Career self-management is the first job all of us must take in the 21st Century workplace. No one–not your employer, your mentor, your parents or your friends–can give you a career that is meaningful and satisfying. You must create that outcome for yourself. But how does that happen? How do you increase the satisfaction as well as the paycheck that you bring home from work each day? I’ve written a whole book on this subject because I think it’s the central challenge facing working men and women today. The book is called The Career Fitness Self Fulfillment System: How to Work Strong in Your Pursuit of Happiness. It will be released this fall, but I thought I would preview some of its content in the hopes that it will help those of you who are facing career challenges right now.
The foundation for a fulfilling and rewarding experience at work is a small but discrete set of principles. Think of them as guidelines that can help you set the course for the one-third or more of your life that you will spend on-the-job. Are there other things you should know to be a good manager of your life at work? Of course. But these principles are the minimum essential ingredients of success. Without them, there is no way that you can have a healthy career.
What are these principles? I call them the “six secrets to a healthy career.”
Secret #1: A fulfilling career is always centered on the special talent with which you’ve been endowed. All of us have an inherent capability which we can perform extraordinarily well and enjoy using day-in and day-out. I call this talent your “natural” for it is the skill that you are naturally drawn to by your calling and are naturally good at doing.
Secret #2: Accept the fact that there will be unpleasant occurrences at work. Bad stuff happens, but when you’re working at your natural, you will see such problems as challenges—chances to test and even stretch your inherent capability—not as disasters. As a consequence, you may come home from work worn out, but you’ll never go off to work that way.
Secret #3: Appreciate the good times when they occur in your career. Enjoy the victories you achieve in your work. Give yourself the psychological pat on the back that all too often you won’t get from your boss. How can you do that? I suggest that you invite yourself to a “personal performance review” once a quarter. Use that time to recognize what you’ve accomplished in your work and celebrate those successes.
Secret #4: Pay attention to your coworkers and friends in the workplace. The relationships you have at work contribute to your career’s health in many ways. They provide a resource you can tap to solve problems at work; they enable you return the favor (and enhance your own self-respect) by assisting others when they need it; and they provide a safety net of contacts that can help you find a new or better job when you need to.
Secret #5: Take time off, but really take it off. The workweek is getting longer and our employers more demanding. Frequently, our response is to overwork ourselves or pretend that we’re on holiday while we talk to the office on our cell and answer e-mail. Rest and recuperation, however, aren’t nice to have; they’re essential. Without them, your performance degrades and that, in turn, imperils our reputation and, ultimately, your security.
Secret #6: Give some of what comes naturally to you to others. Many of us make financial contributions or offer our time and hands to civic, social and charitable organizations. Those are important acts, of course, but they do not tap our true talent—our natural. A healthy career involves doing some of your best work not only for yourself but for others, as well.
Surveys show that many of us feel as if we’re trapped in careers that neither interest nor challenge us. We spend our workday engaging in unhealthy endeavors because we don’t know how to find or obtain meaningful and rewarding work. That’s what the six secrets of a healthy career are all about. They are the foundation for Career Fitness, the state of being in charge of your career and its beneficiary, rather than its victim.
Thanks for reading, Peter