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Are you a doctor? If you are, then this article likely doesn’t apply to you. But if the purpose of your profession isn’t intervening in visits from the Grim Reaper, you may need a healthy dose of perspective on where your job and career fit in the hierarchy of life. Let me explain. I have been an attorney for close to 20 years. I spent the early part of my career in law firms where every case, decision, hour or minute seemed life or death. I had panic attacks, rarely slept and fell into a world where my life was wholly dominated by what happened on a daily basis at work. If I had a bad day at work, I had a bad day in life. My mood was a reflection of my bosses’ moods, and there was an unhealthy lack of separation in my life between personal and professional.
Looking back, I realize that the issue was simply one of perspective. There is nothing wrong with having substantial career aspirations or being a high achiever. Moreover, there is nothing wrong with loving your career and consistently seeking advancement. But you can’t let your inner drive and ambition overwhelm your entire existence. Deadlines are deadlines, they should be met, and the quality of work product can be a reflection of your character because it shows the level of your engagement and your pride. That said, let’s compare what we do in the business world to professions that involve the next level of pressure.
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The importance of having perspective
An emergency room doctor may be presented with multiple life or death cases on a single shift. The wrong intubation tube or an improper dose of medicine may mean the difference between minutes or years remaining in that patient’s life. There are precision munitions in existence now that can literally track soldiers and follow them around corners. Imagine if avoiding these smart weapons was your daily existence. A fireman may be tasked with choosing several paths through a burning house. One may result in a life saved, another may be a floor collapse and the fireman’s life lost. In other words, there are professions that exist in which real, and potentially catastrophic, consequences result from every decision made.
In this context, deciding whether the bulk of your webinar presentation is drafted in Arial vs. Times New Roman seems pretty inconsequential, doesn’t it? But that won’t necessarily prevent your boss from lambasting you if they prefer one font over the other. When these inconsequential decisions start to feel like life or death, all perspective has been lost. And that is when the lines between your personal and professional life can blur — resulting in fear, dread, or at a minimum, significant unhappiness.
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How to gain perspective
So, how do we fix this? How do we inject some perspective into our professional worlds? And what will be the result? First, if your career is in its infancy, keep this in mind as you grow and progress, and perhaps, that will result in systemic solutions to these issues. But if you’ve already progressed into management, leadership or even ownership of your business, it’s never too late to do an internal evaluation. It is incredibly simple to get so ingrained in the daily challenges of your professional life that you can forget that, in the grand scheme of things, they don’t matter.
That’s not to say that closing your next deal isn’t important or that publicly introducing the newest feature on your tech product isn’t valuable and inspiring. To the contrary, happiness is partially derived by feeling like your professional life is fulfilling and has meaning. But if that deal doesn’t close, or that feature is delayed by a few months … you are going to be okay. If you work for a boss or a company that doesn’t share this sentiment, get out and get out now — because it’s not going to change.
I have a good example of lost perspective from a former employer. Without getting into the gory details, let’s just say that the company was so driven to reach certain financial goals and metrics, that employees within the company started manufacturing data to help achieve those goals. Several of the executives are now under indictment by the federal government for fraud. Perspective. There is nothing in your professional life that warrants potentially losing your freedom.
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Stop sacrificing your happiness
Being self-reflective, I can candidly say I’ve lost professional perspective more than my fair share of times in my career. It’s caused me pain, anxiety and unnecessary misery. But it’s also why I can write this article today. Because I look back on those moments and can say nothing but “what the hell was I thinking?” And, to a great extent, “what was everyone around me thinking?” because it was also the environment that helped to create that undo pressure.
I am proud to say that my current company, New Era ADR, is hyper-focused on our team as people, their wellness and that the culture is based on the fundamental premise that the things that happen outside of work are almost always more important than what happens inside of work. I believe what we are doing is important and has the potential to make people’s lives better. But if achieving our professional goals means sacrificing the personal lives of the team, then those are not goals worth achieving.
At the end of the day, it’s all about perspective. We get a finite period of time on this planet to have professional success (making an impact, creating value) and personal success (having fun, enjoying life, finding experiences). These two pieces must be in balance, and one should never dominate the other. If you’ve reached the point where your professional life completely eclipses your personal life, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself: “Am I saving lives?” If you’re not, close the computer, get out of the office, and go have some fun. I promise you, you’ll gain some perspective.