In my line of work I come across a lot of people who are stuck. They’re not sure what it is that they want or what to do next, or they have a fear about whether what they want is really achievable. Sometimes it can seem far too fantastical to even go to the place of what they really want. So they tend to spend a lot of time letting the thoughts about what they want versus what they should be doing fly around their heads, keeping them confused, undecided and ultimately stuck.
Indecision, fear, and not being clear, these are the things that keep us static, not moving forward and when it comes to our careers they can be career killers, preventing us from reaching our fullest potential and finding work that enables us to lead happier and more impactful lives.
So how do you work out what it is that you actually want
We often think about career decisions being based on working out what it is that we want. But in reality that’s just a small part. Claims of finding your dream job or doing something that you really love can swamp us or make us feel inadequate if we’re not doing something amazing every day or striving to save the world. The reality for most people boils down to doing work with a purpose aligned to who they are, that they enjoy and that fits in with the life they want to lead.
To get clear about what it is that you want from your career takes more than just filling in tick boxes. The reason so many school careers advisers have such a bad rep is because traditional diagnostic techniques based on trait and factor personality fit and skills matching only ever take you so far. They’re often just a starting point to start thinking about what you might be suited to. In order to get to the real picture of what actually will work for you in a practical sense, and ultimately what you want, well that takes a closer look.
What you need to work out first
Working out what it is that you want to do can be the starting point for most people, especially if you’re at the start of your career journey. Often at this stage, you have less responsibilities and the ability to fully invest in your career and its a time when you can have a more tunnel vision approach about where to put your focus. If you are doing what you want then it can feel like you’ve really cracked the code and the job is literally done. When you’re already entrenched in a career or have a reached a higher level, working out what you want from your career can be more of a challenge. You may have gone through the process or working out what you’re best suited to in terms of skills and environment, but what happens when life evolves? When your goals shift, or the “dream” job that you thought you wanted years before actually turns out to be quite different to what you want now. Or you may find that you’ve drifted and come to the realise that you’ve never really worked out what it is that you want to do. Maybe you’re doing what you love but it’s just not working any more with the rest of your life. How do you start figuring it all out?
Always have your bigger vision in mind
No matter what stage you’re at in your career the starting point is actually the end point. Well at least as far as you can imagine because let’s face it, we never really know how far we can go until we start out. Knowing where you want to get to, that bigger vision about what you want from your career and your life, can really enable us to get clearer about what we ultimately want to be doing. Because that’s the rub with careers. They are part of your life, a big part, and if they don’t ultimately fit in with what you want out of the grander scheme of your life then they may never give you what you want.
When it comes to getting clearer on your bigger vision this is where it pays to dig deeper on your motivations. Discover your values, look at the practical considerations and get really honest with yourself about what you want to earn, what you need to earn and how many hours you want to devote to earning it. There are so many factors that can go into the pot though and that in itself can be overwhelming when you’re trying to figure it all out. This can be another reason that so many people go round in circles with it and continue to get stuck. It can be complex.
Apply the “Why, What, How” framework
Like anything complicated, simplifying things can really help. So when it comes to figuring out what you actually want from your career, I use a simple three part formula that I created for my clients – the Why, What, How Framework.
Often just knowing why you’re doing something can really help you to understand the purpose behind it. Purpose comes up a lot in career decision making, with people often feeling lost or unsure about what they’re doing when they can’t see any really purpose behind it. If you’re just going through the motions, or can’t see the reason why you’re doing the work that you do then it can feel meaningless and this can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, disengagement and ultimately not wanting to do it.
In other cases purpose can run deeper, it can become the primary factor in wanting to do the work that you do and it can sometimes be misconstrued. I often hear people bemoaning the work that they do not helping anyone or being of service. This is a form of purpose and just because the work that you do doesn’t directly save lives or make children smile, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t serve a purpose. More important is that you connect with the purpose and get clear on what it can give you on more than face value. To get clearer on what purpose means to you and what your current career or career possibilities understanding your values and how they align to the work that you do can really prove to be fundamental.
But as well as understanding those deeper motivations, there are times in your career when the purpose of the work that you’re doing is more immediate or is based on someone else’s needs. Sometimes the primary purpose is to actually just earn some money or learn a skill. Maybe you’ve got a specific project you’re working for, or you have bills that need to be paid, or maybe you can’t progress further in your career until you’ve done a lower level role to learn the skills. Adding those realistic needs into the purpose bucket can really help in the evaluation mix and working out why you’re doing what you’re doing. Thinking about all of the things that your career needs to give you can ultimately help you work towards working out what you want.
This is the part of the equation that people usually focus on. What is it that I should be doing? What will make me happy? What will best utilise my skills? Getting this right is important. This determines what you will be doing with a big chunk of your time, so doing something that you enjoy and that you’re good at will really help you to want to do it.
Undertaking skills analysis exercises and reflecting back on things that you have enjoyed or enjoy doing inside and outside of work can really help to get clearer on this. Which things make you smile, light you up or immerse you when you do them? What gives you joy, what challenges you? These are all initial questions that you can ask yourself to get clearer. Using something like a simple skills analysis chart can be a great start.
But equally important in this process is to also recognise things that you are able to do but you don’t actually like doing. Sometimes we can stay in roles or careers purely because we know we’re good at it, but if when we actually do it it doesn’t give us joy then it may still not be giving us what we actually want.
This is the bit that often get’s overlooked. Working with women as I do, it comes up a lot though, given women’s continued position as primary care givers in many family situations. Post Covid this is a question though that many more of us are starting to ask ourselves. With traditional office hours and offices being thrown out of the window, how we work has suddenly become a wider issue and with so many possibilities evolving. So many jobs now can be seen to work in new, flexible ways so asking yourself how you want to work, has become a much more important question to ask.
I work a lot with mid level professional women and for them the how bit can be the most important part of working out what it is that they want and pre-Covid it used to be the biggest sticking point. Flexibility and number of hours can be high on the wish list for women with young children but it’s also a question that any one of us should be asking ourselves, especially now the working landscape has changed so much.
The other thing to consider when thinking about how is not just the practical nuts and bolts how, but also the how in relation to how you show you up. If the thing that you want from your career is based on career progression and becoming a leader in the work that you do, how do you want to lead, how do you want to impact others, how do you want to be seen? These are equally important questions that you may need to ask yourself depending on what you discover about yourself and your wants after having taken yourself though the Why, What, How framework.
Everyone has their own individual ingredients that go into the Why, Wha, How formula and finding yours will take a fair amount of introspection, discovery and honesty. But once you take the time to work it out it will pay dividends in helping to guide you at whatever stage you are in your career when you find yourself asking, “What do I really want from my career?”
Career Empowerment Coach
To receive regular insights, offers and resources sign up to my newsletter and stay in touch
Social media links: