In recent weeks I’ve noticed the pace of life picking back up, and I’ve felt myself resisting the pullback to the pre-COVID life where there was always too much to do. Too many places to be. Too many things to try and squeeze into one day.
As a friend commented recently, “During COVID lockdowns, where the most exciting thing might have been baking bread or going for a walk, there was no longer a competition at work about who had the best and most interesting weekend. People felt more comfortable to say ‘I didn’t do anything’ “.
It’s amazing how we can get caught up in the comparison game – a desire to keep up with what other people are doing and feel compelled to always do more. We feel pressured by expectations to do more than we want, to always keep striving for more and then not know when or how to stop and slow down.
The same happens in the context of careers. I’ve seen people (and I’m sure you have too) who aren’t happy with their job but don’t know how to shift, change or stop. Their career becomes the over-riding priority, and everything else gets left behind.
However, as the actor Amy Poehler puts it, ‘Your career won’t take care of you. It won’t call you back or introduce you to its parents. Your career will openly flirt with other people while you are around. It will forget your birthday and wreck your car. Your career will blow you off if you call it too much…’
Your career matters, yet it is not all of who you are. So when you are making decisions about your career, you can’t do it in isolation from the rest of your life. Your job and the other aspects of your life are intertwined.
Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happier outlines four archetypes of people and how they approach life:
- The hedonist focuses on enjoying the present, ignoring the potential negative consequences of their actions.
- The rat racer is focused so much on potential future gains that they let the present suffer.
- The nihilist enjoys neither the present nor the future.
- The happiness archetype lives secure in the knowledge that the activities they do today will also lead to a fulfilling future.
Leveraging Ben Shahar’s work, adopting the happiness archetype enables you to keep your feet planted in the present, with one eye always looking ahead. You want to celebrate and enjoy the present, while being ready for what comes next.
When you think about your career and the choices that you have made (or are making right now), how would you classify yourself?
- Are you the hedonist making short term choices that are holding you back?
- Are you the rat racer, whose life is all about their career and so health and relationships are suffering?
- Are you the nihilist, who has much they could be grateful for but is always focusing on the negative?
- Are you the happiness archetype, who balances your focus on the past, present and the future across all aspects of life?
It can be easy to make short-term choices. It can feel good to take the well-known, well-trodden route. Decisions from those perspectives may land you exactly where you want to be. And yet, often in life, it’s the less well-known route, which balances short needs and longer-term aspirations that offers more choice.
To help work this through, it’s useful to annually, or more regularly if you wish, reflect across the core pillars of your life: career, connections, family, finances, learning, self-care and service.
Find somewhere peaceful to do this reflection. I find being outdoors and in nature, the perfect setting. For you, it might be your favourite café, wine bar or part of your home. Find a space that inspires introspection and creativity. I’d also encourage you to have a journal for this exercise. It can be incredibly powerful and insightful to look back over the years at your reflections and note what has changed and how you have progressed in your thinking and deliberations.
In that reflection, challenge yourself to consider your current state. Where are you now? What’s working for you and what’s not working for you, and why? The ‘why’ piece is crucial as you want to examine any assumptions, expectations, or constraints you have.
Next, identify your desired future state. What goals do you want to set for yourself? Where do you want to shift and make a different type of progress? Remembering that progress isn’t always about more; it can be about doing less.
Lastly, decide the steps you need to take and the habits you need to form to move closer to your desired state.
As the American poet Emily Dickson once said, “One step at a time is all it takes to get you there“.
What will your next step be?
Getting you ready for tomorrow, today®
Michelle Gibbings is bringing back the happy to workplace culture. The author of three books, and a global keynote speaker, she’s on a mission to help leaders, teams and organisations create successful workplaces – where people thrive and progress is accelerated.