Summer is the typical time of vacations, taking a break to relax, unwind, catch up on reading, travel, and often just “chill out”.  My family added a new ritual to our summer this year, a “sleep away” camp for our eleven year old son.  A rite of passage for many kids, this camping experience represents a time to grow and adapt, becoming a little more independent.  For my son I knew this intense time with his peers could be an essential time of self-discovery.   His savvy camp counselors had designed the daily topics around the functions on a remote control, something a kid could relate to.  The idea was to use the concepts of PAUSE, REWIND, STOP, and FAST-FORWARD to do a little self-exploration and planning.  I realized these concepts are essential to good career management as well.

PAUSE – We need to hit PAUSE button frequently.   It’s important to take a break from the frantic pace of our careers and family lives in order to get some perspective on what it all means.  We pause to recharge …. to reconsider …. to evaluate.  Taking a PAUSE can come in the form of a big vacation or sabbatical, or it can be a simple weekly ritual of reflection, or even a daily means to step back and consider what’s happening.  The most successful job seekers I’ve worked with have an uncanny ability to self-reflect and stay positive.   The book Positivity by Barbara L. Fredrickson identifies ten forms of positivity:  joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love.  “Each person’s pathway to flourishing is unique”, she acknowledges, and “increasing positivity begins with self-study”.  PAUSE to consider how your career is unfolding and whether this path is a positive force in your life.

REWIND – the past things in our careers will shape us in many ways, but do those things define us?  Identity is a complicated subject to be sure.  “Many people hurtle back to their past – to signal events, memorable triumphs, painful disasters – in order to define themselves” writes Marshall Goldsmith in his book  Mojo (How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back If You Lose It).  This book dives deep into the issues of identity, achievement, reputation and acceptance, and has plenty of practical advice on how to understand and enhance your “mojo”, that positive spirit you bring to everything you do.

FAST FORWARD – most of us started our professional careers with relatively little experience, a great business education and, likely a healthy dose of ambition.  Yet as our careers unfold each one of us begins to define success is our own unique way.  Even so, we all know people who’ve managed to achieve something extraordinary in their careers – someone who seems to have hit the FAST FORWARD button and landed at the top of his or her field….someone who seems to “have it all”. Two principals of Spencer Stuart, a preeminent executive recruiting agency, set out to study hundreds of C-level executives and determine what their success had in common.  Their research is revealed in the book, The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers  (by James Citrin and Richard Smith) which shows that even though careers are highly complex and individualistic, there are distinct patterns that correlate to success over time.  They lay out a set of concepts that answer the question “what deliberate thoughts and actions can you institute to create extraordinary success and fulfillment in your own career?”.        

STOP – is it time to consider a complete career shift, a big change or a new direction?  I recently began work with an alumna who has been with the same company for over 15 years.  Her industry is suffering and she’s now facing a layoff.   In fact, she’d been unhappy in this job, both the role and the company, for a long time.  She’d been at an impasse, or “stuck” in her words, for years, just marking time in a career she no longer found rewarding.   She had never been willing to hit the STOP button, because she couldn’t articulate what she wanted to do instead.    As Timothy Butler explores in Getting Unstuck:  How Dead Ends Become New Paths, our journey through a difficult impasse can help us “develop better instincts – and greater confidence – about how to identify the types of work, the people, and the environments that will fulfill us the most”.

Regardless of where your career stands, everyone needs to take time occasionally to reflect and recharge.   I always use some of my summer “pause” time to get through a backlog of reading, including a few career ‘self-help’ titles.    I hope your summer includes some time to relax and renew, and maybe you’ll add a new career guide to your reading list too.

Marty Speight (MBA ’96), Associate Director of the Armstrong Center for Alumni Career Services at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.