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Reinvesting in the basics

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Something has always stuck with me from a class I took in undergrad on managing your career. The professor, a man on the brink of retirement who related most things back to golf metaphors, said this:

Mastering the basics is not optional. You can have the best ideas in the room, but if you can’t get your work done on time and keep up to date with administration, you’re not going to get very far.

I thought of this often in my consulting days, when I would spend late nights at the office on client work because it felt important and visible, only to push submitting time sheets and expense reports to the last possible second because they felt like a boring waste of time.

Eventually I would catch myself, close the presentation I was working on, and turn my mind to what felt like housekeeping minutiae.

Sometimes at work those basics are critical

In a consulting firm, that housekeeping minutiae is what kept the money moving. Without my timesheet, how could our office manager bill a client? And without my expense report, how could I be reimbursed for all those airport taxis?

I was ascribing different values to different tasks, which is an important skill. But I had some misguided notions about what those values should be.

Zooming the lens out

Of course, this concept doesn’t only apply to work activities. We can take a broader look at our lives in general and see that work activities are one set of activities, while things like eating and sleeping well, moving our bodies, and having things to look forward to, are all buckets that need filling as well.

Sometimes that housekeeping minutiae is having a nutritious breakfast in the house – a make or break for a good day – but not always prioritized. Maybe when you had a chance to go to the grocery store, you were focusing instead on clearing your inbox.

Where do you ascribe the most value?

The cost of neglecting the basics

Often I speak with clients who have their career discomfort and / or their desperation to change jobs in a death grip of laser focus, while neglecting their version of the basics.

Like enjoying their lives.

Our western human experience is so over engineered at this point, that we often operate in a frantic way, moving from major project to major project, instead of just living balanced, grounded, simple lives.

Instead of just living.

“Just living” is our version of housekeeping minutiae

It’s something we push off while we’re doing what we think is the “important stuff.”

But “just living” is the fabric of a life, every time. It’s making a slow breakfast on a weekend morning. It’s watching the trees respond to the seasons. It’s taking a deep breath when you step outside. It’s putting on clothing that isn’t new or special, but that you love because it makes you feel so much like you.

Sometimes it’s picking up a broom and actually doing housekeeping.

And there can still be lots of room to build a career that matters to you.

This is what I’m learning, and what I see my clients learning. In a way it’s fashionably counter culture to say “slow down,” but that’s not what I’m saying here.

I’m saying this: when we stop overinvesting in a few far-flung fringe activities at the expense of all the basic ones, we experience more joy.

The basics might seem impossibly, well, basic, but they actually offer the greatest benefits at the lowest personal cost. Think eating well, sleeping well, breathing fresh air, living in a clean space, and having a friend.

To quote my professor once more, with some liberties:

Mastering the basics is not optional. You can have the biggest dreams in the room, but if you can’t take care of yourself and learn to enjoy the journey, you’re never going to be satisfied.

If you’re in need of a career alignment check-up, get my 12 questions to find your true north here.

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