Career Workouts

I'm often asked for career advice by family and friends, by my staff and the couple of dozen or so people I mentor at work, as well as by people who listen to my podcast. I have episodes in my podcast series that address particular topics but I'd like to reflect in this post on the way I think you should frame your thinking and approach to your career. In doing so I'd like to again use an analogy, this time to physical exercise.

I'm sure that you regularly workout at a gym either daily or at least a few times a week to build your cardiovascular capacity, your muscular strength, and to look good. If you don't, you at least know that you should. Do you take the same approach to your career? Do you have regularly scheduled times daily or at least a few times a week for a workout that focuses on your career, developing your skills, broadening your experience, and looking good to your current and future employers? Likely not and you're likely also not aware of the fact that you should either. That's what we'll discuss here.

I too often have a conversation with people looking for a promotion mid-career who have only done their jobs most of their lives. They haven't honed their skills, developed their experience, and haven't established their career eminence in their chosen discipline or field. If you're in that situation, the approach I'm proposing is still relevant to you but its preferable to start this early in your career.

These are my specific suggestions.

  1. Schedule Career Workouts. You should even start these before you begin your career while you're still in college or university and you then need to keep these up for the rest of your professional life. So, what's a career workout? Just like a physical workout at the gym, it involves making a commitment to do it, to put time on your calendar (I'd suggest at least once per week for an hour at a minimum), and then plan what you'll cover during those sessions. I often say that it's the one time during the week that you should be selfish and take the time to work on yourself. An early session can be devoted to developing a plan, determining your career goals, identifying what skills you need to develop or further hone, considering what types of career experiences you'd like to have, and what level of career eminence you'd like to strive to achieve. Subsequent workouts can be devoted to exercising and further developing desired skills and experience. You might take an online course, read a book, or just practice further developing a skill. The workouts could also include working on your career eminence. That will depend on your particular discipline or field but often includes becoming known inside your company and in the field outside your company by blogging, vlogging, submitting articles to journals, presenting at industry or professional conferences, submitting patent disclosures, entering your work in competitions, etc. The career workouts are the time for you to work on you and your career. They can also be used in order to keep a career journal. 
  2. Keep a Career Journal. You can use a physical one but I prefer a digital journal. Just like many people do at the gym, organize your Career Workouts work using a journal. It's a place for you to keep everything having to do with your career. This could include the plans you make for your Career Workouts, the notes you take about what skills or experience you need to develop, the place where you record compliments that someone gives you and also the place where you keep copies of particularly noteworthy work you've done, and it should include a living resume and, if relevant to your field, a living portfolio, to capture your career progress, accomplishments, and eminence.
  3. Get Career Checkups. While you track the minutia of your workouts at the gym using a journal, you likely also regularly, often yearly, take stock by having a checkup with your doctor, checking your weight, blood pressure, heart rate, and blood work. You should similarly schedule career checkups with your manager and/or your mentor. Its a time for you to organize what you've put in your journal for the period prior to the checkup, and then have someone other than you review the progress you've made in terms of accomplishments, skills you've developed, experiences you've had, and eminence you've achieved. Much like doctor's visits, you can also schedule career checkups more frequently if you need to or more infrequently too if that makes sense given where you are in your career. Don't delay them too long though because you really do need to have someone else provide you feedback on how you're progressing and to give advice on filling gaps you may have in your accomplishments, skills, experience, or eminence.

To reiterate, everyone either does and at least knows they should exercise regularly. In contrast, few people realize that a similar approach needs to be taken regarding your career. I've therefore made the case for the importance of regular career workouts, journaling, and checkups. I'd like to suggest that if you do adopt these, you'll have a healthier and more fulfilling career.