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The Balancing Test
With the average age of retirement in the U.S. being around 64 years old, people who join the workforce at age 21 end up dedicating over four decades to one or more vocations. That's easily the majority of one's lifetime. To be sure, there are many variances along the way. With people spending about four years with each employer, a full career spans many different jobs. That's just the perspective on wage and salary work. There are many other ways to create income, but ultimately, our main currency is time.
Different generations have different attitudes about work. As a millennial myself and knowing many other millennials, it feels safe to state that we fundamentally believe that our jobs are extensions of our purposes in life. How we spend our time matters. This isn't to say that previous generations didn't feel the same way; it's just that options grew over time and we benefitted from the expansion in terms of opportunities.
There is a whole market out there of leadership development programs, career coaches, executive consultants and "find your dream job" self-help resources. They all have their benefits, but I've personally discovered that there are just two factors that I need to satisfactorily guide my employment journey.
Everything I do must be both meaningful and fulfilling. For me, meaningful work is anything that enhances the well-being of others and communities in need. Fulfilling work, in my mind, is complex, challenging and ever-changing. When I start to feel bored or like my role is taking a different direction that isn't making a real impact, then it's time for a change. It's that simple.
We all have to come up with our own factors and balance them throughout our careers. Those factors may even change over time. However, we should never feel stuck or place mental limits on our ability to shift into a space that is optimal.
This New Year, think about your Career Wellness balancing test. Does your means of employment meet your needs? If not, what's your plan forward?
Moving and Shaking
Some of us are in industries that offer plenty of opportunities to move around to different companies/organizations and try out various cultures to find a good fit. Others of us have the gumption to dive head first into entrepreneurship and are committed to carving out an independent path.
I think a lot of people have the tendency to feel stuck. You know your current role is failing your balancing test, but for whatever reason, you don't see a way out.
I have felt stale in positions before. Even recently, I was yearning for a change. My work in philanthropy is still meaningful, but the day-to-day execution was not fulfilling me 100%. The leader in me was ready for more responsibility. I have a creative mind and I want to shape strategies and build teams. Being in a large bureaucratic organization has its pros and cons. On the cons list is the large number of candidates that are eager and ready to scramble for every one job that comes available. I still wanted to shake things up a bit, so I did something that required vulnerability and authenticity -- I actually shared how I was feeling with my manager and asked him to help me make connections for informational interviews. He has been tremendously supportive and helped me setup several informational interviews right away.
If you are in an organization where expressing a desire to maximize your skills and potential can put you on the chopping block, then you are likely better off moving on. It's not always easy to be straightforward about what you want out of a career, especially if the next great opportunity doesn't seem imminent. Yet, simply reaching out to people and broadening your circle can add to your journey in the meantime. Who knows... you may come across a career sponsor in the process!
There are times when the need for a new job boils down to financial hardship. As noted in the Financial Wellness post from yesterday, if you have cut down on as many expenses as possible, but your obligations like debt payments and child care still have you in the red, then you have an income problem. Securing a promotion, picking up a second job or consulting may be necessary, but nothing is forever. You should still check in with yourself to see if you're balanced.
This is also where inspirational tools like vision boards come in handy. You may not be able to fully articulate you holistic goals for life, but you may be able to piece together a trajectory in pictures.
Some people have mansions and C-Suite titles on their vision boards. I do not. If I reach these heights, that's excellent. What's most important to me is freedom. Images of people working on their laptop with a beach view and families traveling across the U.S. in RVs bring a smile to my face.
I have a goal of paying off all of my debt and maintaining low essential expenses so that I can gain financial independence sooner rather than later and have flexibility around my work and retirement options. I regularly tell people that I am aiming to become work optional by 48. Thus, income is an important asterisk in my balancing test, but my goal is to get to a point where it is a relatively insignificant point of consideration. Money and higher paying jobs can help achieve financial freedom faster, but your mindset and your level of commitment to personal goals is key.
At the end of the day, how I spend my time matters more to me than anything else. Life is fragile and in the grand scheme of things, it is relatively short. There's no silver bullet or prefect path, but we can strive for alignment along the way.
Use these journal prompts to explore your career wellness: