Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Having a Career is Like Fighting Cholesterol?

I found this article on ASAE's August 2009 Executive IdeaLink to be interesting. I think you might have to be an ASAE member to access the full article. In summary, it's an article by Peter Weddle, a recruiter and HR consultant, about "how to fight the cholesterol of careers." Here's how Weddle introduces his subject:

A recent CareerBuilder survey of more than 1,800 unemployed Americans found that a vast majority of the respondents are ignoring the health of their careers. They seem blissfully unconcerned that today's job market is the worst in almost a century and is likely to stay that way for years to come.

What are they doing?

22 percent are spending more time with family and friends
15 percent are fixing up their homes
14 percent are exercising more
11 percent are finally taking time to relax
8 percent are volunteering
7 percent are going back to school
6 percent are becoming more involved in their church community
4 percent are starting their own business
4 percent are taking up new hobbies
3 percent are traveling.

Most of these activities are clearly enjoyable. Who can complain about finally having a little time to relax, for example? For your career, however, these pursuits are enjoyable just like cream cheese and beefsteak. They're great going down, but then they wreck havoc on your occupational health. In fact, there's a very real chance they will lead to career cardiac arrest or what most of us call terminal unemployment.

Okay. Let's stop right here. If you read to the bottom of the article you discover that this is a plug for a session Weddle gave at the ASAE Annual Meeting this year (which I'm sorry I had to miss) and a plug for his new book, website, and personal career fitness system. I can accept all of that and wish Weddle much success in his endeavor.

But, excuse me? Volunteering, going back to school, becoming more involved in your community and starting your own business are bad for your career? And spending more time with your family, exercising, taking up new hobbies and (most shocking of all) actually relaxing will result in "terminal unemployment"?

I'm pretty sure even Weddle doesn't believe that. He's just using the CareerBuilder survey as a hook to promote his products. We get a glimpse of his career fitness tips later in the article, after all, and they include:

Pace yourself. A fulfilling and rewarding career depends upon your getting the rest and replenishment you need in order to do your best work every day you're on-the-job. Discipline yourself and your boss to set aside time to recharge your passion and capacity for work.

Good advice. Someone should tell Weddle that lots of people like to recharge their passion by spending time with their families, exercising, taking up new hobbies and, yes, actually relaxing.

But here's the question I have. How did that opening section of Weddle's article strike you? Am I the only one who read that list and immediately thought, without knowing where Weddle was going to take me in the rest of his article, that it was a list of things that are actually good for your career? That, in fact, these unemployed survey responders were not doing things to ignore their plight, but rather to help themselves reconnect with the things that matter most to them—and that's ultimately good for them and their careers?

What is a career anyway? Weddle makes it sound like it's something you have to do in order to enjoy the life you truly want to live. His analogy to exercise and heart health makes total sense in that context. It's like a doctor's prescription. But that's not a career. That's just a job. A career is a way of living, of merging the things you enjoy and the things you value with the way in which the world rewards you for your contributions. And if your career isn't that, don't you think it should be?


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