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How to Avoid a Life of Quiet Desperation


Many of us don’t feel in control of our careers. Sure, we’d love to have jobs that inspire and challenge us, but so much of the factors that go into creating those dream gigs seem external to us. First, the job has to exist. Then, we have to persuade someone to hire us. Finally, we have to hope that the job doesn’t change into something we don’t want to do over time. We’d have better luck finding a unicorn, right? Wrong.

On HBR Blog Network, Monique Valcour cites Henry David Thoreau’s famous quote, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” and a recent Gallup poll that showed that two-thirds of workers are disengaged at their jobs, to show that not much has changed since “Walden” was published in 1854. Most of us don’t have what Valcour terms “sustainable careers” — in other words, ones that offer challenge, engagement, room to grow, and a sense of meaning.

To develop a sustainable career, Valcour advises taking several steps, including:

1. Recognize that you’re the “pilot” of your career. Take responsibility for charting its course.

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2. Document how you add value to the company. Do it regularly, developing a habit of keeping track of everything you add.

3. Look for chances to work with people who energize you.They’ll inspire your best work, and might be able to help you advance to a different position later on.

There are lots more tips on becoming the boss of your own career in Valcour’s post, but perhaps the most important thing to take away from her advice is to be an active participant in your life. Or, as a contemporary of Thoreau’s might have put it, be the master of your fate, and the captain of your soul.

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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