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How to Craft a Fulfilling Career

Jun. 10, 2022 Kellogg Insight

Carter Cast, a clinical professor of entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School and author of The Right—and Wrong—Stuff: How Brilliant Careers are Made and Unmade, describes the disconnect between our stated values and our actual behaviors as an “integrity gap.” 

These gaps often emerge gradually, when we find ourselves making incremental values trade-offs that begin to erode our sense of personal integrity. 

For example, an MBA graduate may take a role that requires a heavy workload and plenty of work travel, vowing not to lose touch with good friends and committing to stay only as long as it takes to acquire specific job skills. They realize that the rigors of the job may threaten to affect their relationships and hobbies. Yet, they are willing to accept this grueling situation, knowing it is for a limited time. 

Until it isn’t. The money is nice, and two years becomes three, then four, then five. Soon enough, their personal life does not remotely reflect their intentions. 

Avoiding an integrity gap can be achieved through reflection and consistent recalibration, says Cast. Below, he shares tools to keep your values and actions more closely aligned.

Commit to Regular Self-Audits

Understanding both your values—those things important enough to you that you don’t want them to be part of any trade-offs—and your motives—those things that give you energy and fulfill you—is critical to making better career decisions. Gaining that understanding takes a bit of self-reflection. 

“Check in with yourself on a regular basis,” Cast says, “about what motivates you and what you consider to be most important in your life. If you do that, you’ll be less likely to find yourself in a job that no longer aligns with your values.”

Maybe you’ve stayed too long in a job where you work every weekend, or no longer feel you are progressing or being challenged. Maybe you just want more time with people you love. Recognizing that can be tough, especially for high-achieving people. 

“For a number of years, I was not very self-reflective,” Cast says. “I just put my head down and worked. But in my early forties, I realized that I had an empty personal life. I was lonely and realized that progressing in my career wasn’t enough. I needed to recalibrate and create the context for a richer, more balanced life.” 

Eventually, Cast realized the importance of having a keen sense of what motivated and energized him. This knowledge helped him identify jobs congruent with those motivations. 

“I asked myself: How can I get paid to do what I love? That question fueled my self-exploration,” Cast says. “I began to listen to my inner self and started making changes in my life to follow it. That meant realizing I loved teaching and counseling people. From there, it dawned on me that I really wanted to be a teacher, not a c-suite executive.” 

Cast suggests conducting a two-part audit. First, create an activity-by-activity list of how you spend your time, drawing from the past month of activities in your calendar. Then, label each activity by whether you consider it an “energy creator,” “neutral,” or an “energy reducer.” Cast color-codes his audit—red for energy reducers, yellow for neutral activities, and green for energy creators.

At the end of the month, pull out the audit and look for trends. Do certain activities give you energy? If so, how can you create a work environment where you do more of that? Do certain activities demotivate you? Can you take them off your plate?

“I was 38 years old and I felt stuck, and I did this very exercise at a Comfort Inn Suites in Colorado one night,” Cast says. “I actually pulled out my resume to refresh my memory and started listing all the activities I’d done in different assignments. I had a list of about 50 work activities.” 

When Cast assessed his audit, he saw that many of the tasks that motivated and inspired him were not part of his current job. He took that as a sign and left that job within a couple of months.

“I realized that it wasn’t just about progressing in my career,” Cast says. “It was about finding ‘good work’ that was a heartfelt expression of myself, work that energized me and had meaning both to me and to those with whom I interacted.” 

Set Boundaries 

Armed with the result from your time and energy audit, you can begin reconfiguring your overall calendar to draw closer to the activities that energize you, while articulating where your limits are.

For example, if your job demands long hours which negatively impact your family, set defined boundaries to make the work more tolerable. This might mean eating dinner with your family a certain number of nights a week or capping the number of late-night calls you are willing to take.

“Most integrity gaps emerge when we ignore—or never set—our non-negotiables,” Cast says. “It’s up to you to know where that line is. What are your non-negotiables? That’s something to think about before you dive into a new job.”

“It’s up to you to know where that line is. What are your non-negotiables? That’s something to think about before you dive into a new job.”

— Carter Cast

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