Great offense still needs defense. Defense keeps the offense in the game. Likewise, great defense needs offense to win. Thus, career and life planning requires attention to the complete game. In both spheres, the complete game means maintaining what you have while striving for more.
Maintain an inventory of what you have that is meaningful to you, and protect these things. In your career, identify what skills and work situations interest you. Keep these in your current job by honing these skills and putting yourself in the optimal situations (e.g., volunteering for suitable projects). In your life, check your balance. Are there areas that you have been neglecting (career, family, friends, community, your health)? What can you do now when there is no crisis on hand to build a stronger foundation?
However, you can’t just focus on keeping what you have. Not only does this prevent you from taking advantage of good opportunities, but it doesn’t prevent bad things from happening. You might be doing a fine job in your current position, but your position might still go away. Therefore, you need to take the offensive and strive for more. This includes networking, keeping abreast of industry trends, and adding to your skill set, even when you aren’t actively looking for a job. This includes making life improvements before crisis hits. Is there a relationship that needs tending? Is there a problem in the community where you can help?
A complete game is balanced. Too much offense might mean uncalculated risks that can knock you out of your game (think the entrepreneur going after every idea who burns out of capital before the winner pays off). Too much defense might mean too little risk (think the indifferent employee clinging to the status quo who is unexpectedly downsized). Taking no risk is not the same as having no risk. There is always risk, so think defense and play offense to reach your goals.
This difficult labor market gave ample opportunity to learn how to manage your career more effectively. The lessons so obvious in a down market also apply as times improve:
Network, network, network. In a down market, everyone knows networking is key. Because fewer positions are advertised, those with inside connections learn of opportunities faster, respond faster and thus have better chances. As the market improves, remember to maintain and expand your network. The best time to network is when you don’t need to.
Everyone is self-employed. In a down market, everyone knows there is no job security. If you don’t contribute to your firm in a meaningful way, your job is in jeopardy. In this way, people are really self-employed, and their “employer” is merely their client. As the market improves, remember that you are self-employed. Your boss is merely one client. Keep your client happy, and keep yourself marketable for new “clients” as well.
Experience and work ethic count. This down market followed an incredibly generous up market where relatively inexperienced people were thrown lots of money and lots of responsibility quickly. Now, companies are again interested in people with real experience and demonstrated diligence and follow-through. As the market improves, remember to manage your career for the long haul and not just for the next big title or raise. A well-planned and well executed career path is attractive in any economy.
The job market is picking up, and more people are actively looking rather than focusing on just keeping their job. Times like this make clear the necessity of offense. Good defense may contribute to a win, but even if a team keeps its opponents from scoring, it still has to itself score in order to win. Thus, success should focus on winning (i.e., offense), not just not losing.
In baseball, you see a lack of offense when a pitcher doesn’t use his best pitch because the hitter might hit it (thus causing a loss), instead of using his best pitch to get the hitter out (thus sealing a win).
In job searches, you see a lack of offense when people focus foremost on what’s available – what industries are hiring, what jobs are suitable to their skills. Playing offense requires that you focus foremost on what you want and then focus on getting it. It’s a risk if your desired industry is not hiring or if you need to augment current skills. But the win is getting what you want and not just settling.
In careers, you see a lack of offense when people decline challenges – e.g., turn down a high visibility project, postpone a job switch. Playing offense requires that you take shots at your goals.
In life, you see a lack of offense when people do not follow their dreams. You may want a different life – a different career, more family time, new friends, a new location. Playing offense requires that you move in the direction of your dreams. If everything remains status quo, you may protect yourself against failure, but you also preclude yourself from success.
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." -- Annie Dillard, Pulitzer Prize winner
On January 1, we were pumped, inspired, and motivated to have a super new year. As the days pass, our resolve may wane. The exercise routine becomes tiring. Those networking goals become tedious. That research into your dream career can wait. If you miss a day or days or weeks, just start over. If February or March or even April has to reset your clock back to January 1, then so be it. Just don’t give up.
Our goals are made up of small steps over a big period of time. Like the quote says, our days add up to our lives. It may not seem like you’re doing much each day, but it adds up over time. Skipping a day might not seem like a big deal, but that adds up too. Motivation doesn’t just come like a bolt of lightning. Motivation is fed by action — persistent activity, discipline, small steps each day.
Don’t beat yourself up over missing a small period of time (or even the first weeks of this year if that’s your case). Get back on track, and when you look back over a longer time period (say, a few weeks), you’ll have a more realistic view of your progress. Maybe you exercised half of those days. That’s great! Now shoot for three quarters of the days over the next period. Maybe you had just one networking lunch. That’s a start! Now shoot for two, and you’ll have doubled your result.
Don’t give in to the temptation to quit just because you don’t stay perfectly on track. The path to success is never linear. Expect some bumps, plateaus and ruts along the way. Just keep moving and eventually you will pass them by. Just don’t give up.
Biting your nails, arriving late to appointments, and overeating are obvious bad habits. However, there are some habits, which are not bad outright, but which over time might have negative consequences. If you have a habit of seeing the same friends, that is not bad, but it likely means your network is limited and like-minded. If you take the same route to work each day, you may miss a better view or a more efficient way to go. Even good tendencies can lead to bad habits, if you allow yourself to fall into a rut and be blinded to new possibilities.
Because ruts are unconscious, you need to make a conscious effort to break them. Look at your career over time, and see if any patterns emerge. Is there a recurring reason for your job dissatisfaction? Are you stuck with projects you don’t like? These patterns exist because you are doing something to perpetuate them. Your bad habit might be not speaking up, waiting to be assigned rather than volunteering, or simply going from job to job without a clear sense of overall career.
Whatever you identify as the problem, think about ways to change this. If your problem is bad projects, find ways to transition to better ones. This means delegating the bad projects or at least minimizing your time spent on these, identifying the better projects, and ensuring that you get these better projects. How do you get the plum assignments? Find out how they’re assigned. Then, move out of your comfort zone to get them.
Your comfort zone is a bad habit if it keeps you from what you want. There is nothing wrong with being comfortable, if it also means satisfied and content. We all know people who are never satisfied, and that’s not a better alternative. However, if your comfort zone keeps you settling for less than your ideal, then comfort is a habit worth changing.
It’s spring, and time for those projects for home and garden. Don’t forget to add some projects for your career spring cleaning:
Assess the first quarter. How is your job different from last year? Are you working on more challenges or taking on more responsibilities? Is the work still interesting? Are you happy with your progress to date? This simple check-in can expose some issues you need to work on for the rest of the year.
Spring clean your database. Input those address changes from your returned holiday cards in 2004. Scan your phone list, and make a list of those people you’ve been meaning to call. Make an appointment in your calendar to call one person a week till the list is done.
Organize your work files. Have you been clipping articles that you’ve meant to read? If they’re older than three months, the news is outdated and should be purged. Do you have old emails saved for just-in-case? If you haven’t referred to them in the last month, you probably won’t need them. But, save any electronic receipts you may need for tax purposes.
Stock up on career supplies. Update your resume. Get a permanent email address outside of work (e.g., through your college), and check that it is properly forwarded if you already have one. Have business cards packed in every bag you typically carry, so that you are prepared even for unexpected networking opportunities.
Find some inspiration. Have lunch with a colleague from a different group or at a different level. Scan your industry’s trade journals. Take a general career development class, attend an industry conference, or learn a new skill.
Spring is about growth and new beginnings. Put some spring back into your career.
We all know people who live conditionally: I will play more golf but when I retire; I will travel but when I get a raise; I will buy some nice clothes but when I lose weight. There is nothing wrong with rewarding yourself for achieving something special, whether it’s retirement or weight loss. But there is also something powerful about treating yourself now. Constant but-when’s lead to the blahs. It is important to supplement the sticks with the carrots.
Make a list of small ways to treat yourself (a round of golf, an hour of uninterrupted reading, a weekday matinee movie). Pick the item that most sparks your interest right now.
Do the legwork. Where can I play golf? How much does it cost? Can I rent the clubs? When can I go in the next two weeks?
Be flexible. Is the course too far away? Consider a driving range. Is the club too intimidating? Book a lesson.
Do it and then do it again and then do it again. Experience your reward several times in the near term. But fit it into your life as it is right now. Don’t quit your job to get the time, don’t mortgage the house to get the money. Find a way to fit it into your existing life.
You need to repeat the reward several times to get used to treating yourself well, just because. This is living unconditionally. You need to practice living unconditionally because it sends the message that you are worth it right now and right as you are. In this way it is as powerful as loving unconditionally. When you love someone unconditionally, they feel that and they benefit strongly. When you live unconditionally, you benefit from an inspired life, a confident life, and freedom from the blahs.
The best time to look for a job, seek a career risk, ask for anything is when you don’t need anything. Desperation repels. Confidence attracts. All careers have ups and downs and situations out of your direct control. If you nurture your life outside of your career, you have the confidence to weather these ups and downs. Just like the company with a cash cushion to weather challenging markets, so you must have a reserve outside of your career to prop you up when things are down.
Build a financial reserve. If you live paycheck to paycheck, you are desperate for your current job. You are not in a position to challenge career-stalling assignments, work overload, or poor compensation. If you have savings, little debt, and liquid money to invest, you are able to take a risk, challenge the status quo, and pursue a dream.
Nurture your relationships. You are not a different person when you leave your home and enter your workspace. A fulfilled personal life contributes stability, encouragement and passion to your professional life. Solid relationships free you to dedicate time and energy to your career.
Mind your health. Career growth requires a healthy body to work hard and a healthy mind to focus. You need enough sleep and a good diet and exercise routine to ward off daily ills. You also need extended periods of relaxation (i.e., vacation) to compensate for extended periods of work (i.e., crunch time).
When you have solid finances, fulfilled relationships, and good health, your career has a platform upon which to grow and thrive. While it takes time to build a foundation outside of your job, it takes less time than reactively putting out fires as they arise. A solid foundation enables you to manage your career from a position of strength.