Sunday, May 11, 2008

What Do You Want From Your Career?

I've always admired those people who know what they want in life and in their career. It seems so easy - they'll say "I want to be a _______" and then through a lot of hard work they achieve their goals and reach success. There are a few varieties that probably sound familiar:

The "Always Known"
These are the artists, musicians, inventors, writers, etc. who have "always known." For as long as they can remember, they've really enjoyed doing their trade and wanted to use their talents and would be forever happy if they could be immersed in these industries. I think this group is especially lucky because they rarely second-guess themselves about their future goals and allows them to assume that they'll be outside of the mainstream anyway and should just make up their path as they go along.

The "Long-Hauler"
The people in this category typically pursue a well-defined path, with a strong commitment to a long-term timeline in the hopes of attaining a high-level position. They might not say it outright, but you know that they're looking to be a VP, partner, tenured professor, chief cardiologist, CEO, etc. For most "long-haulers," this decision was made during or after college - either to pursue a professional path or to immerse themselves in a given industry. In some cases this decision was made arbitrarily, but their dedication to the track (whether out of stubbornness or enjoyment) still shows that they know what they want and are pursuing it whole-heartedly.

The "Career Changer"
This is the category that has gone through the wringer - they've had to clarify what they know they want, what they don't want, and then have the courage to make the leap. It might be the computer programmer who goes into musical theater, the middle-aged manager who decides to start a non-profit, or a recent Harvard grad who becomes a car mechanic. Not all career changes are that dramatic and anyone who has made a leap from one job/career to another knows how important it is to clarify their intended future direction.

In all 3 categories, their drive and motivation to excel come from their underlying desire to achieve their goals. This sense of purpose allows them to stay focused and achieve greater success.

But what if you don't know what you want? Chances are, you're probably in the majority who doesn't. Maybe you're sticking it out in a given job because you don't see many compelling alternatives. Or maybe you just haven't found anything that would excite you professionally.

What happens if we don't know what we want? Logically, if we can't clarify what we're looking for then it will be very difficult to get there. From Alice In Wonderland:
Alice: Oh, no, no. I was just wondering if you could help me find my way.
Cheshire Cat: Well that depends on where you want to get to.
Alice: Oh, it really doesn't matter, as long as...
Cheshire Cat: Then it really doesn't matter which way you go.
As we begin to think about what we really want, we must ask ourselves some "serious" questions and be prepared to invest in reflection and introspection. To get the ball rolling, grab a pen and complete the following sentences (be specific!):
  • At this moment, I would like a job that _________
  • I'd like a career or job that gives me _________
  • In my professional life, I find meaning and fulfillment in ___________
  • In 5 years, I'd like to be __________
This is just scratching the surface, but figuring out what you want is the first (and most difficult) step towards a fulfilling career. If you'd like to explore these questions with a bit more guidance and structure, you might consider coaching.

Check out my career coaching services at or email at and discover what you REALLY want and then take action to get there!

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