Your Non-Negotiables

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take your eyes off you.”

Maya Angelou

As an adult between the ages of 21 and 70 most of your waking hours are spent at work, in your job or engaged in your career. A non-discretionary activity, for the majority, work occupies approximately 25% of the 168 hours available to us weekly. Keep in mind this 25% is based on 40-hour week and doesn’t take into account the hours spent on the daily commute or the time you spend thinking about your job.

Whether you love your job, hate it, succeed or fail in it, achieve fame or infamy through it forms part of who you are. Just think of the last time you met somebody for the first time. Did your job, career or profession come up in the conversation? Typically, yes.

As adults work looms so large in our lives that we both find identity in and are identified by the work that we do.

In the wise words of Aristotle, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ and in the 21st century workplace it is all but impossible to separate the professional from the personal self. Just think you are likely to spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with your family, partner, children and friends. So, unsurprisingly work is far from a neutral activity involving a simple exchange of labor for pay - enjoy it and you thrive, hate it and you struggle to survive the daily grind.

Based on this it is vital for you to consider and understand what your non-negotiables are.



Your career non-negotiables are the clear, well-defined themes upon which you design your career story. They are found at the intersection of the three core aspects of self –lifestyle, personal, and professional – and form the basis of your decision-making platform. As unique to you as your fingerprint they are based on the things you enjoy doing. They are the things, people, skills, activities and challenges in life that give you a sense of happiness and calmness. For you, they are the specific things fundamental to your enjoyment of life and help you feel a sense of blend between life and work.

Understanding your non-negotiables form an integral part of the change process. Start by asking yourself these simple questions:

  1. If you were free to do whatever you wanted, what are you most drawn to?
  2. What hobbies and interests did you enjoy as a child? Do you still enjoy these activities and do you get the chance to include them in your career or personal life?
  3. Do you make time to do the things that are important to you?
  4. What activities make you feel healthier, happier, more content, less frustrated and more engaged?
  5. At work, when do you feel time passes most quickly? What functional parts of your role do you most enjoy?

Answer these questions from a place of personal and professional honesty. Peel back the layers of influence. Forget about what others may or may not think. Forget about the fear of failure, the fear of success or fear of the unknown. Differentiate your opinion from the viewpoint of those closest to you, and ensure that you do not mistake their opinion for your opinion.



The order that you begin to consider your non-negotiables is vital. In fact, the order is a non-negotiable! Lifestyle first, then personal and then, and only then, consider your professional non-negotiables.

Understandably, when suffering from career chaos, your sole focus is on work and how to improve it. But in the wise words of Aristotle, ‘the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts’, and to establish what you want professionally you must not alone determine but also intimately understand what is important in the rest of your life.



Allocate one minute per day over a three week period to think about and capture your non-negotiables. Be very specific and name the time you are going to do this every day. By doing this you capture all of your thoughts and feelings about work, life and wellbeing. This is the start of the process which will lead you to thrive and not just survive at work. It will allow you to see reoccurring patterns and themes.

Now that you understand the context of your non-negotiables, consider your needs under three distinct categories:



For you to be healthy and functioning you need to sleep for 8 hours per night, to eat healthily, to engage in hobbies and to do at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.

These are fundamental facts of life. However, what do they look like for you as an individual?

  1. How much sleep do you get per night and how much do you need? How are you going to do to manage this going forward?
  2. How does your daily eating plan fit in with your overall wellbeing? Is there anything that you can do to make this easier for you or to improve it for you?
  3. How much time do you find to exercise weekly? Do you get time each day to raise your heart rate and increase your metabolism? Remember, the recommended is at least 30 minutes per day. How do you rate? What can you do to change or improve?
  4. Do you make time to do things that interest you? Do you spend time with friends and family, do you have time to do the things that you enjoy and engage in activities that help you switch off?


Your personal non-negotiables are the core basic things that have to be in place in order for you to live a normal happy life. The best way to explain this is by using examples:

  1. Finance: No matter what anybody says, money matters. You need to understand how much money you need to earn to pay for the important things in life. For example, what are your monthly financial needs for food, rent/mortgage, crèche, health bills, dog kennels, health insurance, transport, etc.?
  2. Flexibility: It’s vital for you that you can work flexible hours from home for you to take care of your children, a sick family member, etc.
  3. Location: At the moment location is non-negotiable as you have a mortgage, immediate and wider family commitments and social commitments. Therefore, moving to a different country or doing long commutes is not currently possible.


Professional non-negotiables are the functional parts of your role that you need to feel happy at work. These are the things that you need or want from a role or your career. Some examples might be that you need a role that is-

  1. People facing,
  2. Socially meaningful in the not for profit sector, and
  3. Affords you the opportunity to work as part of a team but provides the opportunity for independent projects,
  4. Gives you the opportunity to pay attention to the finer details rather than the bigger picture
  5. A total change from your previous role.


Once you’ve established them, prioritise your non-negotiables. Logically begin to decide which non-negotiables are most important to you and why. Which item on your list is the one thing that must be adhered to, no matter what? Define the second most important and so on. Try to adhere to the top 3 – 4 items as this will help you feel a sense of calm and stability. While the other items on your list are important, they are not as vital.



Your non-negotiables evolve over time. This is both natural and expected. You should give yourself permission to re-evaluate then as circumstances change. Be as flexible and as dynamic as necessary. For example, you want to keep your commute to one hour or less each way each day. But you now have a job offer that meets all of your non-negotiables but you have to travel an extra 15 minutes each way each day. You feel you will enjoy this job and it fits your overall career story, but you have to give up another non-negotiable to take up the role. Ask yourself honestly are you willing, in the short-term, to travel an extra 30 minutes per day. On balance, what is the best thing for you to do?



When you figure out what your non-negotiables are, write them down and put them in a prominent place. This daily reminder helps keep you on track. If you don’t meet your non-negotiables daily, don't beat yourself up. If you notice your dedication is slipping, sit up and take stock. Ask yourself did you just have a bad week or have you slipped into bad habits? Since the slip, how are your stress levels? Have you set unrealistic non-negotiables? Or is it simply a case that other things are taking over and you need to regain control?

Not an easy process to go through but one that is meaningful, important and hugely insightful for you moving forward in your career.

For more on this check out Why Knowing Your ‘Non-Negotiables’ is Vital