Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 6

Pump Your Wheel of Life and Help Your UN Career!

Happy UN Career Podcast / Episode 6

Episode 6 / 13 October 2020


Hello, and welcome to this episode which I’ve called “Pump Your Wheel of Life and Help Your UN Career!”. So, as you can see, I’ve returned to my career car analogy. 🙂

This episode belongs to the “What drives you and what drains you?” series and today we’re going to talk about drivers on a more existential level because we’re going to look at your whole life. Not only the work part.

Because, often when we think about work and career, we think in a quite linear and traditional way.

We think in interests (hopefully!) and ambitions, but also very much in terms of the career ladder, promotions, prestige, expectations and what not only we, but also our surroundings, think would be the appropriate or logical next step.

But there are many other aspects to consider when making decisions around work.

Because your job has to hang together with the rest of your life. And your family. One example is that a career in the UN often means living away from your family and your country and the culture you grew up in.

Or it means that your partner and children travel with you and leaves your home country and extended family behind. This can be a wonderful and rich experience that helps you all grow and come closer to each other. But it also presents its own challenges.

What does that mean for how you see your career? And what does it mean for your partner’s career and professional development?

The reflection exercise I’m offering today is called “The Wheel of Life” and it offers a possibility of a 360-degree view of your work and private life combined.

And it also offers insights into their influence and effect on each other. That can be both positive and negative. But the great thing is that once you see it, you can do something about it. And often, small changes can go a long way to create a new balance or positive effect. And then again, sometimes we realise that a bigger change, a bigger decision, is needed. Often, we had an idea already that this bigger decision was waiting to be made. But it’s easier to make those decisions when we see the realities clearly in front of our eyes and that helps us take action and move on.

So, the wheel of life is an interesting reflection exercise that will offer an additional angle on what’s important for you to consider when you make work and life decisions.

And this is how you do it.

Draw your own Wheel of Life
  • All you need is a regular piece of paper and a pen.
    (This means that no flipchart is required – but as I mentioned in earlier episodes, it often gives a heightened effect when you do these kinds of exercises up on a wall or on a whiteboard. It makes the exercise more tangible, so you may still consider this if you have the possibility.)
  • The wheel of life is actually much like a pie chart, so you draw a big circle and then split the circle like you would split a pie into 8 pieces. And all the pieces should be the same size.
  • Now you give each piece of the pie a name or a heading. Each piece representing an important element of your life. I suggest you use the following headings:
    • Work and career
    • Family
    • Finance
    • Home
    • Romance
    • Recreation and fun
    • Health
    • Personal development
  • So now you have a pie with a slice called work, a slice called family, a slice called finance, and so on.
  • Next thing, you are going to grade each of these elements on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means “doing very poorly or being non-existent” and 10 means “going really well or everything just the way I’d want it to be”. You do that by imagining that the centre of the pie is zero and the outside border of the pie is 10. This means that if you rate one element (for example economy) with a 5, you put a mark halfway between the centre of the pie and the outsider border of the economy pie slice.
  • Now spend a moment thinking about each of the 8 elements. You want to give yourself a bit of time to properly reflect on where you’re at with each of these important elements of your life. On the other hand, you might find that you have a gut feeling that means that you can give the rating right away.
  • So, in terms of work and career, ask yourself: how content or happy are you with the work that you do and your work situation? What rating would you give it right now, today, on a scale from 0 to 10?
  • In terms of family: how content or happy are you with your relationship with your close family. And how content or happy are you with the situation of your close family members?
  • And in this same way you go through all the remaining elements or pie slices:
    • Your financial situation
    • Your home
    • Romance
    • Recreation and fun
    • Health
    • Personal development
  • When you have rated all 8 elements with a number between 0 and 10, you draw a line connecting each of the marks and you will now see some kind of circle form inside the pie. If we imagine that you’ve given yourself ratings around 7 or 8 for all the 8 elements, you will see a fairly rounded circle – or wheel. But if some elements have been given the rating 9 and others 3 or 4 – then your circle, or wheel, will be very uneven. Hardly a circle at all. And definitely not a wheel that is comfortable to use for driving and that would certainly give a bumpy ride.
  • So, when you make a decision in one area – how will it affect the other areas of your life? What can you do to improve an area that looks deflated right now? And don’t despair – often relatively small actions can boost an area that you haven’t been giving attention for some time.
    • Could a small adjustment in your food or exercise habits increase the health area? Or maybe a medical check-up is called for?
    • Or maybe you realise that now is the time to reach out to friends that you’ve been neglecting for a while?
    • Or go through your budget and start a savings account that will make you feel more comfortable with the financial area.

So, what happens when you do the wheel of life exercise is that you respect and take into account all aspects of life and try to make sure you don’t ignore and overlook one important part. Such as health for one.

If you ignore signals about stress and overload, for example, you could end up like me with burnout and anxiety. And then you can’t work, and you can’t look after your family. They have to look after you instead (and there is nothing wrong in that per se, but that was probably not your intention).

The reason I’m talking about the wheel of life here in a podcast about UN Careers is that we are whole people. We cannot take the private person out of the work. And we cannot take the work out of private life. If we’re stressed out and worried at work, we inevitably carry that home and it will influence our partner, our children, our sleep (and thereby our health and energy) and so on. And if we’re having problems or worries in the private sphere it’s almost impossible that this won’t also flow into our work life.

Therefore, it pays off to do what we can to keep our wheel of life as well balanced and even as we can. And the first step is to create awareness of it.

You may feel that there are important elements in your life that are not represented in the eight elements I mentioned. Maybe you’d like to more clearly show the elements of “spiritual life” or “contribution”? Then, of course, feel free to rephrase or combine elements as they suit your situation and lifestyle best.

Take Action

Take a good look at your Wheel of Life and write down your 3 most important insights from the exercise.

  • Is there something that surprised you – that you just hadn’t thought about?
  • What is going well – what are you grateful for?
  • Are there one or more parts of the wheel where it’s flat – and needs some balancing or pumping? What actions could you take? Of those actions, what could be the first, most important one?

I’ve seen people have very uneven and lumpy wheels and not really realizing it before they saw the wheel drawn out in front of their eyes.

Other times, it can seem that the unevenness of the wheel may not be so serious at a first glance, but in my experience, the unevenness will always have an effect on your life and work at some point if you don’t acknowledge it.

About a year ago I did the wheel of life exercise myself, and I was quite happy to see that the wheel was looking pretty good. I didn’t have any straight 10’s but most of my pie slices were close enough and in good shape I found. So, I was quite pleased.

But then I got to the element called “recreation and fun”, and I realised that somehow there hadn’t been a lot of that for a long while. I’d gotten to a state where even though I’m passionate about my work and really enjoy it, everything had somehow also gotten very serious and I’d had trouble allowing myself time to just goof off.

I realised that I was missing some good belly laughs in my life. And this really made me stop and reflect on when and where and with whom it is that I really have fun and relax. And how I could get more of this in my life again because with my history of burnout I have to make sure to create place and time for relaxation and letting steam out.

Get Help

You know what I’m going to say! Find somebody you can discuss this with.

This can be a great exercise to do together with your spouse or partner. It’s a great basis for a good talk about your values as a couple and a family and the important decisions you each take on a daily basis – whether around career or other topics – and for your long-term decisions as well.

Or maybe you have a good friend who’d be interested to do the same exercise and you can help each other.

What’s the Next Step?

In this and the last few episodes, I’ve suggested that you look for action points – big or small – to create a happier career and work life.

In the next episode, I’ll share some tips on how to do exactly that: take action.

It might seem like there’s so much you could do or should do? How do you prioritise? And find time and resources for taking action?

Next time I’ll show you how.