How (and Why) to Build a Sustainable Career
Crafting a sustainable career for a long-term career
Over the last several decades, the career landscape has changed drastically. With the proliferation of technology, new approaches to virtually everything—from both employees and employers—and a disruptive global recession (among other things), the “old” ways of working don’t cut it anymore.
COVID-19 has upended the world of work even more. Workers who still have jobs have had to be exceptionally nimble, and millions of others have lost their jobs entirely, left to figure out the next steps in an uncertain economy.
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing has become clear—crafting a sustainable career is one of the best things you can do for long-term career success.
What Is a Sustainable Career?
At its most basic, a sustainable career is one that endures over time through the entire work lifecycle. Not to be confused with a “green” career in sustainability, a sustainable career is one that can grow with you throughout the years, that has meaning to you, and that makes good use of your skills and experience. With so much up in the air these days, crafting a sustainable career that can carry you through both good and challenging times is a worthy (and necessary) pursuit.
A sustainable career enables you to stay healthy, happy, productive, and employable throughout its span—and fits in with the rest of your life at every stage. In other words, it’s a career that is the perfect “fit” for you, whenever and wherever you’re at.
Researchers describe a sustainable career as one that is aligned with your interests, strengths, and values, and offers ongoing learning and renewal. Ultimately, building a sustainable career will give you the ability to maintain several aspects of your career and life over the long-term.
Job Performance and Productivity
Performing well on the job requires up-to-date skills, knowledge, and creativity, along with traits like a positive attitude and perseverance. A sustainable career enables productivity and job performance by focusing on continuous learning and adaptability.
A sustainable career provides security via employability, which is the ability to maintain employment or find new employment as necessary. Constant learning and mental flexibility foster employability.
Sustainable careers support a healthy work-life balance for each and every stage of your life and career. Whether this means a manageable workload in your early career years so you can pursue outside interests, flexible schedules to help you balance caregiving duties in your mid-career, or reduced hours as you head toward retirement later in your career, work-life balance is a central feature of a sustainable career.
A sustainable career supports both your physical and mental health. Poor health of any kind impacts your ability to consistently perform well or deal with challenging personal or professional issues. What’s more, an unhealthy state reduces enjoyment of life, decreasing motivation to excel at work.
How To Build a Sustainable Career
1. Know That You Are in Charge
Careers of the past were more of a passive endeavor. You find a job with a company in your field, spend years climbing the corporate traditional ladder, and then retire. For the most part, your career trajectory was predictable and didn’t require much steering from you.
These days, predictability is out the window! It’s up to you, and only you, to craft a career that’s fulfilling, meaningful, and that makes the best use of your skills, experience, and life goals. You know yourself better than anyone, so it’s time to take charge and chart your own path.
2. Have a Growth Mindset
When you believe and understand that your talents and abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication, your ability to build a sustainable career is limitless. This type of proactive mindset leads to the development of current skills that employers need and want.
When you’re committed to continuous learning, you are taking control of your career and are a more engaged, happy, and productive employee.
3. Document Your Value
Taking the time to keep track of how you add value in your job will help you continue to align yourself with not only your own career goals but with your company’s goals and needs. As business priorities shift, knowing exactly where your value lies and how you contribute will enable you to alter your course as needed.
4. Work With People Who Energize You
Few things can boost a sustainable career like working with people who make you feel energized and passionate about your work, day in and day out. If these smart, connected people aren’t on your immediate team (or company), seek them out and find ways to work together outside of your regular work duties.
5. See the End Game
A sustainable career is all about the end game. Hone your distance vision by keeping your eyes open for future trends in the ever-changing workplace. Meeting new people, networking in your industry, and learning new perspectives will help you spot new opportunities. Furthermore, think about what’s important to you personally. Perhaps you’ve climbed the traditional corporate ladder but plan on having a family and would like to shift your focus to part-time employment. Whatever appeals to you, keep in mind that a career “path” can zig and zag, and doesn’t need to be as linear as it’s sometimes made out to be.
6. Get Flexible
One of the cornerstones of sustainable careers is having the flexibility and work-life balance you need to be happy, healthy, and productive through all your working years. Without that balance, you are more at risk for burnout at work and stress that leaks into the rest of your life and puts your entire career path at risk.
Working at a flexible job improves your work-life balance and enables you to have a life outside of your work. This, in turn, enables you to stay in your career over the long-term, no matter what challenges come your way.
Building Your Sustainable Career
The key to building a sustainable career is knowing yourself inside and out—what you bring to the table, what your goals are, and what makes you feel energized. Once you have a handle on how your unique skills and interests can add value in the workplace, you’ll be ready to build a sustainable career.