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Living in the moment as a career management strategy

Don’t focus too much on the past or future

By Brian Kreissl

One of my most popular blog posts ever was the one I wrote last year about mindfulness.

While mindfulness is a popular concept, I wasn't necessarily talking about the most popular context which relates to meditation, quiet reflection and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of one’s current surroundings.

Instead, I was referring to the idea of living in the moment and concentrating on the here and now, as opposed to living in the past or obsessing over the future. I was also recommending people put down their smartphones and pay more attention to their actual family and social lives as opposed to social media.

Those concepts are all closely related, but I was most interested in talking about enjoying what you’re currently doing and giving it your undivided attention — whether at work or at home. That has important implications not only for personal happiness and fulfillment, but also for one’s career and the ability to get things done.

In spite of how important the concept of living in the moment is for me personally, I haven’t always practiced what I preached in that regard. I have been guilty of being both incurably nostalgic and obsessive about the future at the same time — while forgetting to stop and smell the roses.

Obsessing over the past and future

Our past is important to us. It helps to shape and define who we are, and ‎decisions made in our past ultimately affect our present and future. I sometimes feel constrained by my past and wish I could escape it and get a do-over.

But who knows what paths our lives would have taken if we hadn’t made certain choices? In many cases, what seems like a bad decision now may still turn out to be the right one in the end.

However, I don’t generally look upon my past negatively. While I definitely have regrets and wish I could go back and change certain things, I’m much more likely to remember the past with “rose coloured glasses.”

For me personally, though, the real problem hasn’t been excessive nostalgia. For a large part of my life, I actually spent so much of my time planning and obsessing over my future that it impacted my ability to enjoy the present.

I spent so much time with my head in the clouds that I became a bit absent-minded and began to neglect certain aspects of my life. As a result, time flew and opportunities passed me by.

Believe it or not, my biggest problem in this regard has been obsessing over my career. I wish I had a dollar for every hour I’ve spent planning my next move in my path to a corner office and poring over university websites trying to decide what courses to take that might help me reach my goals.

Implications for HR practitioners

While everyone should have a career plan, obsessing over one’s career and exploring every possible what-if scenario just results in worry, unhappiness and “analysis paralysis.” Constantly focusing on the future tends to take one’s mind off the present and what needs to get accomplished today.

While planning is important, it’s even more important to be decisive. Make a plan and stick to it — at least until it no longer makes sense or the time comes to re-evaluate your goals.

It is extremely important to focus on doing a good job right now. But you won’t be able to do that if your mind is constantly somewhere else.

Don’t think of any job as beneath you or only a stepping stone to something bigger and better. You never know when a job you initially thought of as just something to pay the bills ends up leading to a rewarding and fulfilling career.

I know it is particularly tough for HR professionals right now. Everyone seems to want to have a go at HR these days — with some predicting the eventual demise of the function or complaining how we supposedly don’t add value to organizations.

While there’s no doubt HR is changing — and it is necessary to keep abreast of emerging trends and best practices in the profession — HR professionals still need to concentrate on doing their best under the current conditions while planning for the future. We really can’t control the future, but we can control the here and now.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, Thomson Reuters Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Brian Kreissl

Brian Kreissl is the product development manager for Thomson Reuters Legal Canada's human resources, OH&S, payroll and records retention products and solutions.
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  • Re: Career Planning
    Thursday, February 19, 2015 7:36:00 PM by Brian Kreissl
    Thank you for your comment but, on the contrary, I believe I made it pretty clear in my post just how important career planning is. It really isn't something that should be taken lightly or left to chance - unless you're simply looking for a job as opposed to an actual career.

    However, I also believe one of the best ways to set yourself up for career success is to take whatever you are currently doing seriously and do your best. While it is true that, all else being equal, potential counts for more than performance, people won't generally be considered for a promotion if they don't take their current jobs seriously or do a good job.

    There is no shame in honest work, and it is never a good idea to simply think of a job as being unimportant because one really isn't in a "career job" just yet. At what point does what we're doing for a living stop being just a dress rehearsal and a way to pay the bills and become our actual careers?

    It is also true that careers often have a way of taking us in a direction we hadn't initially considered. I have previously blogged about this before, but sometimes no matter how much we would like our careers to go in a certain direction, our aptitudes, abilities, employers, families, finances, the economy and society in general tell us it just isn't going to happen. You can either swim with the current or against it, and while I believe it is great to be tenacious up to a point, eventually we have to be realistic and decide it's time to go in a different direction from what we had originally planned.

    I did say in my post it is important to have a career plan, but making plans and working towards them is very different from constantly obsessing over one's future and career - something I had been guilty of in the past. You cannot know what I personally went through, but I have spent literally thousands of hours planning and re-planning my career, poring over course calendars and university, college and professional association websites. I have planned my career and changed my mind countless times and spent countless angst-ridden near sleepless nights tossing and turning over the future direction of my career.

    Being a planner hasn't helped me. That's why I believe living in the moment (to a certain extent) is best rather than obsessively planning for and worrying about the future and every possible contingency that could arise. Have a plan - yes - but I believe it is important to make a decision about one's career, be decisive and stick to that plan - at least until things change or circumstances force us to re-evaluate our decisions. While I don't believe in being a Pollyanna or failing to give your career any thought, constantly worrying about your career isn't healthy either.