In a weekend Globe and Mail article Mark Kingwell wrote, “If you are lucky enough to feel bored right now, and are not simply scrambling to make ends meet or stay alive, do not give way to melancholy or flee into flashy new stimulus.” Instead, he argues now is the time to “examine the conditions of your own possibility”. The article was appropriately titled, Let Boredom be a Window into Wisdom.
Though Kingwell ruminates on far deeper existential questions, his advice is apropos to thinking about careers. Let’s face it, we tend to rush through our day to day, year to year lives with scant contemplation of our careers, their trajectories, goals, our development needs, and the chapters to come. We don’t engage in military styled after-action reviews or watch post games tapes to adjust and improve our game. As a consequence, our careers are more haphazardly designed and managed than we care to admit. Unfortunately, as with one’s health, managing one’s career in an ad hoc or slipshod fashion is ill-advised.
Unsettling as today’s self-isolating realities may be, they can be viewed as a useful forced stop that gifts us time and licence to take stock, reflect, plan and, if necessary, course correct. Far from being dead time, downtime is an opportunity to take control of your career.
For most people ‘reflection’ and ‘introspection’ are eye-rolling meaningless terms unless accompanied by instructions on where and how to begin. Here are a few thoughts and suggestions on how to start the journey…
– Take a hard look at your career to date and its trajectory. If you had a plan, are you on course? If not, why not? What are you learning about yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, the types of roles, companies, cultures and contexts you thrive in? What has become clear does not work for you? How do you factor this into planning your immediate and longer-term future?
– Think about the feedback you have received regarding skills, gaps, blind spots and development needs and ask yourself what, if anything, you have been doing to work on them. Learning has to be purposeful. It has to be more than trial and error. To earn more you have to learn more.
– Look at your resume …… what does the narrative say about you to date, the path you are on, the decisions you have made, your accomplishments and capabilities? Does it make sense? If not, what do you have to do to correct course?
– Ask yourself what do you really want to do next and why? Note that the question is not what you are open to considering but rather desire. Think industry, role, responsibilities etc etc etc. How do you get there from where you are? Seek advice. Make sure your resume is appropriately aligned.
As you look in the mirror consider simple things such as:
Money – To what extent is money going to be a key driver in your job/career decisions? If it matters a great deal this will inform the jobs, industries and companies you should be contemplating. If compensation optimization is not a key driver this opens up sectors such as not-for-profits, public sector and all manner of other areas.
Meaning – People will often fatigue of a sector they have worked in for many years or long for something more meaningful to them. Where does ‘meaning’ figure into your decision-making at this stage in your career? Are you attracted to certain sectors (eg. healthcare, environment), causes, or technologies that seem interesting or exciting? Does meaning even matter to you? Is there a path for you to transition?
Security – Some people are attracted to large enterprises because of the relative security they provide. This might be driven by a risk aversion personality trait or tied to life circumstances such as kids, mortgages and other obligations. Meanwhile others covet high risk, high excitement start-ups where security is not even a consideration. Where do you fit right now and how should this inform decisions you make going forward?
Leisure – Some jobs, dare I say companies as well, are all consuming while others have you home by 4:30pm every day. In cities such as Toronto, commuting alone can easily add hours to your day. The issue of work-life balance evolves with circumstances such as age and home circumstances. Make sure you know what you are prepared to do for what you think you want.
– Talk to people who know you, whose opinions you value, and ask them what advice they would offer you in navigating your career forward. Ask your boss for regular feedback on your performance and development. Don’t ask them what they think of you because they are less likely to be forthright. Their comments however will provide insight and should be calibrated for alignment against your analysis. These are likely people who will also serve as references so getting a sense of what they will say is useful.
– Find a book or a coach that can help you organize your thoughts around your career and how to architect it. Give yourself a break… it is not easy and few people are good at this. It takes work.
– The majority of high performers I have met over the years have a high level of self-awareness (they solicit regular feedback, talk readily about strengths and weaknesses and how they have, and are, working on them) and a mentor/coach who they consult with on a regular basis. These individuals know that if they are not learning they are not growing. They proactively direct the learning where it will have the greatest impact.
While boredom may well be ‘a window to wisdom’, it is a window that requires effort and resolve to open and keep open. For many, now is an excellent time to start.
About the Author
Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.