Marriott Alumni Magazine

Fall 2017

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defining moments as they go. These could be peaks. These could be valleys. But they are all transformative. Hoping to learn more, Nielson teamed up with Pro- fessor Ellen Ensher from Loyola Marymount Univer- sity and Wesley Kading from Santa Clara University. Together they identified five broad categories for career- defining moments: (1) unanticipated events, (2) antici- pated events, (3) personal insights and reflection, (4) relationships with others, and (5) spiritual experiences. Dealers and Duels Behind those general categories, their research, pub- lished in early 2017 in the Journal of Career Development, unearthed tales of trial and triumph that only real life could turn up. One interviewee's story, for example, gives new meaning to the idea of "career-defining." In the 1980s, a U.S. crackdown on illegal drugs included sting operations in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles that intercepted millions of dollars in cash and put the nation's most-notorious drug traffickers on the run. At the heart of this drama was the Grandma Mafia, named for its cast of "middle-aged, middle-class ladies, some of them grandmothers, who wanted to make a lot of money," as one U.S. prosecutor described them. Tony, a criminal defense lawyer whose last name was withheld to protect his anonymity, represented the Grandma Mafia in court—and almost wound up on trial himself. As Tony tells it, he was tipped off by a friend that his key contact at the U.S. Drug Enforcement Admin- istration, a man named Garcia, was stealing millions of dollars from the agency. To make matters worse, Tony learned he was being set up by corrupt agents on a litany of charges, including obstruction of justice. After doing some research, he decided to kill Garcia in a duel. According to an obscure law dating back to the 1800s, that wouldn't technically constitute murder. The plan was set. Not even Tony's pastor could deter him. Tony left his church one night and found Garcia at My Mother's Kitchen, published earlier this year. For the rest of us, such defining moments can be just as book-worthy, but with their own unique flavor. Career-defining moments—those points that substan- tially alter our trajectories—can influence our deci- sions, affect our organizations, and shape our lives in extraordinary ways. So how can we better recognize these moments, cul- tivate them, and thrive as a result? There's no secret recipe, but research from BYU Marriott School of Busi- ness offers clues. Momentous Metaphor If you happen to be reading this article inside the N. Eldon Tanner Building, look up. BYU Marriott's cam- pus home rises seven stories to a sprawling lattice of metal and glass. Notice the angles, the clean lines. Now scan the interior supports—smooth white beams run- ning vertically, horizontally, and diagonally around its bright and bustling atrium. Let your eyes travel up the massive staircase toward classrooms, offices, and study spaces all designed to guide, assist, and inspire tomor- row's business leaders. For a student, it's a comforting sight. No wrong turns. No dead ends. Only clear trajectories. Now take a look outside. The mountainous hori- zon is craggy, uncertain. Paths diverge, loop back on themselves, or crumble away completely. Figuratively speaking, it's an untamed landscape that every gradu- ate must eventually navigate. Associate professor Troy Nielson gets the metaphor. In 2007—the year before he joined BYU Marriott's faculty—the management professor published a text- book, Career Trek: The Journey Begins, with the image of a wind-tattered alpinist on the cover. A decade later, that comparison still holds true. "Most people today don't join an organization out of school and stay there for their career trajectories like they did thirty years ago," Nielson says. Instead they pivot and shift, experiencing career- Fast Facts about the Study Participant pool 10 men, 8 women Avg. age: 56 All were senior leaders drawn from a variety of industries, recruited for their successful and multifaceted careers. Sample questions Please describe in detail several of your most pivotal career-defining moments. What are key lessons you learned from your career-defining moments? How did a mentor or other important relationship impact your career- defining moment? Data pool 97 experiences Avg. number per person: 5.4 Where to find PDF download available online from the Journal of Career Development: "Causes of Career- Defining Moments: Development of a Typology," vol. 44, no. 2 (April 2017): 110–26. 34 MARRIOTT

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