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Career & Life Reflections That Have Worked for Others

By Joe Hodowanes

For nearly 25 years, I have conducted over 1,000 interviews with job seekers, with people who have been successful in their jobs, and with others who have retired from leading companies after distinguished careers. During these interviews, I have asked them to look back over their lives and talk about what they have learned. Almost without exception when these mature people look back, they make insightful comments. These comments are instructive and useful for the rest of us as we make our own career and life decisions. My goal is simple: to share with you excerpts from their stories as best I can, so you can learn and grow from their hard-earned experiences, just as I have.

First, by resorting to self-resignation, the unfortunate consummate their misfortune. There's a world of truth, and a world of unnecessary suffering, in that statement. The only thing that can keep misfortune hanging around is self-resignation - giving up. Every human being on earth is going to suffer a setback from time to time; setbacks are a part of life, as are fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes. But fortunately, the human being is a builder and a rebuilder, and in most cases humans rebuild better than they build. When things start to look bleak, remember that you have the power to change them and that you’re the only creature on earth with that kind of power. Build better and stronger next time; do something about it; change a bad situation into a good one. Don’t ask how; figure it out for yourself!

Second, the things you learn in maturity seldom involve information and skills. You learn to bear with the things you can’t change. You learn to avoid self-pity. You learn not to burn up energy in anxiety. You learn that most people are neither for you nor against you but rather are thinking about themselves. You learn that no matter how much you try to please, some people are never going to love you – a notion that troubles at first but is eventually relaxing.

Third, life picks up speed. The first half of an individual's life is about getting prepared and getting established. Then time shifts gears. You hit the second half of your life, and everything moves much, much faster. Days quickly turn into weeks, weeks quickly turn into months, and all of sudden, you look in the mirror and you are 60 years old. Looking back, mature people realize that time is the most important currency in life. A successful life is the sum of successful years. A successful year is the sum of successful weeks. And a successful week is a small collection of successful days. Everything comes down to how we spend our days. They are the building blocks of our lives.

Fourth, no matter what field a person chooses, there’s always room. People in that field are getting older; they’re moving up and out, retiring. If people can discover the field they would like to enter, chances are they can get into it if they are willing to make a few sacrifices. It might mean going back to school, or starting all over at the bottom, but if they want it enough, they can get into their desired field. Several of those interviewed paraphrased Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “Always remember that your own resolution to succeed is more important than anything else.”

Fifth, if they could lead their lives over again, they would take more risks. I think it was Oliver Wendell Holmes who said, “Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” Many of these people felt that, despite their successes, their music was still inside them. Almost all of them said they felt most alive when they took risks. Just being busy from business made them numb. Aliveness came with learning, growing, stretching and exploring.

Sixth, a good deal of frustration and unhappiness could be avoided if people would just do what they know they should do. Just pick the thing that is most important, and simply begin doing it. If you’ll think back, you’ll remember that you’ve always been happiest, most contented, after having finished a difficult project or faced up to a responsibility you were worried about. It’s never as bad as you think it’s going to be, and the joy that will come with its accomplishment makes it more than worthwhile. Work never killed anyone. It’s worry that does the damage. And the worry would disappear if we’d just settle down and do the required work.

Seventh, it is always possible to pick your fights – emotional and intellectual as well as physical. And it is also a good idea to do so. If you are constantly at the barricades, you will be continuously exhausted. And tired people don’t fight well. You will be able to respond better if you choose where you want to concentrate your fire. Ask yourself: “Who is saying this? Does this person matter?” If it’s a co-worker who is just a jerk, it may be better just to shrug it off. The critical question in picking your fight is: “Is there an advantage to me in acknowledging this insult and doing something about it?”

Eighth, the best way for people to relate to their work is to consciously choose it. The right job is always predicated upon conscious choice. Unfortunately, since we learn early to act on what others say, value, and expect, we often find ourselves a long way down the wrong road before realizing we did not actually choose our work. Turning our lives around is usually the beginning of maturity since it means correcting choices made unconsciously, without deliberation or thought. I had a client who discussed her new career decision with her husband and her boss, and they were highly critical. But she was willing to pay the price of the possible rejection in order to stick to her career choice. “I feel more together than I have in a long time,” she told me later. “I feel an inner confidence that tells me things will work out just fine.”

Ninth, a mid-life crisis is not a failure but a wakeup call. In their forties, people need to evaluate their lives because that is when both plateauing at work and plateauing at home – plateauing in life – tend to occur. The evaluation is the essential preparation for the rest of life. But an evaluation is hard. It always provokes the realization that there is a discrepancy between what was hoped for and what was accomplished; reality never fulfills all of a fantasy. Even when people are more successful than they had imagined, nothing is ever achieved without giving something up. These are painful realizations, so it is slowly, with resistance, that people give up old assumptions.

Tenth, try to keep your eyes on the future rather than on the past. If you feel that you’ve made mistakes (who hasn’t?), and if you must stir around in old, cold ashes, try to discover what you can learn, and resolve to do better. Have a positive attitude about your ability to improve, instead of brooding about what can’t be undone. As I have said many times in the past, the majority of people work to make a living; some work to acquire wealth or fame, while a few work because there is something within them that demands expression … only a few truly love what they do.

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Guest columnist Joe Hodowanes MPA, SPHR is Career Strategy Advisor and President of J.M. Wanes & Associates, Tampa, FL 33688. - Email:

This article is reprinted with permission.

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007 © CPAmerica International    

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