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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Getting Ahead

The Secret to Career Fulfillment Is to Stop Being So Gosh Darn Nice

Have you ever sat around wishing your career was just a little bit more fulfilling?

You know what I’m talking about: That feeling of waking up and being excited to go to work in the morning because your work has meaning. Or walking out of a meeting and knowing you had an impact. Or, even having a sense of satisfaction and contentment about what you accomplished that day.

Unfortunately, the lack of time, the kids, the commute, the fatigue, and even the emails always seem to get in the way of finding that fulfilling career. If all of this sounds familiar, I’ll ask you the question I always ask people who feel stuck:

What Have You Done About Your Career Strategy Lately?

By “career strategy,” I mean that plan that you have for yourself and your career that leads to a feeling of happiness and satisfaction at work. You know, career fulfillment.

Sadly, most people would answer: “I haven’t done much on that recently.” Or, “What career strategy?”

Let me put some context around that: It’s not to say that you don’t have some sort of plan in mind for yourself and your career, or some concrete goals. You might, and that’s wonderful. But there’s a surprising problem that creeps in for many of us that can temporarily derail our careers.

The problem starts with something simple: The idea that you’re probably a good person.

I’m just guessing here, but I imagine that you like to fix problems and care for others. Who doesn’t, right? And when you do, you get rewarded. There’s an internal feeling of goodness (I helped!), and usually some external recognition as well (thank you for your help!).

It feels good, you get recognition. So, why would you stop?

You’re Stalling Your Own Career by Helping Others

When you spend too much time focused on how you can support others, your own career and strategic goals can fall behind. I know—it shouldn’t be that way.

What I see time and time again is usually one of the following:

  1. You have a sense of loyalty to your manager or company because you’re a good person. So even though you’ve been stuck in a job for years that’s not making you happy or fulfilled, you keep plugging away. You don’t want to leave anyone in the lurch! But, in the meantime, your career is stalled.

  2. You find yourself solving problem after problem, because you’re a good person. But then you end up burnt out and tired, because you can’t delegate (no help) or you won’t delegate (you don’t want anyone to fail).

  3. You put your team first because hey, you’re a good person. You want them to succeed! But in the meantime, no one is blowing your horn—so, even though you’re amazing, you end up left behind.

And because you put everyone else’s needs ahead of your own, you stop thinking about your own career strategy. That’s exactly the moment that you end up stuck.

So, What’s the Solution?

Well, the first step is to remember that when you feel great and do well, everyone in your life benefits. Your friends, your family, your company, and your wallet. And, most importantly, your sense of career fulfillment.

I know, it sounds so wonderful! It can’t be easy, right?

But, getting started actually is.

The next time anyone brings up a situation that requires your attention at work, I want you to stop thinking about the specific issue at hand, and start thinking about the opportunity. That’s right. There’s always an opportunity buried somewhere in every task—and from here on out I want you to ask yourself: “What is the opportunity here for me?”

Sometimes, the opportunity will be for you to step up, stretch yourself professionally, and do something amazing at your current job. Sometimes, the opportunity will be for you to delegate to someone else so that he or she can learn (and you can move on). And other times, the opportunity will be for you to ignore that annoying email for 10 minutes and get ice cream or go for a walk, because you know what? It’s a really nice day outside and this task actually isn’t life or death, no matter what Craig from accounting says.

You get the idea. It’s all about figuring out what’s in it for you, a.k.a., what’s best for your career. Once you start putting yourself first, you’ll find that you have a lot more time to get working on going after that fulfilling job you’ve always dreamt about having. And don’t worry about that whole “being nice” thing. You’ll quickly realize that it’s actually easier (and more rewarding) to help other people when you’re helping yourself, too.

Photo of confident women courtesy of Shutterstock.

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