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Caring for Your Career Cartilage

It’s a funny time to talk about cartilage.

We happen to be writing this piece in the days before Halloween when skeleton decorations abound. Cartilage, among other things, they have not.

The more we reflected, we realized the imagery of the season provides a perfect and very visual contrast for why cartilage is so important.

After all, when we talk about cartilage at Graham-Pelton, we are talking about the layer of metaphorical tissue that protects our bodies, minds, hearts, and personal lives from the pressures and stressors of an unregulated work life.

In an age of incessant email, text, and Slack notifications; offices that are dining rooms; and the compounding pressures of ongoing pandemic and staffing disruptions, the need for cartilage is painfully evident.

Actual cartilage in our bodies protects our bones and joints from shock and weight-bearing stress, allowing for fluid movement (think: the cartilage between the vertebrae of our spines allows us to bend over to pet our neighbor’s dog).

This “career” cartilage functions in many of the same ways. It is a reserve of stamina and morale that protects us from external stressors and allows us to fluidly move through our days and weeks. When that reserve is depleted, our stress response may be heightened. We may feel more tired or overwhelmed. Smooth movements and interactions may become jerky. Tasks that we handled with ease when our cartilage was healthy may become ones that set us over the edge when that cartilage has eroded.

Cartilage doesn’t just protect; it also provides structure. Humans aren’t born with their skeletons fully developed. When we are babies, we are a bundle of cartilage. This cartilage protects our muscles and organs, yes — but it also provides the structure for our bones and muscle to grow. “Career” cartilage is no exception. It provides a framework with which to make business decisions that ultimately facilitates growth.

Cartilage is both a safety net and a ladder.

That is why cartilage has become a standard term at Graham-Pelton. We actively look for ways to preserve our cartilage to make sure that we show up in the right ways for our clients, ourselves, and our families. We treat it as the scaffolding that protects us from burnout and the elevator for our growth.

Thinking about your cartilage and that of your team might feel like a luxury. It is not. It is the backbone of how we approach our work at Graham-Pelton. Here’s how to make it yours, too:

  1. Name it. It is difficult to preserve something that has no name. We encourage you to adopt the term “cartilage” with your teams and leaders. Make it a standard part of decision-making. When Graham-Pelton colleagues face a business decision, we ask ourselves, “Is this a decision that will deplete cartilage?” If the answer is yes, we avoid moving forward.
  2. Dedicate time to it. As with any goal, progress cannot be made unless there is time dedicated to it. If preserving cartilage is a priority for you and your leaders, set aside days where your teams can renew their stamina. At Graham-Pelton, we call them “Cartilage Days.” This year, all colleagues have two days to use in whatever ways will help them to restore their cartilage.
  3. Urgently attend to where it’s torn. Reflect on where you feel the biggest pull or strain on your cartilage and address it as if your growth depends on it. When our actual cartilage tears or erodes, we require strategic and therapeutic intervention. Apply this same precision and intention to mending your “career” cartilage. In doing so, you will show up to your donors, teams, and leaders with the capacity to connect, engage, and inspire.

At Graham-Pelton, we care for your cartilage. With these tips, we hope you will, too. Let the skeletal decorations of the season provide the contrast for what happens when we don’t.

Elizabeth Zeigler is the President and CEO of Graham-Pelton. Christina Ferguson is the Senior Manager for Executive Initiatives.