If we live until we’re 80, we’ll have an average of just over 3 billion heart beats in our lifetime. Every day we trade our heart beats for something and we decide how we are going to use them. This is our life force; it’s precious, free and offers huge opportunity… but how often do you find yourself doing something that drags you down or numbs you? You can choose to do anything at all with those beats – they are yours and yours alone. As our working life takes up around 60% of waking time, what we chose to spend our career heartbeats on has a significant impact on our live, so let’s look at our options.
A career is the whole thing, including the mistakes, bad decisions and backward moves. It’s not one job or one end game. You can have many jobs and professions within your career. You are unique because the way you have chosen to spend your heartbeats is unique.
There are 3 concepts related to this that we talk to all our mentees about:
- Careers aren’t smooth, linear and always upwards. They are messy, multifaceted and as varied as we are as humans. Learn to embrace the mess!
- Don’t wait for ‘perfect’ or the ‘big achievement’. That means you’re not noticing what you’re trading your heartbeats for, you’re so focused on something in the future, you’re missing the trades you’re making right now.
- Nothing done in line with your core values is ever wasted. When you consciously trade your heartbeats for something that is true to you (rather than with the goal of adding more stuff or gadgets or technology or prestige to your life for others to see) it all builds into your experience and knowledge and helps you grow stronger as a person.
A career is the whole thing, including the mistakes, bad decisions and backward moves. It’s not one job or one end game. You can have many jobs and professions within your career. You are not your job. You just DO your job. You are unique because the way you have chosen to spend your heartbeats is unique.
So if we accept that our heartbeats are finite, that we have control over how to trade them and that everything we do is building on what has gone before to help shape the next thing, then there are a few things to bear in mind in terms of our career:
Take responsibility for your direction.
You should be deciding and driving your own trades. Consciously make choices that will help you live to your values, challenge and excite you, play to your strengths and open up new opportunities. It’s easy to think that by taking a career that helps people or one that is deemed worthwhile, that you will automatically be fulfilled by that – but if it’s not aligned to your strengths and values, then you’ll still feel empty… and possibly empty and guilty because you feel that it SHOULD be working for you. Don’t take the lazy route of picking a dream or expectation from somewhere else, make your own. Make your heartbeats count!
Something is only bad if you believe it to be so. Even in the worst of situations, given time, you can normally route out a positive impact or learning. When something happens unexpectedly or comes out of left field and de-rails your plans, try to find ALL the angles. It’s true that you may lose something as a result, but what could you gain? How did it make you think or act differently? What did it show you?
Find the best trades for YOU.
Your job doesn’t have to be your passion to enjoy it. In fact, when we find something we enjoy and put the time into it, we get better, which means we enjoy it more and it may then become our passion. Don’t sell your heartbeats to an unachievable dream or someone else’s dream, think about what makes you happy in the here and now and try do more of it and get better at it. Just by doing that may make the dream come closer – or it may change the dream entirely! Learn to understand what really makes you tick and spend your heartbeats doing it.
When I’m talking to people at the start of a new career or in a transition phase of their career, we spend time working through these concepts in a way that is directly relevant to them. We work out the best way for them to spend their heartbeats.
For a trainee lawyer
Use your training contract with intent. Work out where your strengths are and focus on how these can be used in each seat you take. This will help you decide how you want to practise and in what area of law.
For a graduate trainee:
Use the early days in a business learn as much as you can: about the business itself, the sector it operates in, the structure, culture and opportunities, build your network and talk to people. Start to use this information to build a picture about how you fit into this new environment, how you can add value and develop as a person.
For an athlete transitioning out of elite sport:
However long your sporting career lasts, it won’t be your only career. Playing sport is the first step, the first chunk of heartbeats, which lead you to your next career. By thinking about what you like about sport, why it pulls you in and why you excel at it, you can work out how best to redirect your energies.
I believe that there is so much benefit in helping people to work through this at start of a big career move, as a preventative step in minimising the risk of them becoming depressed, stressed, burn-out or completely disengaged. Rather than waiting to make an intervention when it’s all going wrong, let’s focus on prevention by taking our heartbeats trades seriously.
If you’re interested in learning more about these underlaying ideas, then listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee on his podcast as he explores this concept with Mo Gawdat, ex-Chief Business Officer at Google X and best-selling author.