I received career advice when I was first starting out in the working world. The advice was plentiful and came from a variety of locations. Peers, parents, teachers, bosses, everyone seemed to feel the need to weigh in and provide you with the keys to a long and prosperous career.
This advice included things like coming in early, staying late, paying your dues and working hard to impress the leaders who could pave the way for your future success. Like most people, I tried to heed this advice. I bought into the premise that “winning the game” was tied to the rapid progress you made through the promotional ranks.
For me, the light bulb went off sometime in my mid thirties. I was a father of young boys and the lens that I looked at success through suddenly changed. I started to understand what was and wasn’t important as it related to my work.
Unfortunately, many people don’t find this out until it’s much too late in their working life. Some don’t realize it until they are retired and looking back at their career in retrospect. To that end, I’d like to share with you the things I learned in the hopes that it will help you as you think about your current or next role.
- Life is short – My father died at an early age. He spent the last years of that young life working two jobs to provide for his family. I don’t think he particularly enjoyed either of those jobs, and vacations were spent working on home projects that didn’t get done while he was working. He, like many others, thought that leisure time was reserved for the retirement years. Also like many others, he never got to the finish line. The lesson here is find something you love to do and provides you with a lifestyle that will allow you to enjoy the time you have.
- Take time to unplug – I think it’s fair to say we spend far more time than we’d like to being connected to our work. I can remember going on business trips to conduct a training seminar and carrying nothing with me but a three-ring binder of overhead projector slides. I was thrilled when I finally received a tool that would allow me to log in and check my emails while I was gone. Looking back, I got more than I wished for. Go to a football or basketball game on a weeknight in your hometown and take a few minutes to look around. Take note of the number of people who are not watching the game or socializing with the people around them, because they are buried in their smart phone. Taking time to leave work behind will help you stay fresh when you are focused on your work.
- Don’t stagnate – There are two types of stagnation. The first is position stagnation. Each of us will reach a position in our career where we are not going to progress any further up the ladder. There’s not much we can do about that. The second type of stagnation occurs when you stop learning and growing. This stagnation you have all the control in the world over. You have to make it a priority to continually learn new things, try them out in the context of the work you do and help yourself and your organization to contribute at a higher level.
- Your network is important – The people you have in your career life have a tremendous impact on who you are and how you are perceived. Jim Rohn is quoted as saying, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with”. A diversity of thinking, style, and background will help you see and approach things from a different perspective. There’s nothing worse than having everyone on the team thinking the same way.
- You are not your job – This one applies to your wellbeing. I see so many people tied to their job that they neglect themselves. Never let the work get in the way of exercise, spending time with your family, doing the things that are important to you, or eating. Sacrificing your lunch time when there’s a deadline and you are behind is one thing, doing every day to “prove” to someone that you are dedicated to the company does nothing but hurt you in the long run.
Once you learn these lessons, and there are countless others that are important, you are on your way to becoming a more well rounded individual. If you have already learned these lessons, take the time to give back. Find a young professional you see that may be struggling with the direction of their career and teach them to discover the power of some of these lessons for themselves.