One of my biggest career killers has been my own reactions to events outside of my control. I have this tendency to take these things in, and harbor them like they belong to me. Sure they do, in their own way – they happened, and have had an effect on my mind state and my own self-perception. But at times I let them drag me away from my life goals, the things that give me energy without depleting me.

I recognize that everyone is different. I also recognize that when I am clear headed, I am thinking about things that excite me: building things, books I want to explore, places I’d like to see in my life time. Ideas get me excited, and give me an energy that transforms into the energy that helps me explore those ideas, and the energy that helps produce something as a result.

One of the best takeaways I had from the book “Thanks For the Feedback” is that when you have a problem, you are contributing in some way to that problem, and it is your responsibility to discover that contribution. When things happen that ding my career, I need to recognize how I’ve contributed to the situation and the resulting setback.

A more grounded nuance to this idea is that our jobs are not always specifically designed to work with the best parts of what we each have to offer. Being in the midst of work that is the right balance of reward and challenge is a function of management, timing, and product opportunity.

When all these things line up, you’ll be doing really rewarding work for 20% of your work week. This is more than enough to sustain you through all the other less interesting things you wind up doing in the course of your work.

More often things are not aligning in the way which allows us to engage in our best work, the work that plays to our strengths or ambitions. In those cases, I have a couple ideas and tools which might help keep you fresh, and sustain you through what I might call the “low” times.

  • Read a book about a topic something totally unrelated to your work which still excites you. Often I find ideas relevant to my current work reading about fields that are marginally related.
  • Take some type of contributory action. I joined Code for America because its mission is related to a greater cause, and that connection has me coding when I would normally be lacking that drive
  • Take some type of physical action. I think just about anything fits here, and that plenty of words have been written about the value of exercise. In the mornings I just run a mile. I’m not going to be doing crazy distances, but it kicks my day off.

Allowing our career paths to fluctuate and be redirected by forces beyond our control is not the debilitating killer it is often made out to be. The energy required to fight those forces is better spent elsewhere, building habits and making efforts that are more representative of our best selves.