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The Worst Thing You Can Do In Your Career

Stew Friedman is a Wharton professor who encourages his students to share intimate details of their lives, while the profs down the hall are talking about statistical analysis. But he’s aiming a bit higher than the standard business school fare; Stew helps students – and the rest of us – better manage the interaction of four domains: work, home, community, and the private self.

Here’s a typical soundbite:

“I encourage you to clarify what you care about most, then who you care about most, then discover thru dialogues what you need and expect from each other. In most cases, this reveals you have more room to maneuver than you thought.”

Stew argues that simply trying to achieve “work/life balance” is not nearly enough. Instead, you have to choose the people who matter to you, and actively seek opportunities for change that you haven’t seen before. This happens, he says, when you shift your frame of reference to thinking about not just what’s good for you, or your career, or your family, or your community. Instead, you need to look at all four together.
In his latest book, Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life, he devotes the second half of the book to 36 practical exercises that help you focus on the intersection of these four domains. The first half focuses on six individuals who manage this intersection well, including a few names we all know quite well.
Right in between these two halves, a short chapter attracted my attention. It says the worst thing you can do is fail to grow. I couldn’t resist asking Stew to talk a bit about this.

“It’s crystal-clear to me, 30 years down the road, that you can’t be successful without continually cultivating the skills that take you further,” said Stew.
In other words, if you stop growing, you will stop advancing. He uses Bruce Springsteen, one of the people he profiles, to show what growth entails.

“At the beginning of his Rising tour, perhaps the 1st show in the summer 2002, I was right in front. Throughout the show, Bruce was pounding on the band, continually focusing on corrections and improvements, much of it in between songs.”
The not-so-subtle message: if Bruce Springsteen still continually strives to grow, learn and improve… what’s your excuse?

One place where Stew and I share common ground is with regards to the value of helping others. He observes, “It’s a paradox: leading the life you want requires striving to help others.”

Growing doesn’t just mean getting better at your job. It also means getting better at helping the people who matter to you.
Deal with others, says Stew, “In a way that’s mutually reinforcing. You still can’t have everything you want. Think creatively about opportunities for mutual value over all the aspects of your interactions and across the arc of your life.”



Credit: Bruce Kasanoff

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