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I'm Afraid of Becoming A Zombie-Worker Mark Swartz, M.B.A. M.Ed.

About the Author

Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is Canada's Career Activist. His insights reach millions yearly as the Career Advisor, as author of the best seller "Get Wired, You're Hired," also as a professional speaker and coach on career/work issues. A former Toronto Star careers columnist, Mark's advice is forthright and practical. For Canada's biggest directory of free career articles, and for personalized coaching, please visit

You Can Stay True to Yourself While Planning Your Own Career Path

We all know a few. People who we're scared of turning into, that is. Obviously mom and dad come to mind first. But I'm thinking specifically workplace here. Like that maniac workaholic three cubicles down who's set the bar so high that the rest of us hard workers look like sloths in comparison. Or that person you thought of as a role model who just got promoted, though you hear it had less to do with her business skills than her... um... many other charms? My personal fave is the terrified and incompetent manager who makes everyone else's lives miserable, but who continues to earn far more than you or I can dream of. What's up with that?

On the road to professional success in the media industry, there are numerous bumps and twists. Among what I consider to be the most serious of challenges for career self-managers is simply this: the ever present threat of losing your true self in the scuffles and scrums of the average workday.

You all pretty much know what I mean, by now. The pressures of business, the incessant competition they take a toll on everyone. Some people are just naturally better at dealing with these kinds of stresses than others. You yourself may be among those who have found themselves questioning, on occasion, the very nature of their work, or the ways in which they are choosing to conduct their worklives. Almost always these kinds of questions are based on the desire to stay connected with who you really are. An identity of your very own. That you get to carve out yourself and live as you want to!

Because work has become so much a part of what we do, and because we often identify ourselves with our jobs (for better or for worse), it becomes increasingly critical to monitor your own built in Self-O-Meter. You know, the one that flashes out your 'I'm being true to myself' quotient--especially when you stray too far from your moral, ethical and other most prized values; the quest for balance and contributing to society in some way being just a few possible examples.

The pathway to preserving your 'self' begins, not coincidentally, with yourself. As a first step, you can take a base-line assessment of your current state:
  • Do you like the work that you do?
  • Does the environment you're in suit you?
  • What, if anything, is missing from your sense of fulfillment in your worklife?
  • Is there a realistic possibility of your getting more of what you want, and need, as you progress up the ranks?
The idea here is to give some thought to how things are actually going for you. You can compare this to the expectations you had when you started your career in media. Also, based on your observations, experience, intuition, research, etc., what do your immediate and mid-term prospects (say, up to five years from now) look like?

If you enjoy what you're doing and feel good about the environment you're in, you're likely to be set for a nice stay. So long as you can live comfortably with the hours you put in, the rewards you receive for your efforts, and the 'creativity' you use to personally come out ahead.

But what happens if you fear that you're already becoming 'one of them?' For example, maybe your boss is the type to promise the client anything, absolutely anything at all, no matter if it's a doozey of a lie. If this behaviour violates a principle or two of yours that you happen to hold dear, yet you find yourself turning a deaf ear, or in fact promoting the dishonesties actively, then it's time to take a hard look at the moral compass.

You may well find yourself between a rock and a hard desk. Being true to yourself--given that this implies insisting on honesty in this situation--could potentially cost you your job. But then, is any job worth breaching your most sacredly held values for, if the price is your much prized integrity?

The best advice I can give here is to suggest that you do a bit of helpful homework for yourself. Find out what the real career paths are like for you over the next five to ten years, both inside of, and beyond, the setting you're in (e.g. agency, media shop). Plan ahead to try and minimize areas where your work might require you to bump up too closely to your closely-held values. Consider the pros and cons of ending up in the role or position you imagine yourself being in five years from now. And ask yourselves one, absolutely fundamental question: Am I happy now, and do I see this continuing along my current career path?

You will know when you are bending too far from your convictions or acting in ways that are foreign to your native personality. It's that icky feeling you get, like when you cheat on a test, or when someone you trusted rips you off. To avoid morphing into the ones you love to hate, and to fully savour genuine success, you have the right to do things your way. Keep this in mind as you manage your career as a rising media guru.

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