No doubt a common aspiration among salary men is climbing the corporate ladder. For those who consciously set their mind on getting to the top, how realistic do they actually think it is that they will be able to reach the pinnacle of the pyramid? This question is perhaps most relevant to those who believe themselves to be in a position to enter the last mile of a corporate tournament, the winner of which will be the lucky person doing the right job in the right place at the right time. Although this may seem like stating the obvious, how a person can put themselves in a position to be jockeying in the last mile of a corporate race is far from being obvious at the beginning of their career. a person’s ability to re-invent themselves for relevance is the seed of their career’s durability Typically, an average person’s career spans more than three decades. However forward-looking, there is only so much they can plan ahead meaningfully at any time. A lot depends on the career prospects a person can foresee in the immediate future at various stages in their career, either from their current employer or in the surrounding job market. All things being equal, however, they need to judge how much of a premium to put on loyalty to the particular employer they are working for. While there are many pros and cons either to loyalty – assuming the employing company lasts that long – or job-hopping, there is no real guaranteed path to the top. But to be the last one standing in the final race, a person must have done the right job in the right place at the right time more than once throughout their career, culminating in the final glory. The question, therefore, is really about what wisdom there is in making the right career decisions all the time – not just for one shot. It all depends on who we talk to. Of all the valuable advice we can possibly get, here are five lessons as food for thought. 1. Political vigilance Politics needs not be perceived negatively, as usual. Comprehending politics is about understanding the sources of power, and being vigilant about these forces within an organisation, and knowing who is in charge of which agenda. To be able to live up to what they are worth and, better yet, add value to the company they are working for, a person needs to be able to align their contributory effort to what the company demands of them. But this is far from being a straight-forward hypothesis, as the requirements may be direct or indirect, explicit or implicit, and may not come solely from their boss, but possibly the boss’ boss, peers, customers, suppliers, etc., all of which, however, may be in conflict with each other. 2. Continuous learning Again, this is stating the obvious. But people tend to take knowledge and information for granted. To be able to catch up with the ever-changing world, and its immediate implications for the opportunities and threats concerning their career for more than three decades, however, a person must be proactively learning all the time. This means learning both on and beyond the job, from mistakes – their own and others – and, most importantly, learning to excel. It takes proactive learning to turn knowledge into a person’s own wisdom – amongst other objectives – in order to become politically savvy and ride the waves of opportunity without sinking. 3. Resilience However intelligent and diligent a person is, they are bound to make mistakes and face setbacks during their career. They need, therefore, to develop their wisdom not just for winning, but for coping with hard times and bouncing back from failure. Both Winston Churchill and Deng Xiao-ping had their share of painful flops before finally stepping into the limelight to accomplish their history-making glorious feats at the height of their careers. 4. Serendipity In spite of talent and hard work, paradoxically, in the end whether or not you are a success is down to luck. But to believe in luck is not to fall prey to superstition or find a convenient excuse for failure. Instead, it is to acknowledge the force of randomness and understand the reality of statistical inference, therefore, to believe that luck favours the well-prepared. Those who keep trying to accumulate small-step discoveries that turn out to be favourable to success, i.e., with a mindset of serendipity, should be able to enhance the odds of luck beckoning. 5. Re-invention Reaching the top of the corporate ladder, however, need not be the end of a person’s career, particularly when they have barely reached retirement age. Besides, in today’s tech-entrepreneurial era, success stories abound about youngsters creating their own enterprises which attract serious venture capitalist funds for business expansion. Indeed, whether or not they reach the top, a person needs to regularly find meaning in what they do; and particularly on reaching the top, with an enhanced position and all the extra resources which come with it, they should be setting their mind on what greater good beyond all their previous achievements they could possibly serve. Just as the capability for innovation forms the DNA of sustainability for business enterprises in today’s fast-changing world, a person’s ability to re-invent themselves for relevance is the seed of their career’s durability.