I often say that I’d speak to the Hunchback of Notre Dame if it were in French, so when I caught a taxi in Paris recently, I had a captive audience on whom to practice my French. I am one of life’s optimists, but this interaction left me stumped and a bit depressed.
My taxi driver basically hated his job, as do many of us at some stage of our working life. And what not to hate? 11 hour days, terrible traffic jams and some of the world’s most aggressive drivers. Monsieur was very slim but he reported with an edge of bitterness that he achieved this by carefully watching his diet, as he did not have the time for exercise.
I was wary about my response as I did not want to offer superficial support, but I gently alluded to the possibility of him re-inventing himself, as I call it, by studying for another type of work. Only to hear his depressing reply that, from a career perspective, life had passed him by.
Why am I writing about it here?
Naturally, I often meet people who face circumstances in their life which interfere with their career aspirations. What worried me about my Parisian taxi driver was that he appeared to have reached a tipping point, where I could imagine him growing ever more bitter, year after year.
What message can we take from this?
There are actions we can take to avoid replicating this sense of helplessness. Here are my Top 5 Tips:
1. Optimise the Bell Curve of Satisfaction
There is a Bell Curve of Satisfaction when it comes to a role and we all face times in our life when our current work or employer no longer satisfies. The important thing is not to become trapped. Do not wait until you are on the slippery downward slope of dissatisfaction, because that means that too much of your working life is spent in this negative state. Even though you may be quite happy, start looking for the next stage/role when you are at the TOP of the Bell Curve. That way, you achieve that magical Virtuous Cycle of always deriving pleasure and satisfaction from your work.
2. Make your move within 12 months
I believe that 12 months is the maximum period of time we should spend in a job where we are not happy. Any longer, and I think it is the rare person who does not suffer from the unhappiness. So, as soon as you notice that the love affair is over, start your Job Search immediately so that you minimise the time that you spend turning up to work each day, unhappy.
3. Protect your Greatest Income-Earning Asset
Incorporate training/education into your working life right from the start. Don’t wait 14 years, as my taxi driver did because you’re likely to have the same reaction as he did i.e. that it’s all too late. Do the Maths – over an average working life of 40 years, at a salary of $40,000, your lifetime gross earnings are likely to be more than $1.6M. Now, if someone handed you that sum of money and you simply stacked it under your bed and didn’t try to increase its value, most people would think that you were crazy. Yet, this is what many people do. Unless you are going to inherit wealth, you are your best income-earning asset. So, it makes sense to keep up to date with the requirements of the current working world and to try to meet future requirements.
4. Know Yourself and Minimise Mistakes
Assess your key career drivers. One of my favourite Self Assessment exercises is Career Anchors. When one of my older clients reviews their results, there is usually an “ah ha” moment. This simple, but telling activity allows them to understand why they have made the various career moves over the years. If you can complete the exercise at an earlier stage of your working life, it may help you make better career choices.
5. Investigate options with your current employer, first
In my experience, Australians are quite passive when it comes to managing their careers. If they are not happy, they believe that their only choice is to leave. In fact, at any one time there are 7 career moves to be made, only one of which involves leaving. You can seek to:
1. Stay in your job exactly as it is
2. Stay in your job and tweak it
3. Move to a more senior role
4. Move to a more junior role
5. Move sideways
6. Investigate possibilities, and
Unless your dissatisfaction is with your employer rather than the role itself, it makes sense to learn how to fossick around for other opportunities right where you are. The grass isn’t always greener...
France seems to be going through a period of malaise at the moment and many people I met actively wanted to move to Australia for work, viewing us as a “young” vibrant country.
We may well be The Lucky Country but sometimes we make our own luck. Watch for signs of career self-damage or ask those close to you to hold you accountable. The typical signs I see are: bitterness, lack of self-confidence, a feeling of lack of power, and the proverbial chip on the shoulder. As soon as you show signs, find an astute friend or a good Career Consultant to help you work through your options.
And a final piece of advice: think things through deeply when it comes to your career, have the courage of your convictions and then ACT. Sooner rather than later.
aBOUT THE AUTHOR
Catherine Cunningham is Adelaide's leading career expert. She appears regularly in The Weekend Australian Careers section, in The Advertiser's CareerOne, as well as in online publications such as news.com.au, thenewdaily.com.au and womensagenda.com.au