5 TIPS FOR A FULFILLING CAREER
BY MARIA THATTIL
When I was in my student days, I would envision myself cloaked in blush & camel tones, in pumps, a cute bag in one hand and latte in the other. I would envision myself walking along the Parisian end of Collins Street – with a job in the CBD that enabled me to clock off weekly at a fancy bar early Friday evenings. It’s quite lovely to think of my career-inspo and see that superficially, I’ve manifested just that. I’ll coordinate a largely neutral and millennial pink wardrobe with a pair of cap-toe slingbacks or patent pumps, start and fuel my day with a strong almond latte, and go to work in the heart of Melbourne’s Central Business District.
But beyond that, I’ve managed to manifest a career that fulfils me, and this has not been a linear trajectory. And beyond the materialistic, superficial elements of your vision – the location, the look and feel - envisioning, fuelling and manifesting your dream career can seem daunting. It’s not always a clear road, and sometimes you are thrown curveballs. Whether you are commencing your career or at a cross roads decades in, I have some guiding principles for manifesting a career that you are fulfilled by.
1. MAKE CULTURE YOUR GUIDING COMPASS.
The sooner you learn to adopt culture as your guiding compass, the better off you will be. I too have fallen into the trap of electing to work somewhere because of the weight of the brand name, or been attracted to a workplace purely because of the reputed dollar sign on a role. But making career decisions based on these factors will bring you nothing but short-lived satisfaction. True fulfilment in your career is heavily influenced by the culture of an organisation. It’s easy to identify a toxic culture, but discerning what kind of culture suits you is less black and white, and a little more grey.
You need to know how you work best - what sort of environment helps you get your creative juices flowing and productivity up? Do you like interaction with other people or are you more of a lone wolf craving autonomy? Are you happier doing more operational work, or do you like freedom to think unbridled, think strategically and create? Do you crave social interaction and is it important to you to be able to make friends at work? Or do you prefer to get in, do your job and go home? What’s your lifestyle like - are you busy and juggling personal passions/commitments on top of a job? Really analyse your experiences in life to understand who you are, what your preferences are and how you work best. Being comfortable is critical.
Looking back on my time at school, how I was raised, family dynamics, previous work experience and time at uni, I know that I can be a little shy meeting new people, I can’t STAND clique behaviour, I value my freedom to innovate and own the work that I do, I love being able to have a laugh and I appreciate being able to bring my “whole self” wherever I go - that means that whilst I do compartmentalise the different facets of who I am (work related: the corporate me vs. the blogger) I don’t want to have to hide any of the facets. In fact, I believe the sum of these different facets make me so much more capable, creative, innovative and valuable. The same applies to you. Know where you thrive, and seek it out.
2. PUT YOUR BACK INTO IT.
Be prepared to WORK. This seems relatively straight-forward, but all too often, I speak to people who can’t recognise that a challenge is opportunity-in-disguise. This applies to people who are just starting out, and those that have had a career change years in. Be aware that in order to develop your capability and expertise, put simply: you’re going to have to do shit you don’t necessarily want to do. I have spoken to people who are filled with the fire of enthusiasm at the prospect of starting a new career and initially, it’s exciting, its the promise of something new and the possibility of achieving big things. Then they fall into a trap. Specifically, they make the mistake of being surprised by the period of uncertainty, stress and struggle that will follow as they begin to assimilate into the new role. It’s that time when you are navigating a new culture, norms, set of processes and teams all whilst trying to get a feel for your actual role. Suddenly, the honeymoon period of the aspiration is over and they can’t see past the discomfort. Failing to accept and persist through that natural period will lead you to fall into the trap of feeling defeated as the result of unrealistic expectations.
As I have gotten older and gained experience in more organisations, I’ve learned to expect and embrace this new period of discomfort. Because I expect it and I’m ready, I approach it as a challenge to be dominated. If you go into a new role expecting the discomfort, then you won’t be unpleasantly surprised, you will be less resistant to getting on with it, and more capable of persevering through the rough, initial stage.
Experiencing a personal alignment between your own values and that of the place you work is major. This will make a significant difference to your job satisfaction and to your career in the long-term. Firstly, you need to know who you are and what is important to you - understand the guiding principles that govern how you live your life. For me, some of my strongest values are respect, integrity, kindness and ambition. Finding a workplace that shares these values is paramount. Debunking the true values of a workplace goes beyond what you’ll find on the “Vision” section of their website - values aren’t just marketing jargon to be splashed on walls. It comes down to whether the values are embedded in and breathed by the people - and that is dependent on whether the leadership in that workplace embody and live them. Do your research on a workplace: what is the CEO like? What do you know about their leadership team? What are people (e.g. former employees, current staff) saying? Is there any information publicly available on initiatives and projects they undertake, success stories or scandals to be cognisant of that can tell you the real story? Do your research and that will start to tell a story reflecting their real values and identify if you feel an alignment.
4. BE OPEN TO THE ROAD LESS-TRAVELLED.
You might think you’re open, but are you really? When I was 19, I decided I was going to go to University for 7 years and roll out as a Clinical Psychologist with a plan to open my own private practice. Cue: angry buzzer. Planning that far ahead at such a young age leaves little room for adventure, experience, failures and learning. After working in organisations that were inflexible when it came to my blogging, I decided that I didn’t want to compromise my passion for blogging and decided to contract for the next two years. For someone who had sworn the next 7-10 years of her life away, contracting is the relatively unstable, seemingly scary, unpredictable side of employment. However, I decided to throw myself into HR contracting because it afforded me the flexibility to pursue my blogging and work in the social media space free of any conflict, inflexibility and crippling commitment. The last contract I completed was at my current organisation. After two months of temporary work, I fell in love with the organisation’s culture, the people, the work and the purpose. Landing a permanent role there, I found myself in a role within the public service that allowed me to BE ME and water the other parts of my life that need attention.
By throwing myself into an unpredictable situation to try something new, I found something better than what I previously had. When it comes to your career, I urge you to take a lesson from my experience and be open to alternative pathways to grow. There will be well-travelled roads where you want to go, and at times, you might think that there is a set pathway to follow to build the career you want, but I assure you: there is more than one way to crack an egg. The moral of my anecdote extends beyond corporate work and into all facets of life beyond career: if you keep your eyes open, you will be confronted with new and unexpected experiences. This is how you learn. This is how you overcome fear of the unknown. This is how you stimulate creativity. This is how opportunity finds you. Be open, because sometimes, the best opportunities aren’t sought out by us, they find us.
5. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE, UNLESS YOU DECIDE THERE IS.
Admittedly, I was that kid in high school who was a high-achiever. Straight A’s, doting teachers, all the right aspirations. Right into university, I would aspire to something and make it happen. Then I wasn’t accepted into a graduate role after completing a commercial internship with a multinational corporation and I had my first real taste of failure. I cried for two weeks and it seriously challenged my perception of myself as an ‘achiever’. It has taken years of reflection to debunk that situation and not internalise it. I was so focused on my apparent shortcoming that I failed to think about how I could use that experience to better myself. No-one can be perfect all the time and be good at everything, and sometimes - you just won’t suit an environment, you won’t be a good cultural fit for a team, or someone else might have more knowledge and skill than you.
You can’t be everyone and everything’s cup of tea - and that is why it is imperative to realise that what can look like a closed door is in fact an important message. Every single experience with ‘rejection’ that I have had in my life, be it a relationship’s end or a job I didn't get, ended up being a lesson and an opportunity. Don’t mistake this for unrealistic optimism: you have to know that there is a reason things didn’t go the way you may have expected. When you encounter what you perceive to be a ‘failure’, you have two choices. You can mope about it, relent on the loss and allow it to poison your self-perception. OR, you can USE it to try and understand where you may have opportunities to improve yourself, identify what needs to be done, and then be bigger and better. You can use it to look left, when you initially planned on only going right. You can use it to learn something about yourself. The beauty is you get to decide: is it a failure or is it a piece of learning? Acknowledge it, shake it off, regroup and do better.
When it comes to manifesting the career you want, your self-perception, mindset and perception are your biggest strengths to finding fulfilment. Seek out a culture that you thrive in, be aligned on the thing that matters most: values, put in the work, be adventurous with your experiences and learn wherever you can. I promise you, it will help you flourish.
Until next time,