Is your career on course? How to follow your own ‘North Star’
15th May 2023
It's no surprise that career satisfaction is directly linked to one's wellness. Career psychologist Sinead Brady shares how to feel your best at work and ensure that you're on the right track.
How much does our career satisfaction impact our overall well-being?
The connection between career satisfaction and overall optimal well-being is strong, but strangely academic research into this question is only about a decade old. The reason this research is only developing is that we are the first generation of workers (for the most part) who have shifted from careers for survival to careers for meaning. The generations prior to us worked exclusively for survival (to put food on the table and a roof over their head) and while we work to survive too, we also (and rightly so) work to derive meaning and satisfaction from our careers.
The research that does exist, confirms our gut reaction – the link between optimal well-being and our overall levels of career satisfaction is strong. In fact, recent research based on The European Social Survey shows a causal link between the two. Optimal well-being is measured by the ability to thrive in both our personal and professional lives and the feeling we have that we can live life while making a living. That causal link means that an increase in career satisfaction leads to an increase in our overall well-being, while a decrease has the opposite impact.
As someone who has worked with thousands of individuals and developed career development programs within organisations, anecdotally I can attest to the validity of these findings. When we are satisfied in our careers, our overall well-being is positively impacted. On the other hand, difficult times in our careers, such as not enjoying our jobs or feeling overstretched and underappreciated, can lead to exhaustion and potentially burnout or other mental health difficulties. It’s essential to recognize the impact that career satisfaction has and take steps to find meaning and fulfilment in our work.
What are the most common career issues that women come to you with?
There is a unique set of career-related issues that women struggle to deal with, including:
- Work-life balance – a deeply gendered concept that is almost impossible to attain
- Managing it all in both the paid workplace and the unpaid workplace (home)
- Returning to the paid workplace after maternity or carer’s leave
- Coping with non-promotable tasks that stretch capacity and impact capability, which in turn impact career progression
- Friction between what a policy offers (e.g. well-being, leave, etc), the sense of entitlement experienced when attempting to access that policy, and the potential negative impact on career progression
What first steps can we take to improve how we feel about work?
Buy a notebook that makes you smile and a pen that you enjoy writing with. We often forget what we have done and achieved to get to our current point in our career. Taking stock of your achievements to date is usually something we only do for interview preparation, but in practice, this is something we should do monthly.
Start with Momentous Moments, followed by your Micro-Momentous Moments.
1. Your Momentous Moments are macro-level standout events in your career (so far) – the big achievements. Sit down, pause for 60 seconds, and as you do, record each of your momentous achievements or events, and the role that you played in them. Be detailed and specific.
2. Next, switch your focus to a narrower view in which you consider your Micro-Momentous Moments. These are the small daily wins – the things you do that make you brilliant at and in your role, or the things that you have decided to work on or improve. These wins are important as they remind you of what you are good at, and in turn, boost your overall career well-being.
What tools can we use to identify our ‘North Star’?
Identifying your career ‘North Star’ is a deeply personal and introspective process, which varies from person to person. For one person, your North Star may be a qualification followed by a job title or the impact that you have in your role, and for another, it might be financial or related to your ability to engage with life outside of work. In short, each North Star is different; therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to identifying yours.
The most valuable tool, however, involves self-reflection – some deep digging and thinking about success on your own terms. Admittedly, defining your version of success is not the easiest path to follow, but it is 100% the most rewarding one. To get started, you must activate your Permission Mindset. This involves allowing yourself to question with curiosity any rules or assumptions that you had about what success looks like. It involves letting go of ideas that careers are linear and success is hierarchical. It asks that you stop looking to friends, family, colleagues, or influencers to determine what success should look like.
This type of success, by comparison, often leads us to follow a North Star identified by someone else. But the truth is that this one-size-fits-all version of success often leaves us feeling trapped, unfulfilled, and uncertain. Instead of looking to others and then comparing ourselves to them, thinking about what we “should” do, letting our inner critic tell us that we “could never do that”, or listening to well-intentioned advice that holds us back, we need to define our own version of success.
The journey towards your own version of success is just as important as the destination. When you achieve your own version of success, it should feel authentic and fulfilling.
How can we ensure that our careers remain on course?
Similarly, your career remains on course once you know what your own definition of success is. When you have established what is meaningful and important to you during the various seasons of life, you begin to see success from a personal perspective and based on that, you know what “on course” means to you.
As you set about designing your own version of success, establish your non-negotiables. These are your physical, personal, and professional boundaries upon which you protect your “yes” and own your “no”. As you learn to put your boundaries in place, be fearless in saying no to the wrong thing and adamant in saying yes to the right thing.
Integrate Tactical Thursday into your weekly routine. Take a moment each Thursday morning to reflect on the week that has passed and the one to come. Ask yourself: “What went well this week? Where were the challenges? What was within my control? Who could I have asked for help? What is the smallest thing I can do next week to improve on this week?”
The IMAGE Wellness Project is powered by Meagher’s Pharmacy in association with Gym+Coffee, Aveeno and Cleanmarine MenoMin.