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Want to Get Ahead? Don't Focus On Your Career

If you're unemployed the next career step is obvious — get a job. There may be questions about exactly what job, do you go for a career change, or how much time can you take off. But directionally, you know where you're headed.

If you're employed, much is written (by myself included) about working on your long-term career plan, preparing for promotion or raise requests, and maintaining a strong network.

These are all great career-related items to keep in mind. But sometimes, the best near-term step is to take the focus OFF your career and onto something else entirely — relationships, health, personal finances, community, hobbies and interests, travel, there is no shortage of other potential pursuits.

The personal benefit is clear, of course, as you get to frolic in a pursuit that may have taken a backseat. But the professional benefit, while indirect, is equally valuable — your personal renewal will contribute to your effectiveness on the job. Energy, ability to focus, creativity, likeability -- all of these intangible but critical qualities will improve.

We have all experienced the Eureka moment of a breakthrough idea in the shower or of remembering a forgotten detail at the very moment you start thinking of something else. There is something magical about relaxing our grip on one area and turning our focus elsewhere. Similarly, for the benefit of our careers, we sometimes need to take our focus off our careers and onto something else where we can stretch and be challenged in a different way.

So join a sports league, sign up for a volunteer committee, and take a few books off your reading wish list.

Take the focus off your career — your personal and professional self will both benefit.

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Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career coach, writer, speaker, Gen Y expert and co-founder of SixFigureStart (www.sixfigurestart.com), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters. Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others. Caroline is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs and posts at CNBC Executive Careers and Vault.com.

Comments? Send them to executivecareers@cnbc.com

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