From 9-5 Survive to Career Thrive

Shanti Grumbine, Surge (From “Genizah”), 2015, de-acidified New York Times newspaper, jade glue, matte medium, UV archival spray, nails, magnets, 24 x 30 inches

Working the 9-5 is showing up simply in order to get a paycheck. Having a job is a survival mechanism rather than a thriving mechanism. So how do we take a job from surviving to thriving? By having a fulfilling career rather than a job we’re surviving.

Career Thrive! A thriving career allows you, as Gabra Zackman tells us in one of her round tables on the Good Life Project, the freedom to live the life you want. Some of the key values that allow us that freedom and the ability to live the life we want while having a career include transcendent collaboration, tracking wonder, and values in our career that align with values we want in our lives.

Insights: In this article I’ll share some of the lessons I’ve already learned from the Good Life Project along with personal insights that helped me get from 9-5 survive to career thrive. This summer I’m heading to Camp Good Life Project: The Summer Camp for Creative Souls, Entrepreneurs and Change Makers to nurture my body and soul and check in with myself to ensure I’m allowing myself the freedom to live the life I truly want. And I’ll share with you stepping stones that helped get me to where I am thriving in my career today. So let’s read on!

Finding Flexibility in the Workplace

In his podcast on Year Long Sabbaticals and Real Jobs with the Good Life Project, Karan Bajan talks us through how it’s possible for him to make more money in a year off as a byproduct than in a year of an intensely focused job. Karan focuses on a 4-1-4 philosophy of working four years for a company, then taking a one year sabbatical, then working another four years.

During this year long sabbatical, his goal is to achieve no goals. He sets no agenda and no expectations for himself other than when and where his starting destination is, and when the end is. Everything in between is an adventure of living and learning about himself; giving himself enough freedom to truly grow and develop, which ultimately help him become even more productive, more focused, and see new avenues in his career he might not have seen before when he does return to his work.

Karan manages to hold a full-time corporate job for four years while writing best-selling novels, while then taking a year off for self discovery then returning to work and continuing this cycle of intense focus then intense freedom.

It’s important to note that what allows Karan to live out his 4-1-4 philosophy is the trust he earns with his employers. He builds trust and integrity with his employers then is allowed to stay on the payroll of their benefits for his year off with the promise of the job being there for him when he returns from sabbatical. That is not the kind of trust you build when you just show up somewhere to clock in from 9-5, it’s the trust that is given when both you and your employer are investing in your career and your needs for a full life.

A year long sabbatical may not be what you’re looking for, but its value of flexibility should be something you do look for in your career. Having flexibility in our working hours or location allows us greater flexibility in what we want to achieve in our lives and careers.

I’ve seen employers work with mothers on late start times for work so they can see their children off to school, flexibility on earlier start times so an employee can avoid traffic in peak hours and therefore be more productive in their off hours, and the benefit I currently enjoy of flex hours. Flex hours have allowed me to pursue many of my passions and enjoy more in life while also being more productive when I am in the office. Currently I’m using my flex hours to study to become a licensed architect in NYC; something that benefits both me, my employer and my own career goals. Also enjoy the benefit of having access to all of my work files and emails anywhere I have access to internet which allows me the freedom to check in on my work and collaborate with colleagues without having to go to the office.

These are often simple arrangements you can negotiate with your employer to help you feel less chained to your desk and a 9-5 while becoming more involved in actively pursuing your career by helping you and your employer decide when and where you are most productive working.

Fostering Transcendent Collaborations

In another GLP podcast with Daniel Lerner, who teaches courses on the Science of Happiness at NYU, he talks about the importance of being giving. Daniel emphasizes how giving to others without expectations in return, and collaborating together with others for their success rather than your success at the cost of all others, is what can allow you to start to have truly transcendent collaborations with others and build something together that truly fulfills you in your career.

Once a month, Daniel has a breakfast with colleagues. Sometimes breakfast becomes a round table or forum where they accomplish some work, and other times it’s just building relationships with those people. Building relationships with others builds their trust in you and fosters a more meaningful collaboration with you and your work, and in turn allows you more leeway in the pursuit of your career; similarly to how Karan built trust with his employers to take his year-long sabbaticals. The breakfasts aren’t about maximizing productivity, they are about maximizing your relationships and potential collaborations with others who can support your career.

Understanding how open your employer is to collaborating with you and your colleagues is a key difference between a 9-5 job being dictated to you, and having the freedom to build a successful career with you and your colleagues where you’re allowed and even encouraged to taking an active role in shaping your work environment and processes. Whenever negotiating a new role, be sure you understand what level of collaboration the firm is expecting from you. If they want to simply dictate the rules to you and have you blindly follow without thought for your input, that might not be the career path you want to choose.

Tracking Wonder

In another GLP podcasts with Jeffrey Davis, they discuss how Davis built an entire career around Tracking Wonder, which has become the pursuit of his business, livelihood, inspiration, and career.

One of the mantras of Tracking Wonder is to “create a place where you could remember how to craft a life of meaning and creating imbued with integrity.” Davis reminds us that one of the most important things in life is to simply pay attention. If you’re putting your head down and just getting your job done from 9-5, that can make it difficult to craft a life of meaning. Instead find yourself a career that allows you the ability to track the wonder in life.

Sometimes tracking wonder in your career can be as simple as giving yourself some head space rather than running the corporate rat race from 9-5. Finding head space will help relieve stress and allow you to be more creative and collaborative with others.

Some simple things I’ve done to help me find my head space include listening to inspiring podcasts on my way to the office so that when I arrive at work I arrive in a state of relaxed inspiration rather than NYC commuter fighter mode. I also set a timer one-two times a day which reminds me to take a break, take a few deep breaths, get myself some lemon water and a quick healthy snack to help power me through my work for the next couple hours. And lastly, getting out of the office for lunch, even if it’s as simple as taking a quick walk, is a great way to be reminded that you’re part of a much bigger world than the walls of the office and you can track your own wonder for a few minutes before returning to work.

Setting Yourself Apart

If you want others to be drawn to your work, ensure you have at least one talent or skill that makes you unique and stand out from the crowd. Hone in on what you want that skill to be, and actively nurture that talent; marketing it to your industry and network so others understand how they can benefit from you contributing that skill to their work. It’s that unique talent that will draw others to want to collaborate you, want to work with you, and want to allow you freedoms of when and where you work because they want you to grow your career.

Do I Have to Leave my Current Job to Have a Career?

You maybe thinking, I don’t feel I’m tracking wonder in my current job, nor building transcendent collaborations, nor going to be given a one year sabbatical, so does that mean I need to leave my job to find the career I want? Not necessarily.

You never know if your employer will give you a sabbatical or if some of your colleagues want to collaborate with you more, if you’ve never asked them. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking them. The worst that is going to happen is they say no.

Align Your Values

Sometimes it’s necessary to switch jobs in order to find the career you want, but what’s most important in making that switch is finding a firm and it’s collaborators who share your work values.

For the last couple years I’d worked for a phenomenal firm, but had lost my desire to track wonder in my daily work and felt I had gotten somewhat lost in the large firm and wasn’t going to be able to collaborate enough with like minds there for me to get what I wanted out of my career.

Fortunately, I was pursued by a small firm in Brooklyn that seemed like a great fit for me. Their values focused on a work environment that’s more like a family, colleagues that eat together at a large communal table for lunch each day, allowing employees half an hour of mind space a day, and fostering growth in their employees. Their company seemed to align well with my values and I was almost ready to accept their offer, but what really sealed the deal for me was that they invited me to their Christmas party after giving me my offer and there I got to really see what it would be like to work here. Here everyone really knew one another and didn’t just work in solidarity all day at their desks alone, rather they were truly a work community and I wanted to be part of that community.

So if you are going to make a job change to better support your career, then one of the most important things you should be seeking is people and organizations who share values or a motto that you want to support and that will support your career goals.

Taking Action

This quote by Maxwell Maltz reminds us how an important part of succeeding life and our careers is simply taking action, which I hope inspires you to implement at least one of the tips from this article in your career this week.

“Often the difference between a successful man and a failure is not one’s better abilities or ideas, but the courage that one has to bet on his ideas, to take a calculated risk, and to act.”

Your building blocks for taking your job from surviving to a thriving career are:

  1. Finding Flexibility in the Workplace
  2. Fostering Transcendent Collaborations
  3. Tracking Wonder
  4. Setting Yourself Apart
  5. Aligning Your Values
  6. Taking Action

Hope you’re as excited about Camp Good Life Project as I am and hope to see you there!

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