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Your Career is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The ING New York City Marathon is set for Sunday, November 3, and naturally every year I am inspired to draw an analogy between a marathon run and careers.

Living and working in New York we are constantly pressured into producing more, faster and more efficiently, making our careers feel a whole lot more like a sprint than we would like. You might think that rushing your way to the top is the best way to higher pay and greater security, but for most people, that just isn’t the case. Concentrating on acquiring unique, irreplaceable and transferable skills through every job you hold is the key to true upward mobility, which requires the patience and perseverance characteristic of…you guessed it: A great long-distance runner.  Below are three reasons why your career is less sprint and more marathon.

Your Career is a Marathon, Not a Sprint (Photo: iStockphoto)

Your Career is a Marathon, Not a Sprint (Photo: iStockphoto)

Your career may change up to seven times
Over the course of your life, you can expect to go through several careers (researchers say up to seven) with every additional skill, unique experience and decision-making capability you gain adding to your overall value to an organization. Among my most successful and intriguing clients and friends, I certainly see evidence of that clearly with one individual sticking out in my mind. He started out in finance, equity research (career one), transitioned to the buy side (hedge funds, career 2), said enough was enough and transitioned to non-profit work (career 3), and is now an independent statistician (career 4). And his age? 34 years old. My goodness, what will he be doing in his 40s and 50s? My guess is something international and development-related. Great story that reminds me that your career and what you want to do can be really whatever inspires you!

Technologies change, but fundamental business skills are timeless
As the platforms for conducting business continue to change at what appears to be breakneck speed, you can either refresh your skills to learn the new tools of your trade or get left behind (marathon reference). Identify development areas when it comes to computers and technology so you can always hit the ground running wherever you go. Also important to note, make sure you are aware of the preferred methods in which consumers wish to engage – these days, through social media (right?), and not through direct mail. The fundamentals for business success – great product, service quality, trust, customer loyalty – all remain whether or not you sell from a briefcase or from your iPad, so continue to develop and refine those skills, and set yourself up for future success.

Opportunities take time to materialize
If you’ve ever started looking for a job while presently employed, you already know that it can take a very long time for the next great step in your career to come to pass. Getting plucked quickly from one great job to another is the exception rather than the rule; so learning to be patient in your current position is critical to the health of your career. Rushing (or “sprinting”) to a new role just for the sake of change may backfire. A more deliberate, thoughtful approach to advancing your career is advised, especially if you have the luxury of time, a current employer, and you don’t wish to have any regrets regarding your choices. You can and will cross the finish line – in a time that will leave you proud!

Debra Wheatman is a certified writer and career coach who has guided the professional development of thousands of clients globally. She is reachable at

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