Can Decelerating Your Career Propel It Forward?

coworkers standing near the table

Today We Explore the Delicate Balance of Pace and Progress in One’s Professional Journey

July 11, 2023

Shifting Focus: A Secret to Career Success

In the realm of careers, we often find ourselves entangled in urgent matters, neglecting the crucial considerations of fit, capability, intent, and long-term contribution to the problems that truly ignite our passion for solving. If you perceive your career as slowing down—where promotions elude you, or perhaps you’ve experienced the sting of a layoff—it might be the opportune moment to redirect your attention.

While it may seem that making an immediate impact is beyond your reach, adopting a long-term perspective will undoubtedly leave your future self beaming with pride. Allow me to recount a personal tale from my own journey.

A week before my eagerly anticipated MBA graduation, misfortune struck, leaving me bedridden and unable to seize the job offers I had at my fingertips. Furthermore, I was progressing through the final stages of an enticing job interview, only to see it slip away. My world was momentarily devoid of options.

This period was rife with anxiety about what lay ahead. The fear of falling behind my peers weighed heavily on my mind, intensified by the mounting interest on my education loan. Confined to my bed during the recovery from surgery, I began to ponder the life I truly desired to build. It dawned on me that I had been pursuing popular jobs solely for their popularity, neglecting to give proper consideration to their alignment with my authentic self. This unexpected pause in my otherwise fast-paced career served as a catalyst for reevaluating my priorities.

Now, a decade after graduation, I can confidently declare that the pause I once resented has blossomed into an unexpected blessing. Rather than hastily embracing the job fervently sought after by my peers, I delved into what truly set my soul ablaze. I engaged in meaningful conversations with my mentors, who shed light upon the fact that few would recall the opportunities I missed in those first few post-graduation months. Yet, they would remember the impact I made in the decades to come. This realization enabled me to shift my perspective from the short-sighted race for promotions and bonuses, to a thoughtful, long-term career strategy.

lawyers posing for a photo

Navigating the Turmoil: Embracing the Pause

Now, if you find your career faltering—promotions elusive, or worse yet, confronted with a sudden career break—the ensuing slowdown might be a blessing in disguise. Allow me to present several ways in which you can gracefully navigate this tumultuous period.

Take the Long-Term View: A Game of Endurance

Often, we tirelessly sprint through our careers, believing we have a mere decade or two of work ahead. Yet, in reality, the average person today may engage in work for a remarkable eighty years. Such longevity demands that we conserve our energy and approach our careers as a marathon, not a mad dash.

All progress stems from the consistent compounding of efforts over time. In his illuminating work, “Slow Productivity,” Georgetown Professor Cal Newport explores the concept of deliberate, measured progress—a stark contrast to the hustle culture that social media often glorifies. Newport’s wisdom advises us to focus on fewer tasks, operating at a natural pace, and placing paramount importance on quality over quantity.

Remember this: intensity yields speed, but it is consistency that propels us to great distances. Embrace this notion and remember that your long-term future rests in your hands, holding far greater sway than any short-term endeavors.

Delve Deep into Work Frustrations: Uncover the Hidden Gems

When faced with career frustrations, it is vital to analyze the aspects of your work life that cause you the most vexation. If you find yourself jobless, cast your gaze upon the past and contemplate both the joys and the pains of your previous work experiences. Rarely are jobs entirely black or white—therein lies the subtleties that often escape our attention as we strive to simply “get the job done.” However, ignoring these frustrations will undoubtedly lead to repercussions in the medium to long term. Structural issues rarely resolve themselves; instead, they require proactive identification and mitigation.

Thus, these periods of deceleration serve as perfect opportunities for delving deep into the following questions:

  1. What aspects of my work life do I find most disagreeable?
  2. Which elements of my job truly bring me joy?
  3. Will my future self express gratitude if I persist on my current path? If not, how might I steer my career in a new direction?

Answering these questions will unveil the skills you need to acquire, the networks you must cultivate, and the transformative transitions required for your next venture.

Patience: The Virtue of Long-Term Growth

In our haste, we often overestimate what can be achieved in a single year, while simultaneously underestimating the profound transformations we can manifest over a decade. Our actions tend to be guided by the immediate horizon—next year, next quarter—which discourages us from making changes that would undoubtedly lead to a more fulfilling work life in the long run.

Unrealistic expectations confined within condensed timelines can gravely undermine our confidence and set unattainable standards for our future selves. Despite possessing a top-tier MBA, impeccable grades, and an extensive network, it took me four months to secure the job that truly resonated with my aspirations. Perhaps it could have materialized sooner, but anticipating immediate results would have piled unnecessary pressure upon me and may have swayed me towards accepting something suboptimal.

Forge New Connections: The Power of Weak Ties

In my own journey, a mentor I had not connected with in quite some time played an instrumental role in landing my position at Microsoft. Our correspondence was sporadic, limited to the occasional email updating him on my ventures. However, when circumstances led us to reconnect after my accident, he steered me towards an opening at Microsoft that perfectly aligned with my passions. He possessed a deep understanding of my strengths and the trajectory I wished to pursue. His guidance proved to be the defining factor in my journey. Therefore, it is paramount to nurture not only our close relationships but also those tenuous connections we often overlook.

Consistency in All Things: The Key to Reclaiming Momentum

When life throws us curveballs, it becomes vital to scrutinize our habits, routines, and rituals. These elements can easily crumble under the weight of adversity, leaving us depleted and disheartened, incapable of taking the steps necessary for resuscitating our momentum. During the first month following my accident, I found solace in mindlessly watching television, while halfheartedly sending out CVs. Lost in the sea of self-pity, I incessantly questioned, “Why me?” Instead, I should have posed a more empowering question: “What can I do about it?” Ultimately, I accepted my circumstances and embarked on a journey to find joy, one small step at a time.

In conclusion, the current slowdown afflicting your career may very well transform into an unexpected blessing, given the right mindset and approach. In a world where the average person may spend up to eighty years engaged in work during their hundred-year existence, a pause serves as an invaluable opportunity to recalibrate your ambitions, goals, and outlook. Remember, the path to making a substantial difference may not manifest tomorrow, but by cultivating a long-term perspective, you will undeniably craft a legacy that will make your future self burst with pride.

Until we meet again, may your career’s journey be filled with purpose, passion, and a touch of whimsy.

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