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Careers Café

Taking out the trash


‘Twas the season. We’ve just passed through that time after Hallowe’en, when fairy lights and nylon-bearded Santas magically appear. It’s also a pretty popular time of year to be self-critical, what with impending New Year’s resolutions that focus on undoing flaws, and questions from relatives about progress at work or school.

The combination of a bit of extra time (hopefully) and probing questions from loved ones provides the perfect (if sometimes painful) opportunity for reflection. Any experiences that stand out to you – great ones, ugly ones – can be fine sources of information to inform your career choices. Best of all, holidays are also fine times to gather (and root out and discard) misinformation, goals that don’t suit you, and criteria for life satisfaction that just don’t apply to your own life.

Success comparison: Having your extended family or friends you don’t often see all together in one room, and hearing the highlights of their year sure sets the stage for comparison. Are you as successful as others?

Not a bad question, since presumably, you do want to aim for your version of success. Your definition of success may change over time – and it may well differ from your loved ones’ goals. If your third cousin is delighted with the recognition she’s getting at work but, for 11 months out of 12, you don’t think twice about praise from colleagues, then maybe her experience isn’t a benchmark worth worrying about.

This is one I struggle with myself in December. My brother is awesome – and is one of those supposedly mythical creatures: the financially successful writer. His financial success outstrips mine nearly (I calculated once) a bajillion times over. Most of the year, I’m just proud of him and glad not to have his working hours. And, come January, our conversation veers from his holiday locations back to our usual topics: why our daughters sound like they’ve attended a Dale Carnegie seminar, and what the funniest literary substitutions of the word “monkey” are. (Try it: In the Skin of a Monkey. Monkey, monkey burning bright. Monkeymarch.) So, unless my niggling doubts about whether I should be earning more become more consistent, I’m treating them as seasonal red herrings.

Happiness quotient: Are you happy enough? For many of us, it’s a convention of the genre of holiday conversation to talk about the highlights of the year gone by. One effect of the genre is that people (not you – just other people) seem as though they’re happy all the time. If others had such a great year, why not you?

Again, if you’ve been asking yourself that question all year, then seeking out answers is a reasonable plan. Otherwise, it’s a safe assumption that people are skipping over moments of tedium, self-doubt, and irritation when describing their year.

Sometimes, goals you don’t love can’t be disposed of; being disinterested in wealth isn’t much help when your rent cheque is late. But maybe there are a few pesky sources of dissatisfaction with your career that you can hold up to the light, recognize as red herrings, and toss away.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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  1. gail creaser / January 29, 2014 at 19:57

    Thanks, I liked your thoughts especially about one’s idea of success changing over time. Re: happiness quotient, not so productive to compare oneself to others, husband points to Desiderata.

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