On any given day in your work life, there is a lot to focus on. Clients, meetings, deadlines, office politics, stress and anxiety, not to mention your boss, your team and just when do you get that coffee break?! It can be pretty overwhelming. So it’s not surprising that my research shows that 70% of women don’t have a career plan, and more than 48% of women are just completely winging it when it comes to what’s next for them work wise. Not only that, more than 70% of women are really struggling with their health and wellbeing, and just plain forget about any semblance of work life balance. Pretty daunting statistics.
This week, as you get on with the business of your business, take a step back and get a broader perspective. When we run on autopilot, focusing on the urgent, we can lose sight of the important things we would be well served to think about. Here are five core ideas to ponder that fall into that important category, and that are critical for building a career that matters (stay tuned for part two next Monday).
1. Get clear on your life vision
Ok so this is a big one to start with, I grant you that. But if we know that the career plan scantly gets a look in, it’s even worse for the life vision. Spend some time really thinking about what you want your life to look like. Where are your passions, relationships, spiritual life, creativity, community, leisure time, study and yes career – how does it all fit together in a way that really works? We often leave the parts of our life behind that we really want, just because we are too busy to consciously fit them in and make them matter. Do some daydreaming and then some planning around what you really want this one and only life to look like.
2. Work with purpose
We hear a lot about the big ‘why’ of work these days (thanks Simon Sinek). It’s a hot topic, and for good reason. To have a career that matters, you have to be working on purpose. What does that mean? Purposeful work is meaningful work. It’s work that you feel called to do. It’s work that even if nobody paid you to do it, you would still get up every morning and get to it. Purposeful work becomes involuntary, and you are engaged and fulfilled when you are doing it. Is this what your work looks like for you? Where is the purpose in what you do every day? Have a think about where the meaning and purpose sits in your everyday. If you need inspiration go and watch Simon’s TED talk, currently viewed by more than 23 million people (I think he’s on to something).
3. Get a plan
When I was a hot shot marketing manager at GE in my mid to late 20’s, I had no plan to speak of other than continue to rise and enjoy my work (good plan). I would have these arguments with older senior women who were adamant that without a rock solid career plan, you wouldn’t (couldn’t) be successful. I was more in the winging it stage, but hey, it was working, so why fight it? Well I hate to admit it, but they were kind of right. But only kind of. I don’t believe in the fixed five year plan that used to be so in vogue. But you do need a plan of sorts. At least, you need to know directionally where you are headed and at best, be really clear on the types of role, skills, experiences you need and want will serve you well to get you to your goal. And then, you can also stay open to the magic moments that can be career defining or changing.
4. Know and use your strengths
We are geared with a negativity bias and trained to focus on our weaknesses. In fact, our brains are hard wired to do so. You know, run away from a tiger and all that. Helpful in the jungle, but not so much in the office each day (unless your boss is the tiger, and then, as you were). We know that only 2 out of ten people get to do what they do best every day at work. Don’t be one of them. Learn to use and play to your strengths. Go and take the free character strengths survey at the VIA Institute and watch how your levels of engagement, productivity, health and happiness skyrocket when you start to use your strengths at work and play each day. You won’t believe it until you try it, trust me, I’ve seen it with thousands and thousands of people I work with. Go get at it.
5. Close the confidence gap
We hear all the time how women need to build their confidence at work. And yes, there is much research to support the theme, and I do see this as an issue in my work with women each day (and in my own life). It is undeniable that for many women, self doubt, self criticism, an overly tuned antennae set to ‘what will they think of me’, or hard wired to the people pleaser channel, can be career limiting and stop us from playing as big as we would like to. Get under the stories you are telling yourself about what you can and can’t do, why you do it, and what beliefs may be stopping you from taking big leaps forward (or even raising your ideas in a meeting). The simple question of ‘Is that true?’ when you hear those stories surfacing can be enough to start to silence your inner critic, and reframe your less than helpful stories into ones that help you take action.
I hope these ideas are helpful. They are the first five, and part two next week will cover the second five. They are not new ideas. You may have heard or read them before, perhaps not framed the same way, but conceptually you will have. But when was the last time you did more than read them and say to yourself ‘yes I know that!’, without actually sitting down and reflecting on where you are really at on each item? I would encourage you to do that this week. Really sit with them. Get honest with yourself. And then make some plans that will take you forward in the direction you want to head – on your own terms.