change. A well-paid Google employee left to establish a technology consultancy, and ‘swings between self-doubt and almost manic enthusiasm.’ A supermarket manager overcame the shock of redundancy and wants more family time though worries about her next job. Meanwhile, a 33-year-old rock musician who is retraining as a software developer thinks he may be too old. Finally, a science graduate and full-time mother retrains to be a lawyer but questions if it’s the right for her young family.