Is your career overweight?

Career Mindfulness: How is your career feeling today?

If that seems like a ridiculous question to you then let me put it another way: how many times in the office this week did you smile / laugh / feel pride / succeed / learn / grow / help / create / inspire / be inspired / resolve a conflict / debate / achieve something new? Come on, you’re at work for about 50 hours a week so you must be able to think of some examples. How about the last month? Year? Since you started your current job?… Oh…

Ok, let’s try something easier instead. How many times in the office this week did you get angry / give up / shout / cry / moan / get frustrated / fail / shift the blame / complain / feel sick / walk away / repeat yourself / cause a conflict / let someone down / feel let down yourself / argue / reach a stalemate?

Now imagine all the positive experiences on the right-hand side of the page, and all the negative ones on the left-hand side of the page. Can you picture it clearly? Good. That’s how your career is feeling today.

What’s your career weight?

No one has a 100% positive career and no-one (hopefully anyway!) has a 100% negative career. We all occupy the space in between, it’s just that some of us are weighted more one way than the other. And this weighting – just like our real weight – fluctuates over time depending on how we feel. We all put on negative career weight from time to time but (just to squeeze the metaphor even further) putting on too much negative weight can slow us down, make us depressed and, ultimately, stop us – and our career – in our tracks.

For the purpose of this article, I am talking in terms of professional/office based careers. If you are a fisherman and you’re not catching any fish, or a farmer and your crop has failed then I can’t help you. If you work in an office and your job involves interacting with other people and developing/maintaining human relationships and networks, then you can take steps to control your career weight.

That’s where Career Mindfulness comes in. Career Mindfulness is about letting go of that excess corporate baggage that is weighing you down, and learning to channel your work expectations to the point where you have a clearly defined and tangible set of criteria for what you want out of your current (or next) job. It’s about becoming a lean, mean, working machine – and I promise you don’t need to set foot in a gym!

Is your career happy?

The first thing to tell yourself is that you were not born to do your current job. At your first school parents’ evening your parents weren’t told that their beaming little 5-year-old was going to work for ‘x’ company for their entire life. How depressing would that have been! Have a think back to your first full-time job. Are you even in the same industry now as you were then, let alone the same company? Maybe you’re not even in the same city or country now.

Your career has most likely taken steps that have defied any sensible vocational guidance or planning that you thought you had when you started out. And that’s the way it should be – best laid plans and all that. But have you taken the time along the way to stop and think about what you are actually good at? What are your technical skills? Are you a good communicator? What do people turn to you for advice about? What projects do they always ask you to take on? What do you avoid because you know you are rubbish at it?

These themes will be prevalent throughout your career, irrespective of which particular company and job title you currently occupy. You should be Mindful of them in the same way you are Mindful of your mental and physical wellbeing. Career Mindfulness is a way of being vocationally self-aware, looking after yourself and making the right choices, at the right times, throughout your career. Which, let’s face it, is what you spend half your life doing and is what pays for you to actually have another half of a life during the evenings and weekends! So it’s worth the investment, right?

What does your career need?

Mindfulness is defined as ‘the psychological process of bringing one’s attention to the internal experiences occurring in the present moment.’ Career Mindfulness is all about applying that practice to your job and working environment. It’s about calmly acknowledging your feelings and thoughts about your job and the environment that you base yourself in for all those hours every week. It’s about looking at those two columns of positive and negative career weight and deciding if you are happy with your lot, or if you want to move on and lose some of that weight.

How to decide and who to include in the decision-making process

Like all of life’s big decisions, your career is not one you have to make on your own. However, it isn’t necessarily something that your nearest and dearest will be able to objectively help you with. And you can’t exactly talk to your boss or colleagues openly about it, can you? (Let’s face it, they are kind of your competition, no matter how well you may get along).

So, it makes sense to find a specialist who understands where you are coming from and where you are trying to get to. If you want your body to be healthy, you can see a personal trainer. If you want your mind to be healthy, you can see a therapist. So, if you want your career to be healthy, you need to talk to a recruiter. And not just any recruiter, but one who operates in your industry, and who has the experience and credibility to offer valid, tangible, evidence-based and actionable advice.

Where to start

It’s unlikely (no, make that impossible) that you will build a valuable relationship with the first recruiter that you contact. These things take time. Sort the wheat from the chaff. Sort the consultative subject matter experts from the transactional fee-chasers. Here’s a good test: call a recruiter when you don’t want a new job. Be upfront with them about this, and say you want to talk about your market and your CV and what kind of role and culture might suit you in the future. Then see how quickly the cowboy recruiters jump off the call. If they can’t smell money in the next quarter, then they’re not interested.

What you should be left with is a recruiter who is interested in getting to know you and building up a relationship that should yield you many successful future career moves (and the recruiter many future fees). A strong recruiter who has been in their market 10 years or more will know that market inside and out. They will know the cultures of the companies, the bosses to avoid, the reality of the bonus schemes on offer, the true office politics that lurk under the surfaces, your real financial worth in the market, and, most importantly, when it does come to interviews they will be able to coach you through them with their eyes closed! If you start up a relationship with one of these rare creatures early enough, then you will be able to build a rapport based on honesty and collaboration. A good recruiter on speed dial is crucial to your Career Mindfulness, and is something to be treasured.

If you have been in the position of hiring for your own teams, then think back to the recruiters you spoke to during that process. Who was the best and why did you like them? If they were honest, challenging, articulate and credible, then bingo, you have yourself a perfect candidate. Now pick up the phone and set up a meeting.

Achieving Career Mindfulness

Let me be clear on this: Career Mindfulness is not going to make you a better person, or even better at your job (sorry!). What it will do is give you the framework to better evaluate your career weight and to take the negative emotion out of your day-to-day frustrations by syphoning them off into weighable chunks that can be put on the page – and therefore into perspective – when weighing up (there’s that metaphor again) whether you are in the right job or whether you are in need of a change.

It’s not a straight yes or no decision, but more of a percentage game. Everyone has different tolerances based upon different expectations and the compromises they are willing to make in order to meet those expectations. But it is important to be Mindful of which way your career weight is leaning. And it is equally important – with the right professional recruiter support structure that I talked about earlier – to recognise when you have slipped too far into the left column and to take decisive action to change jobs and reset the scales. Career Mindfulness is a constant process, not a case of binge and purge. It’s a two-way flow of information and ideas. There are no shortcuts – not in the long-term.

Remember that bright-eyed 5-year-old at that first parents’ evening, and remember that – in the grand scheme of things – it’s only a job. Start being Career Mindful today. Be strong, embrace change and be happy.