Careers are tricky things. Just when you think you’re close to getting where
you want to go, something inevitably comes along to shift the goal posts or make
you think differently. People, politics and personalities get in the way all too
often, and there are those mornings when you just want to stay under the duvet.
But it doesn’t have to be something that’s out of your control, something
that just happens to you or that you sail along with and see what happens. Far
from it. When you consider the sheer amount of time the average professional
spends at work in a lifetime (in the region of 50,000 hours) it makes sense to
get the most from your time at work.
A significant part of a fulfilling career is about knowing what direction you
want to head in, and putting effort into steering yourself in that direction.
This is about making choices based on what you want to move towards rather than
what you want to move away from, and being willing to make changes when it feels
right to do so.
The trouble is that while many people feel that they need to make a change or
get more out of their work, in reality it’s often always easier to stay right
where you are. Human beings are hardwired not to change and left to our own
devices we’d take the path of least resistance every time.
The answer is to be radically honest about what you want and look at what’s
most important to you and what you’ve enjoyed most in your work. Couple that
with the strengths and skills you want to make better use of, and you can then
turn those into a set of criteria or a framework for moving you forwards.
Many professionals are steered by an idea of success that they picked up
along the way, often from a parent, teacher, sibling or peer (or a combination
of some or all of these). It’s this assumption of what success is that gets
people into trouble. Chasing someone else’s idea of success may see you getting
ahead, but each step won’t be as important, relevant, or fulfilling as it could
be. Get to know what success means to you, instead of judging yourself by other
Success is a very personal thing, and the key is to look at what mix of inner
and outer success will work for you. Outer success (wealth, gadgets,
possessions, holidays, etc.) without inner success (satisfaction, fulfillment,
value, growth, etc.) feels hollow, while inner success without outer success
might sound very noble, but doesn’t sound much fun. The trick is to combine both
– all the flat screens in the world won’t compensate for work that doesn’t
fulfill you, while fulfillment is tough to appreciate when you’re in a damp
studio flat. Look for the right mix and don’t be solely focused on one or the
Putting all your focus on getting that next promotion or reaching the next
rung of the ladder is missing the point. Having an objective of being promoted
is all well and good, but a great job and a great career isn’t just about
reaching the next stage.
You’ve probably seen people who’ve gone all the way through a career and
still had a sense of disappointment in themselves that they’re not where they
want to be or that they could be doing more. You may have gone after a promotion
thinking that things will be different when you get there, only to discover that
things are pretty much the same. The real enjoyment, real satisfaction and real
growth is from the experience, NOT in the end result.
A great career isn’t about the destination, it’s about how you engage with it
on a day to day basis and the mix of inner and outer success you derive from it.
This isn’t simple positive thinking (which, let’s face it, has never really done
the job it’s been touted to) – this is making a choice to engage with what you
do because first, you enjoy doing it, second, you want to do it well, and
lastly, the prize for taking part and possibly winning is something that makes a
real difference to you. Get that right, and you’ll always have a career that
works for you rather than the other way around.
Forget about job titles if you’re thinking of making a change in 2007.
Instead, create your next role from the inside out – look at the skills,
strengths, talents and values you want to use, what qualities the job will have,
how you want to feel about it and what you want to achieve in it. Only then are
you able to match it up with the companies and roles that can offer you those
If you’re not where you want to be in your career, be clear on what is and
isn’t working for you; and which facets of the role you like and which you’d
like to change. Be crystal clear on those things, then not only can you look for
ways to improve the areas you don’t like, but you can look for ways to get more
of the things you do like.
Telling yourself that you’ll ‘stick it out’ or you’ll ‘see what happens’ is
cheating yourself out of what you want and giving away the responsibility for
where you are and what happens next.
Telling yourself that the situation ‘isn’t too bad’ is about making where you
are right, instead of making where you are happy.
You can wait a long time for the things you want to come along, so notice
when you’re unhappy in your work, pick up the reins and do something.
Steve Errey is a life coach
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