Building a healthy career is essential for anyone who wants to have a fulfilling life. Here, the co-founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, Karen Meager and John McLachlan, offer readers some tips for achieving success in work.
Let’s start with the challenge of having a healthy career. Unfortunately, the pressure is often on men to conform to the false image of what having a successful career is. The long hours, working hard, being tough (whatever that means) and being able to cope with stress whilst not have any emotion.
All of this is nonsense. It’s damaging, and if you buy into it, it’s a barrier to having a healthy career. Almost all of the men we spend time coaching know this already, yet they still do it, even though they know that it is not only unhealthy, it is actually inefficient and counterproductive.
What they and a lot of other men need help with is believing that they can break out of the pressure to conform to this image, before planning and taking the action needed to build their healthy career.
The starting point for this change is to think in terms of rhythm, not balance. Here, the idea of a work-life balance does not make sense, and can be unhelpful, since work is part of one’s life, not something to be balanced against it.
Trying to create balance uses up energy in the constant battle of competing priorities, and the attempt to keep everyone happy, which can never be done. By seeing your career as part of the rhythm of your life, you will have control over time, It will allow you to make decisions much more easily, and people will know where they stand with you.
This changes your thinking, and immediately reduces your stress. Ask yourself: “What would I like my life to look like? How much of my life do I want to spend on my career compared to the other things in my life? The answers will be deeply personal, and you shouldn’t compare yourself with what colleagues or friends would do.
When you gain some clarity, the next step is to take some time to consider what your goals are for your healthy career. Do you want to reach the top of the corporate ladder? Some people do and some people don’t.
Do you want to be a technical expert in a particular area and what will that take? Do you want a job that pays reasonably well, challenges you enough and also gives you time at night and weekends to spend time on your hobbies or with friends and family? Is being your own boss the goal, and if so, what are the stepping stones to get there?
The four key questions to answer when building a healthy career
(1) Do you have good relationships both in work and out?
(2) Does your choice of career and organisation align with your values?
(3) Is it taking you towards what you aspire to do in life?
(4) Can you maintain your physical and mental health in this career?
The key to a healthy career is to be honest with yourself. If you love work and the idea of an exciting, time consuming and challenging career, then go for it! With clarity, you take the pressure off of yourself. You not only help yourself, you also help the people around you, know will know more about who you are and what they can expect from you.
If, on the other hand, you are someone who wants to do a great job when you are at work, be properly rewarded and recognised for that and then enjoy your life much more outside of work, then that is how you should approach your career, as pretending otherwise could lead to stress and dissatisfaction.
Individual’s need to take control of their careers, decide what and how much time to spend developing it, and what they’re willing to do or not do. There may be times in the rhythm of your career where you work longer hours, travel more or do work that is not always fun, which is fine, so long as it is part of your healthy career plan. Decide on the healthy career you want and take the steps you need to take to get there.
Karen Meager and John McLachlan are the authors Real Leaders for the Real World and founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, a UK training company.
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