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Are you a doctor? If so, this article probably doesn’t apply to you. But if the purpose of your profession doesn’t interfere with visits from the Grim Reaper, you may need a healthy dose of perspective on where your job and career fit in life’s hierarchy. Let me explain. I have been a lawyer for almost 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 started having panic attacks, rarely slept and fell into a world where my life was completely dominated by what happened daily at work. If I had a bad day at work, I was having 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 problem was simply a matter of perspective. There is nothing wrong with having substantial career aspirations or being high achievers. Plus, there’s nothing wrong with loving your career and consistently seeking advancement. But you cannot let your inner drive and ambition overwhelm your entire existence. Deadlines are deadlines, they must be met, and the quality of the work product can be a reflection of your character as it shows the level of your commitment and your pride. That said, let’s compare what we do in the business world to professions that involve a higher level of pressure.
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The importance of having perspective
An emergency room physician may receive multiple life-or-death cases during a single shift. The wrong intubation tube or the wrong dose of medication can mean the difference between the minutes or years left in that patient’s life. Precision munitions now exist that can literally track soldiers and follow them around corners. Imagine if avoiding these smart weapons was your daily existence. A firefighter may be tasked with choosing different paths through a burning house. One could result in a life saved, another could be a floor collapse and the firefighter’s life lost. In other words, professions exist in which real and potentially catastrophic consequences result from every decision made.
In this context, it seems rather unimportant to decide whether the bulk of your webinar presentation is set up in Arial vs. Times New Roman, isn’t it? But that doesn’t necessarily stop your boss from berating you if they prefer one font over another. When these petty decisions start to feel like life or death, all perspective is lost. And that’s when the lines between your personal and professional life can become blurred – resulting in fear, anxiety, or at least significant unhappiness.
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How to get perspective
How do we solve this? How do we inject some perspective into our professional worlds? And what will be the result? First, if your career is still in its infancy, keep this in mind as you grow and progress, and perhaps that will lead to systemic solutions to these problems. But if you’ve already progressed into management, leadership, or even ownership of your company, it’s never too late to conduct an internal evaluation. It’s incredibly easy to get so ingrained in the day-to-day challenges of your professional life that you forget they don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
That’s not to say that closing your next deal isn’t important or that publicly introducing the newest feature of your tech product isn’t valuable and inspiring. On the contrary, happiness comes partly from feeling that your professional life is fulfilling and meaningful. But if that deal doesn’t close, or that feature gets delayed by a few months… you’ll be fine. 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 say the company was so driven to achieve certain financial goals and metrics that employees within the company started producing data to help achieve those goals. Several of the executives are now being charged with fraud by the federal government. Perspective. There is nothing in your professional life that justifies you possibly losing your freedom.
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Stop sacrificing your happiness
Being self-reflective, I can honestly say that I’ve lost the professional perspective more than a fair share of times in my career. It has caused me pain, fear and needless misery. But it is also the reason why I am able to write this article today. Because in those moments I look back and can’t say anything but “what the hell was I thinking?” And, in large part, “what was everyone around me thinking?” because it was also the environment that helped to create that undone pressure.
I am proud to say that my current company, New Era ADR, is hyper-focused on our team as people, their well-being and the culture is based on the fundamental premise that the things that happen outside of work are almost always more important than what happens next within work. I believe what we do is important and has the potential to improve people’s lives. But if achieving our professional goals means sacrificing the team’s personal lives, then those aren’t goals worth pursuing.
In the end, it’s all about perspective. We are given a limited period of time on this planet to have professional success (making an impact, creating value) and personal success (having fun, enjoying life, gaining experience). These two pieces should be in balance and one should never dominate the other. If you’ve reached the point where your professional life is completely overshadowing your personal life, it’s time to take a step back and ask yourself, “Am I saving lives?” If you’re not, shut down the computer, leave your office, and go have some fun. I promise you, you will gain some perspective.