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
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
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
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.
Guest columnist Joe Hodowanes MPA, SPHR is Career Strategy
Advisor and President of J.M. Wanes & Associates, Tampa, FL 33688.
This article is reprinted with permission.