Article by Janet Macon, MS, RD, LD
If you won the lottery, would you quit your job?
Of course, this is a highly theoretical question for most people. Even so, it provides food for career-assessing thought, even for those of us who are too practical/realistic/cynical to purchase a lottery ticket.
As a registered dietitian, I share my love of food, nutrition and physical wellness with my students at Winona State University. Those students represent a variety of majors from across our campus. It is my hope that they will go forth to build careers that are as personally and professionally fulfilling as my own.
The road to professional satisfaction is long, windy and often contains pot holes. Many of my students will stumble through their early career years, unsure of their skills and goals. My own career has traversed alternating stretches of “yes, I’d leave my job if I won the lottery,” and “no, I’d do this job for free.” If I could create a road map – or GPS app – to lottery-immune career satisfaction for them, it would include three directions that have helped to shape my path.
Find your Passion
There is a well-known adage: do what you love, and you’ll never work a day in your life. Indeed, perhaps passion is a bit of a career satisfaction cliché. It is easy to read cursorily such an obvious suggestion, until professional resolve is challenged by things of greater consequence in life. My career litmus test emerged as I prepared to return to work following my first maternity leave: was my job worth the heartache of leaving my child with a child care provider, even one I liked and trusted very much? I enjoyed a satisfying position for an employer that encouraged personal balance, so I was able to work through that challenge. By the time my third child was born, my position no longer passed that test. I was ready for a new direction.
Be patient and flexible. Like fad weight loss diets, short-term passions ignite energy, but often fizzle for lack of substance. Long-term weight loss maintenance is every dieter’s goal; similarly, career passions with staying power often evolve from good, basic ideas that take shape over time and through experience.
Much of my professional development has happened, and continues to happen, outside of the workplace. Comprehensive web and social networking sites, e-newsletters, list serves, interactive training and continuing education webinars and online voting are among the tools that have made it easier than ever to get involved in community and professional organizations.
Research pertinent clubs and associations in order to identify one or two that best match your interests. Then, don’t just join; get active. Join a specialty sub-group within the organization. Interact with like-minded professionals. Request, or serve as, an on-line mentor. Volunteer for a local planning committee. Write to your state and national representatives to voice your views on political issues affecting your profession. Organizations need input and help at all levels, local to national, from members of all ages and interests to keep them at the forefront of the profession.
Be sure to choose your time investments wisely. Each new opportunity comes with opportunity costs: professional volunteerism comes at the expense of time spent with family and friends, recreational hobbies and even spiritual exploration or faith formation. Balance these career-enriching opportunities with life-enriching ones.
Acquire new skills
The world is changing faster than ever before; every major program offered at Winona State University is characterized by technological innovation and rapid advancement. Graduation does not mark the end of learning, but rather a shift in how new knowledge and skills are acquired. Aim to undertake one professional self-improvement project each year. Learn a new technique or software program, revise a protocol to conform to new standards, earn a specialty certification, take a graduate class.
When my diet counseling clients express skepticism about physical activity goals we are setting, I ask them to name an activity they have wanted to try: swimming, zumba, kayaking and weight lifting are just a few I have heard. We identify stumbling blocks – lack of access, funds, equipment, knowledge, confidence, and others – and find ways to circumvent them. Acquiring new skills keeps clients motivated and engaged in a physical activity routine that will be key to achieving their physical goals. Similarly, new skills keep employees motivated and engaged as their career goals evolve.
While many seasoned professionals express that the workplace landscape is changing, driven largely by rapidly evolving technology, these roads to occupational wellness are timeless. Find your passion and protect it by networking with others in the field and refreshing your skills regularly.
Janet Macon, MS, RD, LD
Department of Health, Exercise and Rehabilitative Sciences
Winona State University