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To Do Good Work, You’ve Got To Have Friends

Your relationships can make or break your career success


by Janice Holly Booth

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In his new book Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck, best-selling author Jon Acuff shows us how to build a career using four elements: skills, relationships, character and hustle. He talked to Life Reimagined about getting un-stuck at any point in life, and how to recognize—and utilize—the value of our relationships in that reinvention. (For tips on how to harness relationships to aid your career, try Life Reimagined’s program, Better Networking in 4 Days.)

Work doesn’t have to be miserable, you say, but it’s on us to change it. How do we reinvent the way we think about work?

The two fastest ways are to choose your attitude and adjust your expectations. When we call a job “our day job,” we denigrate it before we’ve even entered the building. Each day we need to choose to have the kind of attitude we want, until it eventually chooses us right back. 

The second thing is to be honest about our expectations. Sometimes, we carry secret expectations into work, that if hidden will never be met. If your expectation is that you’re meant to be helping people fix problems and your job keeps you isolated from people, every day is going to be frustrating. You need to be upfront about your expectations with yourself, and then see if the job is going to be able to meet them. If it’s not, you either add something else on the side of your life [like volunteering to help people in some organization] or you find a different job.

     See alsoLost Control of Your Career?

You say that we’ve all had everything we need for an amazing career from day one. What is it?

Permission to change. It’s easier to blame the economy or a bad boss when we are stuck, but the truth is, we all have the power to change. It’s not your job’s job to make sure you have a good job, it’s your job. Once you come to grips with that, you realize there’s a responsibility and a great opportunity that we all have to improve the way we work.

Tell us about the Career Savings Account.

A Career Savings Account is a simple set of investments that every great career needs. The formula is Relationships + Skills + Character x Hustle = A Career Savings Account. The problem is that most of us spend 18 years getting ready for college. Then we graduate and the next thing we get ready for is death and retirement. There’s a 40-year gap where we “just get by,” accepting the cultural lie that “a job is just a job.” That’s why we eat at TGIFriday’s not TGIMonday’s. We’ve bought into the idea that work must be miserable. We were taught to work jobs not to build careers. But, with a CSA we have the pieces we need to build long lasting careers and navigate the career transitions we all face.

Can a CSA help if you hit a career ceiling and get stuck?

When you get stuck, what you lean on the most from your CSA is the skills investment. It’s impossible to get stuck if you keep learning something new. Skills are the hammer that helps you break through a career ceiling. If you’re a graphic designer for instance, you can get frustrated that new technologies keep changing your industry. You can get mad that you have to learn how to use social media to find new clients. You can get stuck and let the industry pass you by. Or, you can learn new skills, get unstuck and prevent yourself from becoming irrelevant in your industry.   

What if you unexpectedly lose your job?

What you need most when you lose your job is your relationships. If you want to find out who your friends are, go through an unexpected job loss. The people you thought would show up disappear, and the people you didn’t think knew you existed show up to stand with you. In moments like that, you have to lean on your relationships. You have to be brave enough to ask for help. Our friends can’t help us unless they know we need help.   

How do you respond when a career opportunity suddenly appears out of nowhere?

When you get an unexpected opportunity, what you need the most is hustle. Hustle is the fuel that will help you grow a small surprise into a much larger reality. But it’s important to note that hustle isn’t just about working harder. Hustle is an act of focus not frenzy. Hustle is a scalpel. It’s not about becoming a workaholic, it’s about removing the things from your career that don’t matter and working instead on the things that do.   

           See also:  Capitalize on Your Eclectic Experience

What part do your relationships play?

In addition to helping you survive career bumps, relationships often get you the first gig. Relationships are the original job hack. Someone will take a chance on you because of a relationship. It’s easy to fake skills on a resume. It’s hard to measure someone’s character with a resume. But when your friend Bob endorses you by passing your resume to a company, he’s given you the “Bob seal of approval.” That connection point can open a lot of doors.

You cite 11 types of relationships you can have on Facebook, but only 3 you can have during your career. Tell us about those.

The three main types of career relationships are foes, friends and advocates. A foe is someone who makes your career difficult. A friend is someone you lock arms with during your career adventure. An advocate is a source of wisdom that helps you navigate your career.  

What’s your philosophy about foes, since those are the ones that seem to cause us the most anxiety?

Foes are sticky. They deserve the least amount of our time and energy but tend to get the most. This can be everyone from a mean stranger online to a family member who asks pointed questions like “Are you still trying to be a photographer?” That word “still” is a sharp little knife. When you run into a foe, one important thing to remember is what a lot of them are really saying. When you dare to change your life and work on your career, it often stirs up feelings in guilt in other people. They want to be the one who is being brave. They want to be the one who is leaning into a do over. And when they see you doing it, they get frustrated. So they lob comments your way, but what they’re really saying is “Stop, you’re making me jealous.” 

Why are advocates so important to a person’s CSA?

 We need advocates because they’ve already walked ahead of us on the road and know where all the traps and opportunities are. They can tell you what matters most. Simply finding someone who is 10 years ahead of you in an industry and asking, “What do you wish you knew when you were my age?” can open up an amazingly helpful conversation. That advocate will say, “There are 10 things that I thought were important, but I was wrong. Here are the three you’ve got to focus on.” If you were going to move to a new city, someone who had lived there for 10 years already and could tell you the lay of the land would be invaluable. That’s what a great advocate does for your career.   

Even if you have skills, character and hustle, without relationships, it’s the career version of the Emperor’s New Clothes. Why?

If you don’t have relationships, you eventually don’t have people in your life who can tell you the truth about the decisions you’re making. You don’t have people who can tell you no or question you honestly. What I’ve learned is that leaders who can’t be questioned end up doing questionable things.  

     See also:  Why You Need Friends At Work

If someone is in desperate need of a do over, what should they do first?

As an author with a new book, I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to say, “Buy multiple copies of my book Do Over.” But one thing you can do right now is take the free online assessment 

Photo Credit:  Zia Soleil/Getty