The Outsider: 'Tis the season to be grateful...

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Whether your bonus is big or small, it is at least a kind of closure, says David Charters. Make the most of this.

Everyone is smiling. In the words of the song, it's another year over, and you're smiling through the hangover from the team Christmas party, trying vaguely to recall if you really did say to the cute girl from the presentations team what your friends are swearing you did, smiling even though you've taken two paracetamol before work.

Part of the reason for the smile is relief. You've collected the magic envelope from your boss and you know your number for the year. Maybe it's a good number, maybe you're disappointed. But at least you have certainty, unlike your colleagues at other firms who have to wait until the New Year to hear theirs.

It may be that the number your boss gave you was the equivalent of a checking error on his. Maybe it's less than his wife spends on handbags. But at least it's yours, and as you cruise into the holiday period you have clarity, and you can draw a line under this year and plan the next. It's a kind of freedom.

The period immediately post bonus is when you really can reflect on what to do next. First, there's the minor question of how to spend it. Compared to friends from university who went into industry or - heaven forbid - the civil service, you're well off. Now is when you can move flat in a buyer's market, order a new car, plan a holiday or simply indulge in utterly reckless, wasteful extravagance - because you can.

It's also the best time to plan the next steps in your career. Your talks with another firm might be well advanced, even to the stage where you're simply going to wait for the bonus payment to clear before having your first - possibly last - conversation as equals with your boss. Half the pleasure of resigning is the anticipation - imagining the reactions, the attempts at love-bombing to change your mind, the sudden focus from senior people who never previously acknowledged you.

Or maybe you were just too busy to make plans. Maybe now's the moment when you finally make time to return those headhunters' calls, or possibly put a few feelers out yourself. Your number tells you what the firm thinks of you not just as far as last year went, but for the future. Do they really want to keep you? How hard have they stretched to make you happy? Have you stayed around too long without a decent bonus, and now you're getting a loyalty discount? At least now you know.

Very few people in any walk of life are given such clarity regularly once a year. So for better or worse, grasp the nettle - there are 12 months to go before you can do it again.

David Charters' latest book, The Ego Has Landed, is published by Elliott and Thompson, price 9.99.