How to manage your energy for long-term career success
For me, hating my job has never been an option. I’ve always been motivated by finding work that excites me and helps me build a career that is fueled by my passions.
Early in my career, I was fascinated by the business world and wanted to learn how to drive change within organizations. I was lucky to see this from many sides: as an organizational change topic expert at Boston Consulting Group, working in a manufacturing plant for General Electric, and as a researcher at McKinsey & Company.
By exposing myself to the business world from different perspectives, it inadvertently helped me gain clarity on the type of work I want to do. I’ll get to the work I want to do, but I want to share the three things that have helped me figure it out and stay sane in the workplace.
#1 Guard your energy with your life
There is no better metric for understanding your career than your energy levels.
I’ve had the most success in my career when I am energized both in and out of work. At work, people come to you with interesting ideas, problems and opportunities. At home, you’ll have the energy to read and explore other interests — not to mention having the time to invest in relationships and helping other people.
Throughout my career, I have been vigilant in protecting this valuable resource. In fact, when people ask me my best piece of career advice, I tell them “Eliminate the things that drain your energy.” This mindset helped me understand what type of workplace I wanted to work in and helped me gain clarity on my broader career mission.
I was able to gain this clarity through a situation everyone can relate to — having a bad boss. During this time, my energy was completely zapped before I even showed up to work. I would also come home with a less than positive attitude. Though I was doing very well at this company, I knew that spending time in a place that drained my energy was a losing career (and life) strategy. I sought another opportunity and landed in an exciting role with an incredible manager who I still look to as a mentor and role model in and out of work. I may have left some money and career potential on the table in the short term, but I was maximizing energy, not money.
2. Share your passion to build relevant skills
Places that drain your energy often have a silver lining. The things that drive you crazy can often give you clues about the problems you want to solve. For me, it meant helping build work environments where people can grow, develop and thrive.
Once I gained clarity on this mission, it unleashed a period of learning and exploration that has not stopped. I started reading more about the workplace, organizational behavior, psychology and motivation. Great books like Drive, Influence and How Google Works began to shape my thinking while I started to experiment with how I could make a difference on my own.
Being passionate about something is not special. You have to share it with others. While working at Boston Consulting Group, I contacted a colleague on the learning team to volunteer to teach employee trainings. I enjoyed teaching others, but it was definitely not a strength. Luckily, my excitement around contributing to positive work environments and helping others develop was contagious. The manager saw that I was enthusastic and willing to put in the work. I ended up helping them re-think the way the material was taught, helped re-design some of the trainings and improved in an area that would help me down the road.
At first, this may mean you need to volunteer for things outside the demands of your day job. This shouldn’t be an issue because you’ve already eliminated some things that are draining your energy. Once you start doing more sharing and volunteering for the thing you want to do — you’ll create a virtuous cycle:
You start to become the go-to person for something you are both good at and passionate about
Now hopefully people will stop asking you to work on those things that were draining you energy in the first place!
#3 Forget your “Dream Job” and focus on your mindset
When I was graduating college ten years ago, my current job did not exist. Nor did my previous two jobs. A lot of the fastest growing jobs today — data scientist, technical product manager, social media strategist — didn’t exist either. There are 840 specific job categories tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the constant transformation of the job market and such a vast variety of options, how are you supposed to find your “dream job”?
I think that question misses the point. Forget about the whole idea of a “dream job.” As I’ve covered above, it’s a lot more valuable to align your efforts with activities that will fill your life with energy over the long term. You may not be able to control every change in the working world, but you can put yourself in the best mindset to take advantage of opportunities when they appear.
How do you do this? In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Anchor found that seventy-five percent of your job success can be predicted by your levels of optimism, social relationships and how you perceive stress.
He studied Harvard undergraduates and found something shocking — that the most successful students were not the ones that worked the hardest, they were the ones that when they were stressed out doubled down on the time they spent with their closest friends.
So next time you are stressed at work, text your friends and say
“I want to land a promotion, let’s grab a beer.”