As we begin the new year, you’ll find plenty of advice articles about making New Year’s resolutions and, for skeptics, you can even find articles about cultivating “anti-New Year’s resolutions” too.
Regardless of where you stand on this common practice of making resolutions, we have all perhaps felt the pressure to take stock of our lives and career as the old year tapers to an end and assess whether something may be falling short on our expectations.
Next year will be different!, we tell ourselves. I’ll be better!, we say. We make lots of sweeping, high-pressured promises—to improve our health, to indulge less, spend more time with family and friends. While we may love the idea of fresh starts, new experiences, and transformations, the truth is that over 80% of New Year’s resolutions fail.
Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada, describes resolutions as a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, but the high failure rate of New Year’s resolutions often occurs because we set unrealistic goals and expectations.
A few years ago, while considering a career change of my own (from teaching in academia to UX/UI design), I did what many people do when they’re in the thick of an important decision and need a quick pick-me-up—I got a haircut. At the salon, I met a hairstylist—an African American woman and mother in her thirties—who told me about her recent career change, from successful financial advisor to hair stylist. She shared about her long-standing curiosity about hairstyling since she was a young girl and, while she liked her old job well enough and made a generous salary, she wanted to give something new a try.
She planned ahead to ensure the career transition went as smoothly as possible and also saved money for two years. As a single parent, she arranged for family to help with babysitting when she would be at hairstyling school. Some people told her she was making a mistake and would regret this decision. However, when I asked how she was liking her new career, she paused, smiling, and turned to me in the mirror and said, “I’m loving it.”
What strikes me about this woman and this conversation is that her decision felt very much based on a focused listening to herself and her dreams, while tuning out the white noise of pressures (societal and social expectations, as well as self-induced pressures to follow a certain, prescribed path). Ultimately, she reached her goals through resolve and patience, using steps that were actionable and realistic.
According to a CareerBuilder survey, many of the top New Year’s resolutions are related to career dissatisfaction. For instance, 1 in 5 people want to land a new job in the new year while “learning something new” and “being less stressed” were also popular.
Living in a world in which we’re constantly bombarded with external stimuli, we may find it challenging to quiet the internal noise in order to truly hear ourselves and what we want to attain in our lives. Rather than focusing too much on the year ahead (which can automatically induce an array of pressures), let’s look back—a kind of year in review, so to speak—to hone in on what we truly might be telling ourselves and take the time to reflect on important questions that may offer more clarity about next steps.
Are you seeking more fulfillment in your career?
If so, what kind of fulfillment?
If possible, try to imagine “fulfillment” in more concrete terms. Does fulfillment involve you being able to travel more and work from a cafe anywhere in the world? Or perhaps you define fulfillment as involving more creativity in your career? Or feeling more empowered about your contributions to a team? Or does fulfillment mean making a meaningful impact in the world?
Describing the implications of fulfillment in our working lives, Designlab’s co-founder, Harish Venkatesan, says,
Work can be so much more than a way to eke out a living and get by. At its best and most aspirational, work is a vehicle to find purpose, autonomy, and flow ... Something really magical happens when you immerse yourself in challenging work that you love and have some skill at. The hours fly by and you seem to lose yourself in that pursuit: for some, this is a sign that they have found their life’s vocation.