In spite of the recent improvements in the US employment numbers, the last few years have been extremely trying for many individuals’ careers. While anytime is a good time to tweak your career management strategy, these days it is especially important to be sure your plans and your portfolio are up to date. This is especially true for three groups:
• Employees who feel they have been stuck in a less than ideal job. The numbers are actually startling. According to the Gallup Employee Engagement Index, it is estimated that 70% of American workers are disengaged at their job. About 50% report they simply don’t feel connected to their work. 20% are actively alienated from their work or employer.
• Employees who are rightly worried about the stability of their position. Since the recession began, we may feel we’ve been laboring beneath the Sword of Damocles, simply waiting for the bad news to come around to us. Obviously, this is unnerving and can lead to high levels of anxiety.
• Employees who struggle with their career-life fit. Those are the fortunate ones that have good jobs but feel the challenge of integrating their work with other life priorities is extremely difficult. These employees may go out looking for other jobs when, in fact, simply working with their manager and thinking creatively may allow them to happily stay in their current role.
For those of you who fall into one of these categories – that may be many or perhaps most of us – now is the time to reflect and take actions to re-focus your career strategy. I have written before about a new career model that Prof. Tim Hall has called the “Protean career”. Protean skills include being able to change frequently or easily, to be able to do many different things, to be versatile. A Protean career is one that is characterized by such adaptability and versatility.
To succeed in a Protean career, the individual must take responsibility for charting his or her own career path – one that leads to their definition of success. There are three characteristics that are foundational in managing a Protean career. First is simply committing to be proactive. Many of us say we’ll do that, but as the Gallup data suggests, most of us do not. Second is possessing a high degree of self-awareness (i.e. a clear sense of “identity”). Third is demonstrating adaptability; using our increased level of self-knowledge to adapt to the ever-changing professional and personal circumstances we encounter.
So where to begin? Once you have made the commitment to be proactive, you need know yourself. Specifically, to understand your skills, values, desired lifestyle, and career/life aspirations. How do you do this? In the Career Management and Work-Life Integration course I teach at Boston College, I ask students to complete a battery of exercises to increase their level of self-understanding. There are two activities in particular that are simple and fun to do:
• The first is the “Peak Experiences Exercise.” It asks participants to describe a number of events / moments when they felt particularly proud of an accomplishment or just happy with their life or their work. Reflecting on these moments can tell us a great deal about what we value, the skills we possess, and what we feel a strong emotional connection to.
• The second is the “5 or 10-Years-Out Exercise”. The goal is to paint a word portrait of what you would ideally like your life to look in the future. This is your personal vision. Simply writing down a detailed description of what you hope for greatly increases the likelihood that you will achieve it and will help you determine/consider the path you need to take to get there.
We’ve posted these exercises on our Center’s website homepage. If you have time, try them out. I believe you will find them enjoyable and they will start you on the road toward improved career health. You don’t want to be one of the 70% of the employees who aren’t excited to come to work each day. It isn’t fun, and can lead to your becoming what my old boss called a “WCRT” – that’s a walking cost reduction target for those unfamiliar with the acronym. My hope is that completing these exercises will represent the first step in taking charge of your career and life.
Brad Harrington is the Executive Director of the Boston College Center for Work & Family. This post originally appeared in the BCCWF Member Newsletter. Click here to view the Fox 25 News Work-Life Wednesday interview on Managing Your Career.