Ah, the sweet ascent of success. Once upon a time, this was equated to feverishly climbing the corporate ladder and landing a coveted corner office. Today, these outdated notions are as antiquated as typewriters. Modern-day markers of professional achievement follow a new model that incorporate aspirations of a fulfilling work-life balance—whether that means freedom to work from home a few days a week or making a lateral move into a dream position and forgoing regularly scheduled salary bumps. With each passing decade an individual’s goals and expectations—professional and personal—evolve. As such, the definition of success is reinterpreted. These are the new benchmarks by which each generation can confidently declare, “I made it.” Plan accordingly.
Lifestyle design has become a priority during job offers and negotiations, rightly so thanks to technology and the ability to be mobile. A 9-to-5 day at a brick-and-mortar office just doesn’t cut it for most rising professionals who are focusing more on quality output than a long and draining commute to a physical office. Flexibility can come in the form of telecommuting, a compressed workweek or taking on freelance roles and part-time opportunities to cobble together a sustainable income while building an impressive and diverse portfolio. The latter is becoming increasingly desirable. According to the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics, more than 20 million working Americans choose to work part-time—a deliberate move to attain work-life balance. John Brubaker, productivity expert and author of Seeds of Success: Leadership, Legacy and Life Lessons Learned, explained, “It’s important because that generation has seen their workaholic parents give and give and give only to not get much back in return.”
Give a little and gain a lot through volunteering as early on as possible. Not only does it feel good to give back at a soup kitchen, clothing drive or community project like cleaning up a local park, these encounters are opportunities to cultivate new contacts to network with while simultaneously creating a standout resume. “Build your skill sets and try to vary the experiences and organizations, which in effect broadens your resume,” recommended Marsha Egan, CSP, PCC, a success strategist and workplace productivity expert. Volunteering also boosts emotional and physical well-being, contributing to that all important work-life balance in a selfless manner.
In the past, blowing out the candles on a 30th birthday cake meant having finite structure—a family to support, a mortgage to pay, a plan not to be deviated from until at least retirement. Today, young professionals are choosing bolder options, as experts deemed they should. “If you don’t take some risks, like pursuing entrepreneurship or taking a year off to travel the world, it may never happen,” said Roy Cohen, career counselor and executive coach. “Just make sure that before you pull the trigger and engineer your pivot, you have a financial safety net in place.” With that “now or never” mentality, Brubaker also recommended strategically rolling the dice on a few projects or opportunities each year. “If it doesn’t work out, the experiment failed, not you. The pain of regretting not doing something is far more excruciating than regretting taking a risk that didn’t work out.”
Get on the Board
By now, work-life balance should be easily attainable. Perhaps the morning commute is 20 steps from bedroom to home office and those earlier risks have paid off in terms of finding passion in profession. Now it is time to grow your standing. Landing a spot on the board of a nonprofit is a solid place to gain social footing—this move certainly carries cache. Cohen pointed out, “You have the opportunity to hobnob with other board members who are typically successful professionals.” And yes, while joining a board usually involves committing an annual contribution, being a member means being viewed as someone who has deep enough pockets to write a check on a regular basis. There is real benefit to giving back in some capacity. It is a reminder about how fragile success may be but, more importantly, it is a way to express gratitude for good fortune, Cohen added.
Rev up for Retirement
As paychecks continue to increase, so should 401(k) contributions—by the same percentage. At this point, a trusted financial advisor should be on speed dial to dispense advice on the specific funds as well as additional retirement financial investments. Be crystal clear on your financial standing. Too many people don’t take advantage of their employer’s matching contributions while others don’t factor their resignation date into the annual match and may inadvertently resign right before they’re due money, Brubaker said, adding, “You wouldn’t leave money on the counter at the bank and walk away, would you?”
Beyond “friending” former colleagues, schoolmates and acquaintances on Facebook, really get in touch the old-fashioned way. Call them. Take former co-workers to dinner or Skype if long distances are a factor. Go ahead and get personal now. Most professionals establish boundaries when working alongside each other but at this point, it’s wise to focus on building a flourishing social base while increasing networking opportunities in the real world.
Establish a Foundation
Have a foundation established in your name before retiring. Between previous decades of volunteering and serving on the board of a nonprofit, this is the time to leverage being well-versed in the causes that are near and dear. Considering the average retirement age is now 66, according to a recent Gallup Poll, don’t wait that long to establish the foundation. Speak to an estate planner to learn the mechanics of creating one. Brubaker advised, “It’s important because the foundation becomes part of not only your legacy, but your family’s legacy and will live on long after you’re gone.”
Don’t be outpaced by younger generations and their tech savvy. Keep skills sharp by enrolling in adult education classes at a local community college or online. It doesn’t have to be a refresher course, or work-related at all. Learning a new skill is engaging, energizing and, in many cases, marketable. According to research published by Psychological Science, specific activities such as learning a mentally demanding skill like photography, improves cognitive functioning. As time marches on, and memories begin to fade, tackling something new will do a body good.
Paid time off is much needed and commonly under-underutilized. Take advantage. First, it’s paid. Americans squander $52.4 billion in PTO every year, according to a study published by Oxford Economics. That means every employee forfeits approximately five days—essentially, working a week for free. Don’t forget the adventurous, risk-taking spirit touted for 30-somethings. Go ahead and book that African safari or whirlwind European cruise! The best part: it’s a career saver. A study published in Harvard Business Review discovered that for each additional 10 hours of vacations employees took, the following year their performance reviews were eight percent higher. Bon voyage!