What are you giving up to build your career?
Maybe you are compromising time at home with your family. Or perhaps it’s your health, integrity, or self-respect. The fact is most of us give up something to work on our careers.
But here’s the truth: Healthy careers don’t feel like a sacrifice. When we feel like we’re spending too much time at the office or putting our ethics on the back burner, we resent our jobs and work. As a result, our work starts to suffer, which begins to affect our career longevity.
It’s a downward spiral that we need to avoid at all costs.
How can we balance building a career that earns a high salary, doing work we can be proud of, while not sacrificing our mental or physical health? It’s easier said than done.
But it can be done. Here are four ways to find a career that doesn’t feel like a compromise.
A Career Without Sacrifice
1. The Ball Is in Your Court
If we feel helpless in our careers, we are less likely to do anything to improve them. You need to understand that you’re in complete control of your career. You may not control everything about your job, but you can control where you work and how you do your job.
Did you know that in March of 2022, there were 5 million more job openings than unemployed people in the United States? Employers are always looking for good workers. And in this job market, they are more likely to work with you to create a better professional environment. Turnover is expensive, and most companies would rather keep productive workers than lose them.
If you don’t work at a place that cares about its staff, it might be time to look for another job. Be proactive. If you think you can do better, then you can.
2. Speak Up
If you don’t feel comfortable at work, you need to say something. Communicating openly about your job and working conditions is critical to a healthy career. If you don’t feel like you can talk to your boss, consider sitting down with Human Resources to discuss your issues. After all, that’s why HR is there. Use them when you need to.
Be careful not to play the blame game during your discussions. Remember, this isn’t the time to point fingers or get hostile. Your primary goal is to improve your career.
For instance, if your work/life balance is lopsided in favor of work, good employers will always find a way to help balance it. That might include moving into a different role at your company or cutting back your hours. You never know what your employer is willing to do for you unless you open up the lines of communication.
3. Find What You Love
Sometimes, your career will feel like a compromise without knowing why. All you know is that you aren’t happy. Something has to change. If this sounds like you, the first step is determining what makes you tick. Maybe something about your career was appealing, but you overestimated how much you would like it. Or perhaps your interests have changed?
Ask yourself one critical question: What am I giving up by working in my career?
Without rediscovering what you value most, it’s impossible to build a career that will make you happy and fulfilled. First, understand what you love about your job. Find what you hate. Then, consider talking to a career coach about how to design a career that works best for you. Keep in mind this could involve changing careers.
It may also help to talk with your family about what is most important.
4. Actively Work Toward Your Goals
Use your career as a stepping stone toward your future career goals. Compromising your long-term goals to satisfy short-term job requirements will harm your long-term success.
Wharton professor Adam Grant recommends using the few minutes between meetings — when you might normally use to talk with your coworkers — to make incremental progress on your goals. It might not feel like a lot of time, but “even these tiny steps forward can create a feeling of momentum — which is essential to staying positive during a tour of duty in a job one doesn’t love,” wrote Harvard Business Review.
Your long-term goals might include professional development opportunities (like learning a new programming language or even listening to a podcast about leveling up your career). Whatever your long-term goals are, don’t sacrifice your career growth by wasting those precious minutes between meetings and other tasks with chit-chat. Instead, be proactive.
In conclusion, sometimes things don’t quite work out how we expect them to. That’s okay. It happens to all of us. If your career compromises your personal ethics, integrity, work/life balance, or salary expectations, it’s time to take action. That action might include talking to your boss or Human Resources department. It may also include switching careers to one that works better for you and your long-term goals.
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Steve Adcock is an early retiree who writes about mental toughness, financial independence and how to get the most out of your life and career. As a regular contributor to The Ladders, CBS MarketWatch and CNBC, Adcock maintains a rare and exclusive voice as a career expert, consistently offering actionable counseling to thousands of readers who want to level-up their lives, careers, and freedom. Adcock's main areas of coverage include money, personal finance, lifestyle, and digital nomad advice. Steve lives in a 100% off-grid solar home in the middle of the Arizona desert and writes on his own website at SteveAdcock.us.