Have you ever considered working for a start-up? It’s almost a buzzword nowadays – that’s how much the term “start-up” is tossed around. But what really is a start-up, and why is there so much chatter about working for one? In truth, working for a start-up comes with many exciting opportunities – but like anything else in the working world, it can be a trade-off. As always, the most important thing is discerning if it’s the right fit for you, your career, and where you are in your life.
What is a Start-Up, Anyway?
A start-up is any company that is still getting off the ground – indeed, “starting up”. Around 90% of start-ups are unable to expand past the start-up level, with 10% of these failures occurring within the first year.
Working for a start-up often entails irregular hours, a wide variety of job duties, and a sense of closeness with your team members. You’re expected to show up with a can-do mindset, and to prioritize growing the company above most else. You’re also likely to get interesting development opportunities that may never come your way at a larger company.
Biotech start-ups can be unique in that they allow you to develop a wide range of skills, and build connections to many different pharmaceutical companies. Even if you end up working at a start-up for a shorter stint, you may be able to leverage these skills in an unexpected context later down the line.
Growth Potential When Working for a Start-Up
When you work for a small company, the potential for growth is huge. Should the company succeed, you could profit in a big way. And truthfully, there’s not much that looks better on your resume than having helped catapult a little-known name to success.
But there’s a significant chance your company won’t become the next Facebook – or worse, will have to shut down. So if you do opt to work for a start-up, make sure it’s one that offers great connections, learning opportunities, and chances to prove your skills.
If the business does have to close up shop, you may feel like you’re back at square one. To mitigate this, come up with an action plan for if and when this happens. That way, if it (unfortunately) comes to pass, you won’t feel panicked trying to figure out your next steps.
Joining a start-up may in some ways feel like being vacuum-sucked into the most chaotic, most ambitious group of friends imaginable. Employees tend to be close, and leaders tend to be open to ideas from everyone – as long as it helps the business, it really doesn’t matter what your title is. You may also be asked to do things that don’t fall strictly within your job description – or feel inspired to, because you know exactly what the company needs.
We’re all familiar with the stereotype of the ambitious twenty-something busting their guts in the start-up world. That trope exists for a reason – clearly, said world can be demanding and unpredictable. Of course, you can join a start-up at any age, but if work-life balance is your top priority, the lifestyle may not be the best fit for you.
All that being said, start-up workers often experience higher-than-average job satisfaction. This isn’t surprising – working for a smaller business, you’re far more than just a number. Everyone knows your name and probably at least some of your story. And because the stakes are so high, your contributions are deeply valued.
Is the Start-Up Life for You?
The stress and uncertainty of working for a start-up can be worth it – if you’re willing to shoulder some risk.
Some people feel most comfortable working for a large corporation, where security is high and the path forward is clear. Others may prefer a more unpredictable, chaotic environment with a small but real chance of paying big dividends. Maybe you want something in between – a mid-size company still trying hard to grow, but with an established presence in its field. Different strokes for different folks, as they say!
Everyone likes to be rewarded for their efforts – especially when those rewards bring measurable value to their lives. And once rewarded, most people are extra motivated to keep putting out great work.
This is especially true when it comes to the modern workplace. Not only do job benefits attract high-quality talent, but they motivate employees to work that much harder at their jobs. If you’ve been looking for that extra little something special to inspire your team, you might consider adding a few more perks to their work experience.
As we’re all aware, the pandemic has radically shifted the kinds of benefits employers will consider offering. Some, like health coverage, have been standard since the inception of the modern workplace. Others, like the flexibility to work from the living room couch, are more of a hot new development. To give you an overview, here we’ve outlined some of the most important job perks to the workforce of 2023.
Traditional Benefits – The Indispensables
Health, dental and life insurance, sick days, vacation days… these benefits have been around for a while, and for good reason. Who wants to worry about where their next filling or pair of eyeglasses is coming from? And heaven forbid they should have a health emergency, candidates will want to know that you’ve got them covered. As for vacation days, it’s 2023 and we all value our leisure time. So the more of them you can offer, the better!
Another job perk never goes out of style: growth opportunities. Candidates won’t want to feel like they’ve hit a ceiling, especially not if they’re just starting out in their career. Make sure to have regular meetings with each team member in which you present them with options for how they can advance within the company if they’re interested.
Work From Home – How Important is it?
As of December 2022, nearly 30 percent of workdays were completed on a work-from-home basis. According to a recent survey, employees value part-time work-from-home opportunities (2-3 days per week) in a position at 8 percent of their wage. Flexibility is the currency of the modern workplace – so offer as much of it as you can.
Millennials, in particular, prioritize flexibility much more than previous generations. In fact, 67 percent of them feel that working on a remote and flexible basis promotes good work-life balance. If you can offer your younger candidates a schedule they jibe with, they’ll be likely to perform well in their roles, enjoy their work, and speak highly of your company to their peers.
The Fun Stuff – Job Perks
Office parties, work socials, group escape room excursions: these social perks might seem a little excessive to some, but others can really thrive on them. With workplace culture a more and more important driver of where quality candidates choose to work, it may be worth it to invest in a social scene for your employees.
If team-building retreats aren’t your style, though, you can focus your efforts on creating a positive workplace environment. Full-time employees spend a huge chunk of their waking hours at work – more than ever, they want the atmosphere to be pleasant. Luckily, there are tangible ways you can help to foster a friendly workplace.
One simple, easy to implement idea: creating a “social spot” as a designated area for employees to relax. This could be something as simple as a staff room, where team members can reheat their coffee, run into each other, and even sit down for important one-to-one chats when needed.
And speaking of fun: what about coffee? Turns out that when coffee isn’t offered for free at the office, 25 percent of employees will leave the workplace to get it for themselves. On average, these trips take 14 minutes, and probably longer when you consider their full impact on the flow of the workday. So keep in mind… coffee is always a plus!
Benefits That Work Both Ways
With the ideal benefits package, employees won’t have to feel burned out from too many days in the office – or lonely and isolated from their fellow team members. The right job perks will reassure your top candidates that if they choose to work for you, they will feel valued, heard, and fully equipped to deliver top-notch work in their roles.
Yes, you can improve your memory! We’ve all been there. Someone approaches you whose name you don’t remember. You’ve met each other a few times, but your mind goes blank… You manage to get through the interaction with a “hey, you!” and feel too embarrassed to ask for their name again, especially since they know yours. Whether they notice you didn’t remember their name or not, it is difficult to forge a strong relationship with the person if you don’t know their name!
Why does your memory fail you in moments like this? There could be a number of reasons. Research shows that the average American consumes at least 100,000 words and 34 GB of data per day! Given all of the information you consume on a daily basis, your brain cannot possibly store everything in your long term memory. Indeed, common reasons why you can’t remember something could be because it was never encoded into your memory in the first place, or you don’t have any “retrieval cues” to call the memory back into your mind.
Despite these challenges, remembering aspects about a person is essential not just for creating new relationships with people, but also for strengthening existing relationships. Forgetting someone’s name or an important detail can be a sign that you are not interested in the other person, which is the opposite of making a good first impression! Conversely, being able to remember details about your boss’ kids or a client’s favorite hobby goes a long way because it shows you genuinely care about them. What’s more, asking questions about recalling details and asking additional questions about them will cause them to associate positive memories with you, since psychologically, people love to talk about themselves.
Ways to Improve Your Memory
Try these techniques the next time you want to commit important facts to memory:
Repeat it to yourself. According to research, your short term memory only lasts for 20- 30 seconds, unless you try to repeat the information out loud or in your head. You can ask a clarifying question using the person’s name or restate what you just heard to make sure you understood correctly. After the interaction, try to repeat it again mentally to commit it to memory so you can retrieve it later. In fact, experts recommend “overlearning” the things you want to remember through repetition so that your new memory does not interfere with your existing memories.
Write it down. Studies show that your short term memory only holds about seven pieces of information. Since you’re not exactly in control of which seven pieces your brain will remember, a good idea is to write down important details in case you forget later. After a conversation with someone, make a note on your phone, on their business card, or on your laptop’s notepad with their name and any critical data. This is particularly important if you’ve offered to provide them with further information or connect them with someone.
Remove distractions. Don’t multitask when absorbing the new facts. Unless you’re using your phone to take notes about what you want to remember, put it away. If you’re juggling more than one task or multiple inputs, your brain has no choice but to prioritize one thing over the other. Another common distraction occurs when you’re not actively listening to the new information, and you’re thinking about something else or planning your next response. Instead, try to focus your complete attention on listening to the other person, and you’ll be more likely to remember what they say.
Make associations. To help yourself retrieve the memory later, make an association between the person and something easy to remember. This can help trigger the memory of the person and their name or important details. For example, if Sarah mentioned she’s going on a sailing trip, remembering “Sarah sails” will be easier to recall the next time you try to retrieve information about Sarah. Another example is comparing the person to someone famous or someone you’ve met before. If your new acquaintance Matthew has brown hair like your cousin Matthew, making this association may help you recall his name the next time you interact with him.
Remembering details about a person is a meaningful part of establishing a new relationship or strengthening an existing one. By failing to remember someone’s name or a significant aspect of someone’s life, it could be interpreted as you not being interested in them. Solidify important facts in your mind by trying these tips to improve your memory. You will reap the rewards in your relationships!
Recruiter burnout – ways to enjoy your job and protect your health. The last few years have been hard on recruiters. The COVID-19 pandemic created a hiring whiplash and changed so much about life and work, and as a result, some recruiters have found themselves chronically stretched thin, exhausted, and unproductive: in other words, burned-out.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome involving feeling depleted or exhausted, feeling distant from or negative about your job, and being less efficient or productive at work. While stress at work is unavoidable, chronic and prolonged stress can do damage to your health, happiness, and ability to be a great recruiter.
There’s some good news: if you’re feeling this way, you’re not alone, and there are ways to beat it. Here, we’ll dive into some ideas for combating and avoiding burnout as a recruiter.
Top Ways to Beat Recruiter Burnout
1. Evaluate your situation and set realistic goals and to-dos.
Think about what’s working about your situation, what isn’t, and what you can change. Do you feel like you can’t leave work at work? Does every day feel the same? Is your physical health suffering? Do you have too much to do each day? By taking stock and taking charge of what you can control, the stresses at work that are truly unavoidable and immovable will pack less of a punch on your wellbeing.
Set a daily work schedule and stick to it. Be candid with yourself and the companies and hiring managers you work with about what is a priority about how much you can fit into the day. Set goals that are specific, time-bound, and measurable. Communicate with your team about your situation and about what roles and projects are a priority.
2. Reduce exposure to stressors and set work boundaries.
Again, some stresses at work are unavoidable. But there are ways to mitigate, manage, and reduce your exposure to them. Consider setting brief breaks throughout the day to get up, walk around, drink a glass of water, and look away from screens for a few minutes at a time (cognitive studies have found that quick breaks like this actually boost focus). If you’re battling Zoom fatigue from endless days of interviews, consider setting a weekly “no meetings” block (for example, not scheduling Zoom calls on Wednesday afternoons).
Outside of the workday, can you set boundaries that help you disconnect? For example, commit to only answering emails between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Set notifications on your devices to not ping you when you’re off the clock. And if you have to work late one day, can you block out an extra hour the next morning for yourself?
Finally, consider taking time off. This might be hard due to the fast-moving demands of recruiting, but even a day or two spent away from work and with friends, family, or just with yourself can help you feel reenergized and refreshed.
3. Prioritize self-care.
Depending on who’s talking, the phrase “self-care” can mean anything from training for a marathon to binge-watching hours of TV. But truly taking care of yourself – getting good sleep, eating nutritious and filling meals, making time for activities and hobbies, and enjoying healthy social connections – is the key to staying well and maintaining resilience and energy.
What areas of your non-work life have you been neglecting, and what can you do to address them? It might help to start small and commit to incremental habitual actions, like being in bed at the same time every night, cooking a healthy meal every Sunday, or picking one day a week to go on a bike ride with a friend. Building yourself up on your off hours will help you regain energy for your work.
4. Focus on professional development and building your network.
Does your career feel stagnant, or does it feel like every workday is the same? Fresh new challenges and opportunities for professional growth can help you get back into the groove. Subscribe to industry publications, read blogs, listen to podcasts, watch videos, or take courses to build your skills.
Focus on expanding your network — it will get you in touch with new and interesting people and will make your job easier down the line. And if you have room on your plate, ask your manager for a short “stretch project” that gives you something new to do.
Explore these ideas, insights, and tips to help you live your best life, both on and off the job.
To stay sharp and to grow within the biotech industry, you need to look beyond the daily routine, to set goals, and to make connections. When you reach a fork in the road, you need strategies to help you choose your next steps with confidence. You also can’t ignore the rest of your life. No matter how inspiring you find your work in the life sciences, time away from the lab or the boardroom can help you maintain your zest for working and for living.
This backgrounder aims to inspire you to live more purposefully and creatively, at work and beyond. Use the ideas and tips below as a starting point, adapting them to your unique style and circumstances. Follow the links to dive more deeply into a topic, and keep an eye out for our blog and events for further insights into the science life.
A successful career journey includes both making and changing plans. While perseverance can get you through many rough spots, you also need to know when to cut your losses and regroup. Consider these approaches to help you chart your course.
Boosting Your Goal IQ
“I want to be successful in five years” may be an admirable goal, but it’s not a smart one. Smart goals are:
Specific: To zero in on your goal, try answering the five W questions: What do you want to accomplish? Why is the goal important? Who does it involve? Where is it located? Which resources does it require? ●
Measurable: How will you know when you’ve reached your goal or are partway there? Measuring your progress can help you maintain your excitement about approaching your goal. If your goal will take months or years to accomplish, break it down into steps that end with clear milestones.
Achievable: By all means dream big, but make sure your goal matches your interests, aspirations, and aptitudes. The best goals are those that stretch your abilities without exceeding them. A word of caution: avoid setting goals that depend on someone else’s actions, like “getting promoted to medical director.” If that’s what you want, reframe your goal to something like “acquire the training and skills to be considered for a medical director position.”
Relevant: The goal has to mean something to you. If it doesn’t align with your values and other life goals, it will lose its appeal. You know your goal is relevant if you can answer yes to the questions: Does the goal seem worthwhile? Is this the right time for it? Am I the right person to pursue it? Does it make sense in the current business environment?
Time-bound: A time-bound goal has a deadline. If you decide to pursue an advanced degree in bioinformatics, you can set your deadline at (for example) three years from now. You can also set deadlines for completing prerequisites, if needed, and for applying to bioinformatics programs.
While you’re working on SMART goals, take the opportunity to step back and consider your long-term career trajectory. Dorie Clark, a marketing strategist who teaches at Duke University, suggests you begin by clarifying where you don’t want to go. “Get clear on what you don’t want, and then take steps to avoid that,” she writes in the Harvard Business Review. “It’s much easier to identify things you know you dislike, rather than ideating about a hypothetical future.” Perhaps the pandemic years have made you realize that you don’t want to spend all your time in an office environment. Or perhaps it’s the opposite: you’ve learned that working from home doesn’t do it for you. Or you’ve realized that you don’t want to spend the rest of your career in a laboratory or on the road.
Next, flip the exercise around and make a list of scenarios that instinctively appeal to you. Maybe the entrepreneurial lifestyle calls to you, and you can picture yourself launching a boutique skincare company with a small lineup of clinically active products. Maybe you’re an avid hiker and you’d like to live closer to the mountains. Such “visioning” exercises will keep your long-term aspirations alive in your head, so you’ll be ready to turn them into SMART goals when the right time comes.
The Biggest Decision
If you’ve recently completed your schooling, you’re probably staring down the scientist’s biggest fork in the road: academia or industry? Or maybe you’ve already made your choice, travelled some distance down that path, and are now wondering if you should backtrack and take the other road.
It never hurts to lay out the pros and cons of either choice, as we’ve done here. For extra inspiration, check out videos such as this one, targeted to scientists and engineers.
When reviewing such lists, be sure to check in with yourself. Are you listening to your inner promptings, or are you trying to please a colleague or professor sitting on our shoulder? If that’s the case, refocus your thoughts on your own mental picture of yourself—the only picture that counts. Nobody knows you as well as you do, and what works for your mentor won’t necessarily line up with your needs.
Finding Your Career Sweet Spot
Ever heard of Ikigai? This Japanese path-finding exercise, which roughly translates to “reason for being,” can help you zero in on a career path that speaks to your heart and your mind. As illustrated below, Ikigai invites you to ask four questions:
What do I love?
What am I good at?
What can I get paid for?
What does the world need?
Once you’ve answered the questions, see where they overlap: that’s your ikigai, or career sweet spot. For example, if you love biology, you’ve always been good at drawing, you’re comfortable around computers, and you’ve noticed many new digital health communications companies popping up, you may find your sweet spot as a digital medical illustrator.
The Ikigai Intersection
Tweaking Your Career Path
If you’ve hit a mental wall in your career, you’re certainly not alone. By age 50, the average person has held 12 different jobs in search of the right fit. People change not only jobs, but careers: in 2016 alone, about 6.2 million workers left their roles for work in a different field. If you recognize yourself in these signs, it may be time for a change.
You’ve lost your mojo: You don’t feel connected to your job and you have trouble faking enthusiasm. You’re underperforming and letting deadlines slip past you.
You don’t feel like you’re making a difference: Your role doesn’t play to your greatest strengths, and you don’t feel your accomplishments make the world a better place.
Your job is affecting your personal life: You come home exhausted, you take out your frustrations on those who live with you, or your body shows signs of chronic stress, such as headaches or digestive problems.
You fantasize about a new job or career: You feel jealous of your friends’ careers or find yourself browsing job boards. When people ask you what you do, you don’t take pride in the answer.
You dread going to work: This clue needs no further elaboration. If you feel this way consistently, it’s time to look elsewhere.
Perhaps you don’t need to step out of the life sciences field, but to find a new career under its large umbrella. If your job as a lab technician doesn’t fulfill the performer in you, maybe a biology teacher will do the trick. Or if you enjoy working on science projects but feel like an outsider in the lab, you could find your groove as a regulatory writer. Don’t ever think of such lateral moves as steps backward: success is measured in personal fulfillment, not in a CV.
The life sciences are as much about people as products. Whether you’re looking for a new job, want advice on writing research grants, or simply enjoy picking colleagues’ brains, you don’t have to be the life of the party to make meaningful connections. You just need to show up where your tribe hangs out.
Go to Industry Events
If you’re in job-hunting mode, networking will take you farther than just about any other strategy. It’s your ticket to the hidden job market—the 70% of jobs that never get advertised to the public. Not just that, but networking jumpstarts 85% of all job offers.
Start by making the most of industry events. The biopharma world runs on a continuous cycle of conferences and summits, many of which include after-hours networking sessions. Even if you feel tired after a long day, resist the temptation to skip them. Designed to help people relax and unwind, these events are networking gold: when people feel relaxed, they connect more easily and organically.
Which brings us to the big networking takeaway: focus on building relationships, rather than making transactions. It’s unlikely that your new connection has a job lined up for you, and a direct appeal may turn them off at this stage. Remember that both of you share the same goal: to build a network of people who can help each other over the course of your careers.
Within a day or two of making a connection, send a quick follow-up note. Avoid making a specific request: instead, thank your contact for the chance to chat and tell them you hope to speak more in the future. Next time you sign up for a conference, ask them if they plan to attend and can meet up with you.
In some cases, a connection may lie dormant for a while before coming back to life again—and sometimes the spark just isn’t there. If you feel you’re forcing it, step back and accept that not all connections will stick. Like many things in life, networking requires a mix of persistence, patience, and rolling with the punches.
Whether you love or merely tolerate social media, it’s a networking channel you can’t afford to ignore. Start with LinkedIn, recognized as a top choice for career networking. Make sure your own LinkedIn profile stays up to date, and post articles of interest to your network every few days. Join LinkedIn groups devoted to your area and become an active participant. Also engage on LinkedIn with people you’ve met at live events. Request a connection, comment on their content, and share articles that may interest them.
Hop on Twitter to get industry news and discover movers and shakers in your area. As with LinkedIn, engage with the colleagues you meet on Twitter: follow them, comment on their posts, and retweet blog posts and articles they’ve posted.
At the same time, avoid relying exclusively on social media to build your network. As Dorie Clark, author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future, points out, “Sometimes social media tricks us into believing we have a strong connection with someone when, in fact, that connection only exists in that single plane of existence.” When an opportunity presents itself, Clark suggests taking the conversation off-line. “If you notice that your friend was just promoted or had some other success, celebrate her win by giving her a call or sending her a note.”
Want to volunteer? Do it strategically. Strategic volunteering means choosing volunteering roles based on the skills you have and those you’d like to acquire. Yes, it’s calculated—and that’s a good thing. For example, if you’d like to boost your project management or business communication skills, consider volunteering for a hospital foundation. Want a crack at leadership or policymaking? Volunteer for a committee in a science organization. For the biggest bang in human contact, help out at a major conference.
Stepping Away From Toxic Relationships
Building your network doesn’t just mean making connections: it means severing those connections that cause more harm than good. If you sense that a colleague or friend is trying to sabotage your career, you could well be right. Not everyone has your back. Attitudes and behaviors like these should set off your alarm bells:
Failing to offer encouragement when you clearly need it
Questioning whether you’re qualified for a job you have in mind
Revealing personal information about you to other colleagues or on social media
If the saboteur is someone you know well, a candid conversation may lead her to mend his ways, but don’t count on it. Sometimes your best course of action is to cut your losses, ideally before the tension escalates to animosity. If you keep getting sabotaging vibes from a friend or associate, step away without guilt. As the saying goes, life’s too short.
And what if the problem lies with your whole working environment? By no means rare, toxic work cultures can sap your performance and your spirit. Signs of workplace toxicity include lack of transparency around projects, passive-aggressive communication, and cliques within departments. If this describes your workplace, consider taking your concerns to someone in the human resources department (assuming your organization has one). A mediated group discussion could help people reflect on their contributions to the bad vibe—and realize that they’re being watched. If nothing changes, look for opportunities to move to a different department, or even a different branch. And update your resume, just in case.
Balance doesn’t look the same for everyone. To achieve a work-life balance that leaves you fulfilled, you need to know what you value most, both at work and elsewhere, and work toward it. If flexible work hours and creative control top your list, share these priorities with recruiters and hiring managers when you consider new biotech roles. Of course, flexibility works both ways: don’t automatically reject opportunities that meet most but not all of your criteria. Small details can be negotiated, either now or down the line.
As a rule, life science professionals bring a lot of passion to their work. There’s nothing wrong with working hard—or even to devote most of your waking hours to your work—except when your focus on work strains your personal life or starts affecting your health. A hyper-focus on work also puts you at risk of job burnout—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that erodes your job satisfaction and even your personal identity. Symptoms of burnout also include lack of energy, poor concentration, and physical symptoms such as headaches or digestive problems.
While not (yet) a medical diagnosis, burnout is recognized by leading medical publishers such as the Mayo Clinic and WebMD. If you’re heading toward burnout, you need to insert a braking mechanism into your working life, even if it feels forced at first. Some burnout-busting ideas to consider:
Keep one day per week free of meetings
Designate certain hours of the evening off-limits for viewing and sending emails
Schedule outside time into your day: go for a walk, sit by a lake, or stroll through a botanical garden
Appreciating the blessings in your life doesn’t just feel good: practicing gratitude can improve your sleep and emotional regulation and protect you from stress and burnout. To get the full benefits of the practice, list a few blessings every day in a gratitude journal (or electronic file), post them on a gratitude mood board, or drop them into a gratitude jar. Don’t limit the blessings to big-ticket items such as a promotion or new friendship: the cherry tree you saw down the street or the joke you exchanged with the cashier count, too.
In biotech and elsewhere, many jobs involve long periods of physical inactivity and engagement with screens. Over time, this workstyle can drain your energy and lead to health problems. If you recognize yourself in some of these habits, try the science-backed antidotes listed below.
For a more potent reboot, take that vacation you’ve been putting off. If you’re like four out of 10 Americans, you didn’t take all your vacation days last year. Don’t be that “hero”—today’s employers certainly don’t expect it of you. Successful biotech companies recognize the restorative power of a vacation and encourage their employees to take time off.
In addition to recharging your batteries, vacations can give you a new perspective on your life, including your career trajectory. If crowded airports are not your thing, book a week at a cottage or a campsite nearby.
Official holidays may not coincide with your vacation time, but they offer a further opportunity to disconnect from work pressures and stressors. When the next statutory holiday or holiday season rolls around, take the opportunity to reflect on your career accomplishments and challenges over the past months. Reach out to someone you haven’t seen in a while, whether a colleague or simply a friend. If it’s alone time you crave most, enjoy some guilt-free hours with a hardcover book—or surround yourself with the natural world.
Keeping the Juices Flowing
Have you ever pondered a problem for hours on end, glued to your screen or notepad, and then hit upon the solution after you’ve stepped away to weed your garden or walk around the block? We’ve all had this experience, and psychologists say it’s no accident. As behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenck explains in a Psychology Today article, “if you keep your prefrontal cortex too focused on the ‘task at hand’ then it can’t go searching for interesting combinations of information you have stored in memory. When you take a break (the garden, the walk, the shower, the dishes) then your PFC is freed up to go searching and combining.”
To stay creative, you need to expose your brain to a variety of stimuli. Different creative activities stimulate different parts of the brain, contributing to its plasticity over the lifespan. For example, exercise increases growth factors that help the brain form new neural connections, and meditation helps preserve the aging brain. Completing a puzzle or playing a word game doesn’t just help you relax: it’s brain juice. To get the most from the activity, choose the right level of challenge—a bit of a stretch, but not too much—whether it’s the cryptic crossword or the daily brain teaser in your newspaper.
We hope you have found some inspiration in these ideas and will apply them to your own life. Feel free to pop back here to remind yourself of your goals and progress. If you’re wondering whether to accept or decline an offer, or whether to reinvent yourself entirely, keep your focus on your must-haves and your deal breakers. The fine points can always be negotiated. If you’re honest with yourself and with your recruiter, you’ll get what you need. Ω