The world of work is changing dramatically, and the pace of that change is speeding up. Career development is undergoing a similar transformation. There are unprecedented opportunities, including new job types, improved flexibility, and the ability to learn in digitally enhanced ways that are personalized to learner’s diverse preferences. However, there are considerable challenges too. Career pathways are no longer straight lines. Steady progression up the career ladder is being replaced by squiggly career paths that resemble an elaborate climbing wall. There are multiple, ill-defined pathways to achieve your goals and initiative, experimentation and constant learning are essential to find your way. Sideways, diagonal, and even downward moves are common. For example, we saw many employees prioritizing lifestyle over ambition during Covid. They downshifted or took sideways moves to spend more time with their families and on leisure activities. But for many, the promise of career thriving still seems elusive, especially in an economy which is slowing and where bills are rising faster than pay. In this volatile environment, here are 7 principles everyone can apply to achieve greater levels of happiness and fulfillment in their career.
Own your career and success
Too many people end up drifting aimlessly through their careers. To succeed and be happy, you need to exercise choice and responsibility over your career. For example, everyone can take initiative by putting their heart and soul into their job to show up and do their best every day. They can commit to doing 5-10% more than what is expected to stand out and attract better opportunities. They can also be a supportive, likeable, and helpful colleague and team player. Each of us spends around 90,000 at work and how we choose to show up and undertake our work is largely up to us. So too is the legacy and positive difference we create. Of course, we can’t control things outside our control such as our boss’ behaviour, the behaviour of our teammates, or the pay rise we get. However, we can control how we respond to negative circumstances, setbacks, and people we interact with. To get the most from our career, we need to take responsibility for it and influence it to our advantage. So rather than being a passenger on the journey, we need to proactively pilot our careers so that we get greater enjoyment from the journey and end up at a fulfilling, worthwhile destination.
Build your career around your aspirations and values
In the modern workplace, the problem for most is not a shortage of opportunity, it is having too much opportunity. Unfortunately, this opportunity is still unfairly skewed towards those from privileged backgrounds. However, we all have a growing number of ways we can make a living. We no longer need to stick with a job we hate or one that provides little fulfilment. This is why starting your career planning and development early is important. People who clarify their dreams and aspirations early have more focus and time to invest in making their dreams a reality. By clarifying what success looks like for them, they stand out and have more control over their destiny, rather than allowing external factors to determine their fate.
As well as clarifying your aspirations, it is important to understand our values and the role these play in helping us to thrive in our careers. Values are the core beliefs that are important to you and guide your life and career choices. Becoming more aware of your values will help you find roles, career pathways and organizations that are compatible with who you are and what you believe most strongly in. For example, someone with a sustainability/social responsibility value might find it difficult to work for a tobacco firm. Values also help us to navigate career turning points, challenges, and dilemmas more effectively. By staying true to our values, we can maintain our internal balance, authenticity, and sense of fulfilment.
Discover and optimize your strengths
Every successful person builds their career around their strengths. Rather than trying to fit in, they work hard to shine in areas where they can stand out. As the famous management guru, Peter Drucker said “first and foremost, concentrate on your strengths. Put yourself where your strengths can produce results.” Too many people waste their talent and energy trying to be like others or even worse, attempt to become all-rounders. But this is a futile mission. There are no all-rounders in the workplace. Every employee has strengths, weaknesses, and imperfections. Realizing one’s full potential comes from building awareness of your innate talents and taking action to turn these into standout strengths that produce outstanding results. This happens when you put in the hard work and practice to build relevant skill, experience, and agility in your areas of greatest talent. Of course, we must also learn to overcome limiting weaknesses to improve our performance and prevent failure. The strengths approach empowers us to explore creative ways to use our strengths to overcome weaker areas and behaviours that may limit our success. Employing strengths-based thinking also promotes greater collaboration with diverse colleagues who have strengths in areas where we are weaker.
Overcome self-limiting beliefs and assumptions
To be successful and happy, we need to believe in ourselves. However, most of us have inner ‘gremlins’ such as poor self-confidence or imposter syndrome (i.e., where people doubt their competence and past successes and live in fear of being exposed as a fraud) that can limit our progress and success. Author and performance coach, Tim Gallway, explains the origins of these limiting assumptions and belief using the metaphor of an “inner game” playing out in people’s minds. He maintains that for people to perform effectively, they need to learn to silence their inner critic and channel it productively into non-judgemental awareness and learning. The best protection against limiting assumptions and beliefs is awareness. Once we understand how these inner critics limit our success, we can develop strategies to change how we respond to them. For example, I was taught as a young boy that to become successful, one should work independently. This narrative become deeply internalized in my psyche and led to me trying to do too much myself, without calling on the support of others. Through greater self-awareness, feedback and mentoring during my mid 20’s when I become a team leader, I become aware of how much this assumption was limiting my progress. I realised that if I wanted to achieve my aspirations, I would need to build and lead teams of people who were stronger than me in different areas.
Embrace learning and growth
Too many people stall their careers by playing it safe and staying within their comfort zone. Others inhibit their learning and progress by being complacent, resisting change, or getting defensive when they receive feedback.
Today’s fast-changing organizations are looking for people who have a strong growth mindset and are open to learning, upskilling and adaptation. Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft refers to these people as “learn it all’s”. One of the keys to career thriving is to develop what Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a “craftsman mindset”. This involves asking the question “what can I offer the world?” and continuously honing your skills and capabilities to create value, stand out and remain relevant.
Improving your ability to learn and adapt involves the following 4 behaviours:
- Being curious and open-minded to new experiences, perspectives, and ways of doing things
- Learning quickly from experiences through self-reflection, observation, and co-worker feedback
- Taking progressive risks and accepting that failure is not just possible, but is a key component of any meaningful learning process
- Reflecting on your performance outcomes and regularly inviting feedback from others to better understand your effectiveness and opportunities for further improvement
Invest in building a strong support network
Who you surround yourself with really matters to your energy, growth, and ultimate success. As we have seen from the recent Football World Cup, nobody can succeed on their own in a competitive performance environment. Even superstars like Messi and Mbappe need a strong team around them to be at their best.
To achieve success, it is important to build what we refer to in our training as a Personal Career Board. This ‘board’ should ideally comprise a diverse group of people (including your manager, partner, peers, etc.), each of whom plays a different role in helping you achieve your career goals. These people should ideally exemplify the behaviours and qualities you are looking to develop and at least some should be in roles you aspire to hold in future. Key roles people on your board can play include mentor, coach, encourager, confidant, educator, counsellor, therapist, etc. We always recommend that people wanting to accelerate their progression prioritise finding a mentor and coach (if their manager is not an effective coach). While the term “mentoring” and “coaching” are often used interchangeably, there are some differences. A mentor is typically a more experienced person who offers wisdom, guidance, and experience to their protégé in a less formal, structured relationship. Studies show that mentoring can significantly enhance rates of learning and career progression. Investing in a mentor and other relationships will provide you with valuable insights, support, diverse perspectives, encouragement, and feedback. By building strong relationships of trust and respect with these people, they are also more likely to throw in a good word for you which will help increase your visibility.
Manage your energy and stress
One of the biggest happiness traps is overworking. People who are ambitious frequently become overinvolved in their work. They invest a disproportionate amount of time in their career at the expense of investing in relationships and their personal care, including setting aside time for leisure, sport, relaxation, their family, and friends. This can quickly lead to high levels of negative stress, undermine their mental and physical well-being, and in the worst cases, lead to mental exhaustion and burnout. It is easier than ever to become a workaholic in today’s “always-on” work culture. To prevent this, it is important to put in place habits and boundaries to protect your physical and emotional well-being and life outside work. Habits that will help you to maintain your energy at optimal levels include saying “no” to lower priority tasks, getting at least 7 hours of sleep a night, regular exercise, eating a balanced, healthy diet, taking regular rest breaks, and reflecting on your successes and good things that have happened at the end of each day. Setting and sticking to boundaries to protect your personal and home life is important to prevent work squeezing out other important aspects of your life, especially in a world where the division between home and work life is becoming blurred because of virtual and hybrid working.
People who take control of their careers and do their best each day to grow their career value are far more likely to thrive at work, and in their personal life. By having a clear sense of purpose and building autonomy, mastery and connectedness with others, you will achieve greater happiness, success, and well-being. You will also build the positive mindset, resilience, and adaptability required to seize new opportunities and successfully navigate a fast-changing world of work.