Career Professionals… It’s Time to Practice What You Preach!
As a fellow career professional, I am assuming that you advise, guide, and counsel your students or clients to reflect on what they enjoy doing, what kind of life they want to live, their strengths, and how that can serve them in their career. When was the last time you did that for yourself?
Once we get ourselves established in our jobs, we often slip into productivity mode, struggling to meet (often unreasonable) goals, milestones, and targets while navigating office politics and trying to meet our own personal needs outside of work hours. When we do this, we often lose track of why we got into the profession to begin with.
What aspects of our jobs bring smiles to our faces?
Which aspects would we rather leave behind?
It’s time to pause for a moment and ask ourselves the following questions:
Which of my strengths do I most enjoy using?
Every human being on the planet has strengths that they can contribute to their jobs. However, we don’t always enjoy some of the tasks related to our strengths. For example, I am a fine grant writer. For many years, I worked on grants for multiple non-profit organizations. That work didn’t bring me much joy, however, and it wasn’t until I started working one-on-one with my clients and stopped writing grants that I really felt like I had found my place.
Many people, career professionals included, focus on their skills and experience and not their joy. Sure, you can coordinate a career fair, but do you have fun doing it? What about employer relations, report-writing, or resume reviews? The answer will vary from person to person, but that is the beauty of the career profession. It takes all types of people
Action Step: Take five minutes for a quick inventory of what you have most enjoyed doing in your professional or academic life. What strengths did you use while doing those tasks?
How much of what you are currently doing uses those strengths?
There are a couple of paths to burn-out. By far the most common path is to primarily do work you don’t enjoy and struggle to do well. This wreaks havoc on our health and self-esteem.
Every job includes tasks that we don’t like to do, but that should be a fraction of your day, not the majority.
Action Step: Write down how you spend your time each day (or week or month or year) and compare that to your list of strengths. Give yourself a percentage of how much time you spend doing things you don’t enjoy, do enjoy, or find tolerable. Are those percentages where you would like to see them?
What kind of life do you want to live?
Our job is one thing. What about the rest of your life? Is your job supporting the kind of life you want to live or have you twisted yourself into knots to meet the demands of your career?
The culture in the United States puts so much emphasis on work and productivity that so many of us forget why we work: to feed, clothe, and house ourselves and our family. Jobs enable us to live lives of meaning and fulfillment. We are not solely defined by our profession.
Some of us love our jobs and our jobs give us a sense of meaning. Mine certainly does! But I have other aspects of my life that are also important. For me, friends, family, nature, theater, dance, and social justice issues all fit into my life. Since I have chronic health issues as well, I make sure that I have enough time to sleep and cook nutritious meals. A paycheck can buy many things to make my life easier or more pleasurable, but it doesn’t buy time.
Action Item: Draw yourself two large circles. In one, create a pie chart of the kind of life you would like to live. What percentage would be spent sleeping, for example? Working? Exercising? Spending time with loved ones? Volunteering? Working on hobbies?
In your second circle, create a pie chart of how you actually spend your time. Compare the two. Without any judgement of self-recrimination (you are doing the best that you can, after all), observe where the biggest differences are.
Which changes can you make tomorrow to make things just a bit better?
Many people take an all-or-nothing approach to their professions: “I either have to stay here and suffer or get up and leave.” However, the opposite is more often true.
If you’ve completed the action items above, you have a ton of data about yourself and your job. You know what you enjoy, what kind of life you’d like to live, and where things currently stand. Now what?
The most effective action to take is one that you’ll actually do! In fact, you might as well review your list of strengths and see what you might be able to leverage in making a change in your life. For example, I love conducting internet research. When I’m feeling stuck on making a decision, I’ll jump on google and see what comes up.
The concept of job crafting can be powerful. Are there changes you can make in the tasks that you do on a daily basis? Can you delegate the work you don’t enjoy to someone who loves that kind of work? Can you do more of what you love?
If it’s the people that are making things challenging, are their ways to shift the relationship? Improve your communication? Set a boundary (and stick to it)? Move to another department?
Sometimes a shift in our perspective can be profound. Reframing a tough situation as a choice that you have decided is in your best interest instead of feeling stuck and helpless can remind you that the current situation isn’t forever and that you will make another choice when you are ready.
Action Item: Decide on one thing that you’ll do differently tomorrow that moves you in a direction more aligned with your goals. Set yourself a reminder to do that action and give yourself a pat on the back when you’ve completed it.
Where do you want to be in two (or more) years?
Taking care of the short-term is critical so that you have more energy if you decide to make any bigger moves. Major changes can be years in the making but every step you take to own what you want and who you want to be moves you closer to your goal. That is, if you know what your goal is.
For decades, I played with the idea of being my own boss. The thought of marketing, sales, accounting and the administrative aspects of running my own business kept me from taking any major steps, but as I kept trying to make an office job fit me, I slowly came to the conclusion that I needed to create my fit. I started talking to small business owners, working for them part-time, taking classes and workshops on sales and marketing, and listening to the voice that said “It’s not about perfection. It’s about courage and persistence. And you have that.”
I ended up building my business based on my strengths and my personality. By doing this, I realized that most of the small business advice out there wasn’t meant for me, a career professional with a private practice trying to get evidence-based career advice to the masses. So I found another way to go forward because I knew that what I wanted was so important to me that I would do whatever it took to make it happen.
Even though not everyone has a strong vision (and not everyone needs one), it’s still important to have a goal and something to move towards. That goal will then guide the steps you take tomorrow and the next day.
Action Item: Give yourself some time to imagine yourself two years in the future. If the stars aligned and everything came together, what would your life look like (you might want to choose a different length of time)? Turn this vision into a goal.
If starting a career-focused business is your goal…
As I mentioned, much of the small business program and advice out there didn’t serve me well and might not serve you. This is the main reason that my colleagues and I created the Empowered Entrepreneur Program. We’ve combined my years of research and experience to design a private practice that serves your needs and ways in just 8 weeks! If you want to find out if the program is right for you, sign up for a free 15 minute consultation.
One of my favorite quotes is by Henry David Thoreau: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.”
Building foundations is hard work and you don’t have to do it alone! Reach out for support and know that it can be done.