The word career originates from the French word, carriere, which means “road or racecourse.” Isn’t that exactly how it feels sometimes? Like you’re on a racecourse, trying frantically to catch up or to pass someone else and then watch in the rearview mirror to make sure they don’t pass you again? Ugh, my shoulders are tensing up just writing about this! By the time most clients call me, it is to tell me that their career hasn’t ended up where they thought it would. They are no longer fulfilled by their paying job or worse, the “racecourse” to which they have devoted so much of their life has abruptly dismissed them. They feel thrown off track.
All of this language around the words career and wagon, track, road, and your “course or progress through life” got me thinking. A career is supposed to carry you through your life, not the other way around. It serves to take you down your road and is just one of the pieces of your overall support system. How does it carry you? It provides:
• Engagement, social interaction
• A sense of accomplishment, productivity
• A sense of purpose
• A place for you to express your unique skills and abilities
What happens, though, is that in our modern culture where success is defined by what you do, not by who you are, we expend an awful lot of energy worrying, competing, comparing, dodging obstacles, essentially slogging down our own path carrying our burdensome career rather than ensuring our career carries us! And over time that only serves to weigh you down until you reach that point of frustration and disappointment with your work and probably your life.
So, here is the takeaway. Here are a couple of easy but powerful tips to change your mindset and lighten your load:
1. Identify your greatest need from your career right now, in the present. Your career is designed to support you, to carry you through life. In the basic survival stage it needs to provide you income to pay for your essential physical needs of food, clothing and shelter. In more advanced stages it may provide self-esteem, a sense of purpose, a place for you to apply your skills, and/or other mental, emotional or spiritual needs. Even if you aren’t presently thrilled with your work, if your career is carrying you by meeting this need today, you are a success!
2. Let your career carry, not define, you. Too often we attach our identity to what we do. When we introduce ourselves to others, what do we say first? “Hi, my name is Mary and I am a V.P. of Marketing for XYZ Corporation.” Then the company gets acquired, Mary loses her V.P. title, and she introduces herself as “unemployed” or “I used to be a V.P. of Marketing.” Like there is now nothing interesting about her and just introducing herself by name isn’t enough. How depressing! Who were you before you started working and who do you want to be after you retire, or “start your real life?” Who are you when your time is your own and no one is evaluating or measuring? That is who you need to find again, and that is the road on which your career will carry you.
3. Ask for what you need. This may sound overly simple, but so often I talk with clients and friends who are unhappy in their work for one reason or another, but they will give a laundry list of excuses about why they have not asked for what they need to improve their situation. If you aren’t in a position to make a job or career change, don’t settle for being miserable. Pinpoint the specifics that are making you unhappy and make requests. You can’t expect those around you to read your mind or to care about your satisfaction and fulfillment as much as you do. Speak up for yourself confidently and reasonably, offer a solution and make a request. The worst that can happen is that the answer is “No.” The best that can happen is that you receive what you requested or reach a compromise that improves your experience.
I want to help you enjoy your career as a part of your life, to let it carry you through as you express the unique you. After all, “you are the only one of you in all of time and if you don’t express the best of yourself and share it, it will be lost forever!” (I borrowed that gem from Martha Graham, the gifted dancer. Brilliant.) I invite you to contact me so we can talk about where you are in your career and life and how I might help you refocus for greater fulfillment and satisfaction.