Don’t despair newly-minted graduates, or other job seekers, there are ways to combat this uphill battle! We’re going to examine the importance of beginnings, middles and endings in life in order to gain more understanding on how to set your life up for success in both your personal and professional life.
In his new book, “When”, Daniel Pink takes a look at how beginnings, middles and endings affect our lives, and what we’re going to focus on, which is: how do they affect our careers? More importantly, how can understanding this help with our career design?
Beginnings: The Fresh Start Effect
At the start of every calendar researchers have found there is an 80% increase in Google searches for the word “diet”. The new year is what social scientists refer to as a “temporal landmark.” Just as we use landmarks for navigating our physical environment, we also use landmarks in time to navigate our lives. They stand out from the other ordinary days as a demarcation point for a new beginning. The word “diet” also showed up at the beginning of every month and week. Researchers also found that gym membership usage went up at the beginning of every semester. In addition, the gym membership usage went up during the first day of the year, month and week, similar to the word “diet” search. Researchers Dai, Milkman and Riis refer to this as the “fresh start effect”.
Two Types of Temporal Landmarks
Temporal landmarks are like our minds’ way of navigating and assigning meaning to time. There are two types of temporal landmarks people use to mark their fresh starts: social and personal. Social landmarks are the ones we all share like Mondays, the beginning of a new month and national holidays. Personal landmarks are specific to an individual such as birthdays or anniversaries.
The Purpose of Temporal Landmarks
Whether the landmarks were social or personal they served two purposes. First, they allowed individuals to start with a “new mental account”. Similar to the way businesses close old books and begin new ones, the new period helps us to start again by relegating our old selves to the past. It disconnects us from past mistakes and imperfections and creates a new more confident self with fresh, more-desired behaviors.
Secondly, the temporal landmarks serve as a way to shake us out of our trees so we can view the forest. They are reminders to look at the big picture of our lives and set new life goals. Temporal landmarks are a way to slow down and take a more deliberate view of one’s life.
Temporal landmarks serve a purpose if one is off to a rocky start in a new job or looking to make healthier lifestyle choices as a way to reset and start over again. The researchers noted that people were creating turning points in their personal histories using temporal landmarks.
Ordinary Days Take on New Meaning
In later research, Dai, Milkman and Riis, found that people were able to imbue an otherwise ordinary day with personal meaning that led to an opportunity to create a new beginning in their lives. This fresh start effect can work with organizations, too. For instance, if a company is off to a shaky new quarter, they can use a temporal landmark, like the anniversary of a successful product, to reset and begin again.
Beginnings Can Have Long Term Consequences
When you graduate can have a big impact on your earnings over your lifetime. Research has shown that people who enter the job market during an economic downturn earn less at the beginning of their careers and over the course of their lifetimes than people whose careers started in a strong economy. In fact, some research concludes that this dynamic can last up to two decades.
The best way to deal with a job search in a depressed economy is to really hone in on what specific profession you want to pursue and then become an expert at networking (the most effective way to get a job in an economic downturn. This is more challenging during the pandemic but also still doable. In fact, I recently did a Facebook livestream on this very topic that you can view by joining my Facebook Group.
Pre-Mortems Can Help Guide You
Another way to prevent a poor start is to conduct a pre mortem, a concept that originates from psychologist Gary Klein. You conduct one by considering all the ways in which a project, for example, might go bad then you work back from the potential problems to the solution. This way you think through the potential snags and put in preventative measures.
A pre mortem for a job search might look like:
Lack of clarity about what I want to do
Inability to articulate my relevant strengths
A resume that doesn’t fit the job I’m applying for
Lack of research into job or company, keeping me from presenting my value
No connections in the company
No cover letter
Poor interview prep
No planning for salary negotiations
The Challenges and Benefits of the Middle
After beginnings, the equally and sometimes contradictory mid-point, or middle, begins. Let us begin to investigate how mid-points affect our careers and our lives.
Researchers have found that on a happiness scale on 1-10, people in their twenties and thirties and people at about age fifty-five experience score relatively high on the happiness scale, while people in their forties and fifties score lower. This research controlled for external forces, such as income and demographics and the scientific charts that were produced exhibited a U shape form of happiness scale.
David Branchflower and Andrew Oswald first looked at 500,000 Americans and European and found the same results on both sides of the Atlantic. They then replicated their research in 72 countries and found the same happiness U-shaped outcome. Why does this mid-point deflate us?
Expectations and the Role They Play
One theory is that in our twenties and thirties we have high expectations of how our lives will unfold. By the time we reach our forties and early fifties, reality sets in. We’re not going to become CEO of our company or ever own a Premier Sports League team. In fact, we might be barely making rent. The mismatch between our expectations and reality causes us to plummet in our assessment of our happiness. Later in life, however, we adjust our expectations to match reality and decide that life is pretty good after all.
The Upside of the Midpoint
But before you conclude the midpoint of everything is always a lag and a drag. Research has shown that certain tasks within organizations, along with tasks in your personal life, can make mid-points exciting and motivational. Projects in organizations often follow the pattern of beginning slowly while the group gets familiar with each other and their tasks are often haphazard and unfocused at the start. But at the mid-point they often become focused and grow and a real metamorphosis takes place.
This was true in groups as diverse as bankers, medical administrators and graduate students, Pink describes this as the “uh-oh” effect. In almost every case studied, an individual in the group would point out they were halfway through their endeavor and time was running out. This led to a flurry of decisions, delegation and activity that propelled the projects forward.
Midpoints can serve as fodder for motivation and renew energy and focus. This effect can also be found in sports at the half-times as teams assess and strategize for the second half based on their analysis of the first half.
When we reach the midpoint in our lives and careers there are times when we flounder and times when we flourish. Anticipate the midpoint in your week and month and see if you can refresh and redirect your energy for the projects you are working on. Also, use the suggestions below to navigate successfully through your midpoints.
Ways to Mitigate the Midpoint Slump
Start by setting interim goals
Publicly commit to your interim goals
In the middle of an endeavor end each day with next steps
Set a calendar and mark off each day of achievement thereby creating a chain of success
Imagine at least one person your endeavor is helping
They Live Happily Ever After: The End
Now that we’ve looked at beginnings and middles we are naturally headed toward endings. Orson Wells famously said, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
Much like beginnings and middles, endings often steer us on how we do things and what things we do. Endings in many divergent areas, help energize, encode, exit and elevate. Endings of decades in our lives often spur on decisions and commitments. For example, the most common age for a first-time marathon runner is 29. First time marathon runners declined in their early forties, only to resurface at the age of 49.
The Effects of the Deadline
Researchers also showed that when individuals were given an indefinite amount of time to fill out refinancing paperwork versus when they were given a two-week time limit, there was a 24 percent increase on the two week deadline.
This phenomenon is a close cousin to the fresh start effect: the fast finish effect.
Use a fresh start to re-engage your job search, plan for slumps and give yourself a deadline.
As founder of Be the Change Careers, I suggest using my online program, My Career Design Studio, which has been developed to address your pre-mortem issues, and also help you to find your right-fit career that aligns your personality type, your ideal work and long-term goals.
Action Item: Sign up for a seven-day free trial of My Career Design Studio.