Once your soul is awakened, you never return to the sleepwalking state of mind. Some people become complacent in life. They are just going through the motions and not aware of truth. Seek the knowledge, wisdom, and the understandings that vivify your existence.  - Amaka Imani Nkosazana, Heart Crush

What does it mean to sleepwalk through your career?

Sleepwalking through your career means unconsciously living out patterns, habits, thoughts, and actions as you navigate your way through your career progression.

As a career sleepwalker you follow the same mundane cycle day-in day-out, and end up working towards goals, milestones, and achievements that you might not really want for yourself. You just do it because you “should”, because you “have to” or because it “makes sense”.

What does it mean to wake up?

Waking up means proactively taking control of your career. Reminding yourself of who you want to be and having a solid understanding of your Why.

Waking up means looking in the mirror, asking yourself some hard-hitting questions, and being vulnerable enough to give yourself honest answers, despite how difficult it is to hear.

Waking up means remembering what you want from life and where you are trying to go.

Unfortunately, waking up isn’t as easy as it sounds because facing reality can be difficult, especially if you have been sleeping for so long, but it needs to be done if you want to get your life back on track.

My realizations

I have been working for over a decade now, in a number of roles across a few different organizations. From being a young and naive intern in my early 20s, just blindly doing what I was told, to being a full-time tech entrepreneur in my mid 20s, desperately trying to be the next (black) Mark Zuckerberg, to now leading and managing a team in my early 30s as an Engineering Manager.

I recently clocked 6 years (👴🏾) at the company I currently work for, which, unsurprisingly, propelled me into yet another career-related existential crisis. So over the past few weeks and months, I’ve had to take a step back to assess what I really want from my career. Not what my colleagues want, not what my manager wants, not what my company wants, and certainly not what the conventional software engineering career ladder wants. Why? Because that’s exactly what induces sleepwalking: indiscriminately listening to others and blindly following a manicured, generic, pre-determined path.

How does one wake up?

In my process of waking up, I’ve done several things including but not limited to:

  1. Adopting a more high-agency mentality, instead of continuously playing the helpless victim, whose life is at the mercy of the invisible forces around him.
  2. Taking a more proactive approach to my learning and development, by up-skilling and staying relevant in topics that I'm actually interested in, not topics that I should be interested in.
  3. Continuously asking myself if I am where I am as a result of passive inertia or a result of an active desire.
  4. Finding an experienced and unbiased external coach to talk through my current challenges, insecurities, hopes, and ambitions (this has been an invaluable experience so far).
  5. Realizing that at the end of the day, when it comes to my career, I am the only person who truly has my best interests at heart, and I am the one who will suffer the consequences of my actions and inactions.

How does one stay awake?

Firstly, you need to realize that once you’ve begun the process of waking up, you can and probably will fall asleep again, so you need to actively resist falling back into old habits.

Secondly, you need to continuously ensure that your immediate environment is conducive for the life you are trying to live and the goals you are trying to achieve. As soon as you notice anything or anyone having a counter-productive effect on you, you should address it immediately and have a plan to resolve it.

Thirdly, you need to understand that staying awake is hard, and due to the nature of our elusive egos, even when you think you are awake you might still be sleeping.

Final Thoughts

Alright, there’s my experience with sleepwalking through a career and my thoughts around waking up and staying awake.

Needless to say, your career will be long, challenging, and ambiguous, with many unexpected twists and turns. Sometimes things will be going amazingly well and other times you’ll feel like you are continuously pushing a large boulder up a hill to no avail. However, your main goal as you go through all these tumultuous cycles is to remain present, self-aware, and intentional at all times.

Stop sleepwalking. Stay woke.