By the time your reach your 30s, chances are, your career will be in full-swing (unless you’re still studying or have returned to study). It can be a very exciting time. With a bit of experience under your belt, leadership opportunities and promotions can open up.  It’s also often a very busy time.  At this age, many people purchase a house and start a family, which presents a new set of responsibilities and time restrictions you didn’t have to consider in your twenties.

Here are some career hacks I wish I knew in my 30s (rather than learning the hard way!).

Race to the top

Your thirties are a time when your career can really accelerate. It’s flattering to be offered promotions with big ticket job titles like “Manager”, “Associate”, “Head of ….”, “Partner” or “Director”.  I mean this is what we all aspire to, right?

But before you say ‘yes’, pause and ask yourself, “is this what I really want?”.  I have coached many clients who have been unhappy in their job but still accepted a promotion thinking this would make them happy!  It doesn’t, think about it, let’s say you hate being an accountant and you’re offered a partnership in an accounting firm, will being a bigger, better paid and more responsible accountant make you happy?

Comedian, Lily Tomlin, famously once said: “The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.”  Similarly, author, Liz Ryan, worked for many years with Fortune 500 companies as a HR senior vice-president. In her article, Ten Things I Wish I Would Have Known In My Thirties she reflects on the race to the top.

“I didn’t realise that many of the people in senior-level management roles have no idea why they are alive or what their mission on this planet might be,” said Ms Ryan.

Having said that, promotions can be a wonderful thing…more money, greater autonomy and bigger challenges.  Just be sure you take a promotion because you enjoy the work, not because your ego enjoys the flattery. The key is to making sure you know why you are pursuing the promotion and how it will sustain you and your family, and that means considering more than just money.

In her TEDX Talk, Redefining Sustainability: CHANGE STARTS WITH YOU

Cortney McDermott advocates an approach she calls IDEA. It is an acronym, which stands for:

  • Inventory – know your starting place
  • Destination – know where you are going
  • Explicit focus – be aware and engaged with what you’re doing at each moment
  • Action – take action with knowledge and vision

When you’re offered a promotion, pause and reflect on your IDEA for each opportunity. It’s also a good idea to speak with a career coach, someone who understands you, your strengths and career aspirations and will act as a sounding board while you work through the pros and cons.

More responsibility, less risk taking

Buying a house (or moving to a better house with higher rent) and starting a family are both wonderful life milestones that bring joy and satisfaction. But these milestones also bring more responsibilities, which can leave you feeling less at liberty to take career risks.

Juggling young kids with work often leads to a “just get through the day” mentality. This kind of short-term thinking is completely understandable. When you’re overworked and sleep deprived, why create more challenges for yourself?

Having a plan can help you get through this phase. If you’re thinking about buying a house or starting a family, do a stock take on your career first. Consider:

  • Where am I now? How long will this job sustain me?
  • Do I need a change? If so, when is a good time to do this? (Hint: probably not before you apply for a mortgage, banks are risk averse and look for job security before they give you a loan.)
  • What do I need to do to make a change? This could be as simple as applying for new jobs or more complicated, like studying a new field.

If you’re reached your limits with your current role, think about when is the best time to move on before you sign up for the mortgage or have a baby.  Indeed, there are plenty of examples of people moving to lessor paying, less challenging but more secure jobs with better family leave and benefits for the child rearing part of their careers.

Finding the balance

Work/life balance. It’s been labelled the greatest myth of our times. Work demands your time and attention and so does your family. Who wins? Often, it’s not you!

In my family, I was the parent who took on flexible work when our daughter was little so my wife could pursue her law career.  During that time, I earned less money but I gained more non-financial rewards through the extra bonding time with our daughter.  In other families, both parents might work full-time and use paid childcare to help with the children. There are many ways to make it work. Again, the key is to be clear about what you are doing, why you are doing it and how you are going to make it work not just financially but also emotionally.

In her article On my 60th birthday, this is what I wish I knew 30 years ago, journalist, Jenna Price, suggest your career goes for a long time (most likely into your 70s) so you don’t have to do it all now.

“In my mid-30s, with three kids under six, I thought my professional career was over. I’d moved sideways into a job with less money and more flexibility and thought, that’s it. The mummy track. But I realise now our working lives are so long, so much longer than our parents’ were, that the track wanders everywhere and you run along too,” said Ms Price.

Price suggests you don’t have to do it all right now. It’s okay to take a sideways step in your career if it helps you strike the right balance between work and home life. The government keeps lifting the retirement age so chances are you’ve got a long career road ahead of you.

Don’t neglect your network

Another hazard of the “just get through the day” mentality is neglecting your professional network.

After you’ve worked all day, spent time with the kids and shared a meal with your partner, it’s hard to find the time and energy to connect with business associates. However, it’s likely your network are the people who will help you find your next role, provide referrals and generally grease the wheels of your career.

This is particularly true for parents who take time off work to care for children. At some stage, you will want to come back. Young children are demanding of your time and attention and it’s easy to give them everything and forget to pay attention to your work relationships.

In your 30s, it can also be more difficult to form new relationships. Often, you don’t have the free time to meet up for after-work drinks so you have to find new ways to stay connected. This is more reason to value and nurture the relationships you have. Even if you’re busy and tired, schedule in 30 minutes a week for a coffee, phone call or even a text message to stay in touch with your professional network.

For many of us, our 30s are a busy time in both our career and home life. It can be hard to strike the right balance between job promotions, parenting responsibilities and paying the mortgage. Juggling these responsibilities leaves little time to think clearly about your career. I offer a free 45-minute career conversation where we can talk about finding the best ways for you to navigate your career in your 30s. Book an appointment with me today.