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Home > Audio, Podcast, Show > Losing your way

Losing your way

February 16th, 2009

Don’t lose your way on the road to a great career

Career Opportunities podcast logoLosing your way
By Douglas E. Welch

Listen: Losing your way


Among all the side effects of losing your job, the feeling of losing your way is probably the worst. Many of us have allowed our work to become the sole defining aspect of our lives. In the worst cases, we lose our individuality. We become a cog in the machine instead of a unique and human individual. Even if you haven’t lost your job recently, you can probably imagine the immense distress such a situation might cause. Still, many of us are in direct danger of losing our way, but there are methods to define yourself as “containing multitudes” and avoid some of the dangers. This is as equally important when your are in a stable job as when you find yourself on the receiving end of a layoff notice.

Who are you?

No matter how much time you might spend at work, there are still parts of you — parts of your life — that exist outside your office. If you are a severe workaholic, these might be difficult to locate, but I can assure you they are there. Like me, you may be a husband, father, son, nephew, sports player, musician, etc. How are these roles different from your work persona? How are they similar? How can you start to pay more attention to these other roles? How can you use them to define yourself beyond xxx worker in yyy department at zzz company for 27 years?

More importantly, why do you need this differentiation? I believe that to truly build the career you deserve, you need to see your career as “yours.” You need to own it, manage it and build it. Too often we abdicate all responsibility for our career to our employer. They decide how we are challenged and how we grow. Unfortunately, they can also trap us in one role, one place for much too long when we become overly critical to some process. Like most things in life, our work and career requires a balance to be mutually beneficial to everyone involved. Allowing one part of our lives to dominate quickly throws off everything around it.

What’s the problem?

I bring up the issue of losing your way for one important reason. Often, we don’t recognize the fact when times are good. We are working hard, getting paid and in a stable environment. Life looks good. What we may not recognize, though, is that we could be at a dead end. It might appear to be a beautiful glade at the end of a garden path, but it is a dead end all the same. This beautiful place can turn dark and dangerous if something happens to our company or the economy as a whole. Suddenly, we are kicked out of our beautiful place with no warning and little recourse. Only then do we realize where we were and what was happening. Even worse, the longer we stay in this environment, the more painful it will be when we leave.

You can probably recognize this situation if you ever been laid off yourself or as something that comes up in your discussions with friends and family who have gone through the experience. They can look bereft, out of sorts and, worst of all, lost. They can’t understand how the world has changed so dramatically. While we can typically recover from such a large change in our life, we can often lose days or weeks trying to figure out our lives and put our career back on the right track. Wouldn’t it be better to have a deeper understanding of our work and career before being forced to reevaluate everything?

It is easy to lose our way, in good times and bad. If we don’t keep a clear perspective on our work and career as it moves along, stability can lull us into a false sense of security. No matter what our situation, we always need to be observing, directing and managing our career. In this way, you can more easily weather troubled periods since you have a clear understanding of your work and your life. The world may change around you, but you will already have a clear sense of direction and where you want to go. Losing your way is never enjoyable, so do all you can to prepare ahead of any eventuality.

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