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Image / Editorial

Careers Clinic: Why Knowing Your ‘Non-Negotiables’ Is Vital

20th Mar 2017

Following from last weeks? article on Career Chaos, we outline the first practical steps needed to begin the process of emerging from this challenging situation.

When stuck in career chaos you lose track of your professional identity and struggle to engage with your career to the point that other aspects of your life are affected. So, if you are serious about moving past career chaos towards career connectedness getting to know your non-negotiables is vital.

Your non-negotiables are found at the intersection of the three core aspects of self ?lifestyle, personal, and professional – and form the basis of your decision-making platform. By understanding them, you slowly regain a sense of control over what you need, what you want and what you are willing, and not willing, to accept.

Make time to take time

Get a notebook (exclusively) for this process. Ensure it is one you enjoy to write in. Set aside 60 seconds per day over the next seven days to work on your non-negotiables. Choose a time that works for you, set a reminder on your phone and commit to working on yourself for that time.

Choose Life

The order that you think about your non-negotiables is vital. Start with lifestyle, then personal and then, and only then, consider your professional non-negotiables. Typically, and understandably, when suffering from career chaos, your sole focus is on work and how to improve it. But in the wise words of Aristotle, ?the whole is greater than the sum of its parts?, and to establish what you want professionally you must determine and understand what is important in the rest of your life.


First off, define what lifestyle means to you and what it should include. Consider your emotional, physical, mental and spiritual lifestyle. The weight of importance applied to each one is up to you. Start with the basics and consider how much sleep and exercise you get? In light of what you know are you getting enough of both? If not figure out a practical way to address this. Then ask yourself when do you feel at your best, at your calmest, happiest and most content? What are you doing? Where are you? Who are you with? Then ask yourself do you have enough of your lifestyle non-negotiables at present? All the while remembering, if you are not healthy very little else will feel right.


Your personal non-negotiables are the basics. Different for everyone, you need to define what they mean to you personally. Start by analysing (forensically) how much money you need to survive? Base this figure on your food, rent/mortgage, cr?che, health bills, transport, etc. monthly bills. Then consider what geographical non-negotiables? Are you in a position to move town, city or country? If so why and if not, why? Also, consider what type of work arrangement is necessary for you regarding the hours you work and the kind of flexibility you need. Again your personal non-negotiables are as unique as your fingerprint so really sit with this and figure out what they are for you.


Your professional non-negotiables are the skills you enjoy using at work. They are the professional practices most important to you and the areas you feel you have a natural capacity for excellence in. They are your unique and individual strengths, and when using them, you feel the best version of yourself possible. When integrated into your career you feel engaged, a strong sense of purpose and have a feeling that you are doing something meaningful. Without them, your work is dreary, devoid of challenge and a dull progression from Monday to Friday.

Prioritise your Non-Negotiables

Under each heading, you may have a list of 5, 10, 15 or 20 that are important to you. If this is the case, it is time for some soul-searching. What is the most important to you in each category? Ask yourself which item is the one that must be adhered to no matter what? Then second most important and third most important. What are your top three non-negotiables in each category? When you look at them, you feel that if you could meet them, the majority of the time, life would look significantly better maybe even great?

On a single sheet of paper record your top three non-negotiables under lifestyle, personal and professional. These items form the basis of your decision-making platform going forward.

Next week, we will focus on building your confidence to put a career plan in place.

By Sinead Brady


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