Have Clear Cut Goals in Mind
Many years from now, as you reflect how you played out your life, would you wish you spent more time pursuing your heart’s desire, or would you wish you spent more time in the office? Wealth, position and power are all important, but they all serve a purpose: to lead a good life. Many people either forget this fact and consider work the end in itself, or they simply work just because others are working, without any aims or purpose in life.
The basic requirement of good living is to have clear-cut goals in mind, and such goals need to extend beyond the work sphere. Consider what your interests are, doing what gives you maximum pleasure, the time you really wish you could spend with your family, whether you wish to contribute something to the society, and more. Determine the time and cost it takes to attain such goals. Review such goals periodically, but do not go on increasing the targets as one nears them.
Work for the Goals
Next, consider the number of years you expect to work, and the number of years you expect to live in retirement, and the amount you require to keep your home fires burning during this time. Estimate how much it would cost to maintain your desired lifestyle over these years and the nest’s egg you wish to leave for your children. Factor in inflation by calculating the present value of future spending.
Now divide this total amount required by the number of years you expect to work. Again, consider the present value of future earnings for parity. The amount you obtain should be what you aim to achieve by working.
Work only to this extent required, and do not be tempted to work for that little extra. Time is much more than money. Time is life. For instance, if working 35 hours a week will allow you to do what you desire, work only for this time and not 50 hours (unless in cases of one-off emergencies when you employer may require you to do overtime), and spend the rest pursuing what your soul desires.
Wealth is good, but it serves no purpose unless used. The currency in your hand is not worth its paper unless you exchange it to purchase goods and services that you desire. Your bank balance accumulating while you slog out your entire time and drain your entire energy in the process may be of some benefit to your spouse and kids, but not to yourself.
The mutual rivalry of piling up the good things in life is commonplace. If man has a mountain of gold, it is his natural and innate tendency not to rest until he multiplies it. Similarly, if your next-door neighbor purchases a new yacht, then you cannot rest until you have bought an airplane! While ambition is good, and benchmarking what others in a similar position do is a good idea, having unlimited ambition or resetting one’s ambition based on what others are doing is foolhardy and a guaranteed path to disillusionment. No two people are alike, and others, even if they have similar jobs or backgrounds than yours, may have different priorities in lives.
While it is not a sin to desire living in luxury, be realistic. For instance, living the rest of one’s life in a seaside resort surrounded by everything desirable is possible only in movies or for a miniscule percentage of the populace born with a silver spoon. For the rest of us, taking one such vacation a year may count as attainable. Always look at the people below your social or economic status rather than people above you, and you will remain happy.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
The major obstacles people face in taking the approach to life and work mentioned above is their inability to meet their desired life goals even after working long hours. For a vast majority, a day and night slog allows them to make barely enough to make ends meet. Some others justify their slog stating that they work hard while they can, to reap the rewards at a later age. Such people work harder, taking overtime, working on holidays and remaining obsessed with networking and skill development training to the extent that family life becomes a bothersome distraction. In such a state affairs, creative pursuits or interest is the last thing on one’s mind. The result is stress; break down of family life, and overall discontent.
Another manifestation of trying to attain unrealistic goals or forgetting the end purpose of work is indulging in unethical conduct, such as lying, indulging in fraud, embezzlement, and other vices. Such actions invariably boomerang, and cause job loss, no prospects of re-employment, and maybe even prison time.
Understand that you do not live twice. Life is too short to waste on purposeless activities. Take that time out to take a hike through the woods, take a vacation on that mountain resort, spend quality time teaching your children. Adjust work around such activities, rather than the other way round.
The solution to do all this without compromising work is by working smarter rather than harder. Not earning enough within normal working hours to lead a standard life means that either your goals are unrealistic or unattainable and you need to revise them, or you are in a wrong profession or doing the wrong job, and need to change. Ways to make amends are many:
- Seek out other options where you get more for the same efforts. For instance, if you work for $20 an hour, take time out to seek opportunities that may provide you with $40 an hour. Many people do not do this as they settle into a rut and fear upsetting the status quo. Overcome such resistance to change.
- Consider acquiring new skills for a new career that pays well. For instance, before competition and internet came, writers earned even $150 a page. This is no longer possible. The best approach is to opt for careers that remain recession proof and be resilient always, regardless of the state of the economy. But not everyone can have such a career. For others, leverage whatever works in the short to near term, and be prepared to change. For instance, if recession tanks the prospects of employment in your career, try something else, even if temporarily, before demand for your core competence resurfaces.
- Understand the supply chain of what you do. Even if you are in employment, consider your position and the value you add in the supply chain. You will understand that someone in the supply chain takes a bigger cut than the rest for adding the same or little value. In your case, it could be your boss. Evaluate whether you can take such position. For instance, if you have the skills, ability, drive, ambition, resources and risk appetite to replicate your boss’s business model and start your own business.
- Manage time well. Very often, the reason for having to work hard, with overtime or job related stress, is procrastination, not setting priorities at work, and other poor time management practices. Doing things promptly without procrastination, setting priorities right, putting first things first, and other efficiency tips take the stress out of work.
- Leverage the power of technology. Technology allows doing more work using lesser time, improves efficiency, and throws open many opportunities not possible before. Only rarely does someone who harnesses emerging technology fail to meet life goals.
The preparation for pursuing career success should ideally start at high school level. However, as the adage goes, “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the next best time is today.” Therefore, if wrong education or career choices so far make attaining life goals unrealistic, do not despair. Start now, and revise goals accordingly.
The author is a Human esource professional and has extensive experience in career counselling and designing work systems. This article bases on the author’s knowledge and practical insights gained over the years.