The High Stakes of Career Development

“People usually underestimate the influence of their career on their overall wellbeing…If you don’t have the opportunity to regularly do something you enjoy–even if it’s more of a passion or interest than something you get paid to do — the odds of your having a high wellbeing in other areas diminish rapidly.”
~Excerpted from Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements (2010) by Tom Rath and Jim Harter.

The Gallup organization, which has done extensive research on the epidemic and costs of employee disengagement is now offering more insight into what it takes for us to maximize our sense of wellbeing throughout our lives.

Gallup has identified five key factors (described in the book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements) that influence our ability to thrive in life: career, social, financial, physical, and community wellbeing.

My dedication to the study, advocacy, and facilitation of professional development stems from an understanding of the critical importance of discovering who you are and ways to successfully apply that knowledge to optimally develop yourself over the course of your career (e.g., life’s work).

Helping others and myself maximize a sense of well-being is a core motivation of my work. Consequently, I was intrigued to read about this wellbeing study and the associated wellbeing assessment that has been created.

The fact that the extent to which we enjoy what we “do” everyday enormously impacts our overall sense of wellbeing is obvious. Notably, the authors of Wellbeing go as far as to state that “[Career Wellbeing] may be the single most important element of one’s wellbeing.”

Yet, I don’t believe that, as a society, we have given nearly enough attention to preparing young people to skillfully address this most essential element of their ability to thrive in life. Instead we leave a lot of our career development to chance and external influences that do not adequately represent the true strengths or potential of an individual.

I began to question the source of power “work” has in our lives even more deeply after learning that the vital importance of career development was further validated through this extensive global research project.  Fundamentally, we are renewed and can experience a great deal of joy when we are able to use our strengths, contribute to the world, recognize our powers, and be acknowledged for the unique and collaborative value we bring to our communities.

The time and work it takes to become aware of your true strengths and passions while having the faith that you can incorporate that key aspect into your career path can seem overwhelming. The sense of tremendous uncertainty around one’s career often leads to paralysis as in the case for many undecided college students or to a speedy attachment to a professional choice (e.g., professional foreclosure).

As Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements highlights the fact that we continue to undervalue the great impact of what we “do,” my mind constantly gravitates back to questions about “how” we go about choosing what we do and “why” we do what we do (i.e., motivation and meaning). We have a vast array of options available to use our skills and contribute to the world. How do we go about optimizing career choices? Engaging in professional development activities is a critical avenue to understand the how and the why of your career development.

We have a large gap between the high stake impact of career development and the amount of meaningful attention and effort we put toward our own professional development. “Professional development” remains heavily shaped by a position that one holds as an employee within a specific organization. And, it’s a great benefit that employers often pay for professional development activities.

At the same time, those “employer-sponsored” professional development opportunities can seem like a chore and may direct our energies toward learning that holds limited or no appeal. The growing fluidity with which we move among positions and organizations throughout the course of our career is calling us to embrace a new version of professional development.

It’s important that each of us take the time to explore professional study and opportunities that will allow us to grow and to connect with others in ways that help identify and cultivate areas of enjoyment and passion over the course of our work life. A more expanded view and intrinsically motivated version of professional development will help provide an overall sense of coherency and connection among the sometimes disjointed  positions we may hold.

Professional development is a vital factor that is intimately intertwined with the essential element that career plays in our overall sense of well-being.

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