5 Habits for Creating a Career You Can Love

The career you have today is the cumulative result of the choices you have made up until now.

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Curt Rosengren

The career you have today is the cumulative result of the choices you have made up until now. The career you have next year, or 10 years from now, will stem from the choices you make starting today.

Some of those choices will be conscious, while others will be the result of ingrained habits. And when you develop the right habits, they can be a powerful force in propelling you in a positive direction. With that in mind, here are five habits that will move you toward a career you can love:

[See 7 steps to sustain career change.]

Career passion habit No. 1: Pay attention. Many people go through their days on autopilot. That's a shame, because it cheats them of the opportunity to gain insights that could form the basic building blocks of a career they love. Make it a habit to pay attention to two things at work: what you love about your job and what you dislike. Your goal is to understand the details of your experience, because understanding the details gives you something specific to work with as you pursue positive change. Think of your work as a big research experiment aimed at helping you uncover what energizes you and what drains you. You're conducting the experiment whether you know it or not, but unless you pay attention, you can't reap the benefits.

One way to develop this habit is to schedule a regular time to take stock of what's happening. Maybe that's an end-of-day review or a weekly—perhaps monthly—one. The frequency is less important than the fact that you're paying attention.

[See how to change your work and the world.]

Career passion habit No. 2: Reverse-engineer your insights. Paying attention gives you insights into what works for you and what doesn't. In this reverse-engineering habit, you peel back the layers of those insights. It's about asking why, as in "Why do I enjoy this so much? What is it about this that is so appealing? Why does this drive me nuts? What is it about this that grates on me?"

Asking why lets you turn situational insights ("I love/hate it when x happens or when I do y") into underlying insights ("These are the reasons that I love/hate this"). The result is what you might call a "transferable insight," something that can be applied in other situations, not just in your job as it exists today. For example, in my coaching work, one of the reasons I love working with clients is the element of exploration and discovery. Once I understand that exploration and discovery are a big source of juice for me, I can look for more ways to incorporate them into my future choices (i.e., How else can I get that sense of exploration and discovery?). I could investigate opportunities to bring more of that into my current career path, or, if I were on the wrong path, I could incorporate it into my new path.

[See how to do what doesn't come naturally.]

Career passion habit No. 3: Seek change. As the saying goes, the only thing you can count on is change. Use that fact to your advantage. Too many people view their jobs as though they are chiseled in stone. The reality is that most people's work is much more malleable than they realize, especially when they treat time as a variable.

With the habit of seeking change, you focus on incorporating more of what energizes you and reducing what drains you. The insights you gained via habits No. 1 and No. 2 are now the building blocks for change. Using those insights, you can continually ask, "How can I build on what is working? How can I change what I don't like?" Some changes will be big and others small. Over time, you might be surprised at just how much potential there is for change when you consciously, consistently look for opportunities to sculpt your work.

Career passion habit No. 4: Think both short term and long term. As I mentioned above, time is a game-changing variable. What is impossible today might be possible next year or five years from now. Focusing exclusively on the short term is one of the biggest things that keep people stuck and prevent them from creating a path that energizes and inspires them. When your view of what's possible in your career comes primarily from a short-term perspective, it limits your potential. Why? Because when you base your decisions only on the possibilities you can readily see, you neglect the fact that as you move forward, so does the horizon. Your world becomes limited to what you can see from your current vantage point. Make a habit of asking yourself regularly, "What can I do today? What can I do by next year? What can I do by five years from now?"

Career passion habit No. 5: Check your focus. All of the above habits are externally focused. The last habit turns your attention inward. Are you looking at the positive, or have you fallen into the trap of playing an endless loop of what's wrong. Are you thankful for what you have, or do you spend energy resenting what you don't? Do you look for reasons to be optimistic, or are you addicted to pessimism? Paying attention to what is happening between your ears can be just as important as paying attention to what is going on in your career.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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