5 Key Questions To Guide Your Career

By: Shawn Driscoll

A recent “New Employer/Employee Equation” survey by Harris Interactive, Inc. conducted for Age Wave, took a broad look at the American workforce and found some less-than-encouraging attitudes towards work.:

* Only 45% of workers reported being satisfied or extremely satisfied with their jobs
* 42% reported to be coping with burnout
* Only 20% indicated they were “very passionate” about their jobs
* Only 31% believed that their employer inspired the best in them

What does it take to be among the 45% satisfied, rather than the 42% who are burned out and uninspired?

Most people I talk with would like to love their work, or at least be excited by it. Yet, so few of us actually achieve that level of engagement. I believe it’s possible, and that quite often we lose sight of our career aspirations somewhere between paying the bills, mowing the lawn and getting the kids off to school. Yet, our desire for enjoyable, engaging work lurks beneath the surface, causing stress, anxiety and dis-ease over time. You can reconnect with our professional priorities by shifting your focus away from the day to day details that captivate your attention, and asking ‘bigger’ questions of yourself. Here are 5 of my favorites:

1. How do I define success at this stage of my life?

Our careers are continuously evolving as we pass through various life stages. Many times, we are in careers or jobs that we selected at an entirely different life stage. It probably met our needs at the time, but how about now? How well does the job you currently possess allow you to feel successful, given your personal definition of success? Where is it in alignment? Where is it out of alignment? Pay attention to the friction spots and note them. Write down your thoughts about what you consider to be success for yourself, right now, at this stage.

2. What do I want to be known for?

Quite often, this is a difficult question for clients to answer. They have never thought about what they want to be known for, and ended up with a reputation for being someone they don’t really feel that great about. Thus, they experience inner conflict at work.

One client I worked with wanted to be known for being a strategic player—someone who participates in setting the long term vision for the company and implement strategies to get there—yet she remained buried under mountains of day to day tactical junk—emails, paperwork, problem solving meetings, putting out ‘fires’, etc…. She finally realized that by staying reactive and tactical, she will never gain the reputation of being a strategist. It’s simply incompatible. So, what she had to do was to get out from under the day to day crises management role she had grown to be known for, and start going after longer-term strategic challenges the company faced.

Don’t let your professional reputation choose you. What do you want to be known for in your professional life? Who do you want to be? What are you currently known for? Are they the same? How can you start to act in a way that honors who you want to be?

3. What are five things about my current job/position that I want to continue to have in my life?

Even if you are in a job you don’t like, there’s a reason you’re there. There is something there for you, or you would have left. Take note of what is working where you are. Is it the pay? The hours? The commute? The work content? The customers? The co-workers? The benefits? Consider each of the following five areas when examining what is working where you are:

* People—who you work with matters
* The type of work and the way work gets done
* The company itself—the products, industry, culture/climate, reputation
* The lifestyle—reputation, pay and benefits, non-financial rewards, schedule, location, commute, travel, etc…

4. What are five things about my current job/position that I don’t ever want to experience again?

Be clear about what you don’t want to experience anymore. What is it that causes you the most stress and disruption? Write down at least 5 specific things you will no longer accept from employment. Be willing to take steps now, to eliminate or address as many of these as possible.

5. What are the things I fantasize/dream about having in my job/position?

When you’ve really had it at work, what do you dream about? What is your fantasy escape plan? Our dreams can often give us important clues as to what we feel passionate about or what we need more of in our lives. What are your dreams telling you?

If you are like most people, you’ll probably say “more money” or “more time”. Go deeper. What would you do with more money? Travel? Bigger house? Eliminate stressful debt? What would you do with more time? How would your life be improved by having more? Consider what is really motivating you in your dreams….money or time are simply means to an end. Understand the end you are seeking. It will give you something to aim for as you reshape your career.

If you’ve answered each of the five questions honestly, you should have a pretty clear picture of what is important to you. Your definition of success, your desired reputation, and at least 10 non-negotiables (things you must have in any job) along with a vision for what you really want in life. Use these as your guide whenever you are faced with career decisions. Should you take the new job? How does it fit with your success definition? How well does it align with your ideal? Can you live with the places where it’s not?

This article may be reproduced, in its entirety, along with the following information:

© 2006, Shawn Driscoll, Succeed Coaching & Development. This article is provided courtesy of Shawn Driscoll, Career Success Coach and owner of www.succeedcoaching.com. Professionals: upgrade your work life today! We provide products and services to help you succeed at work, in business and in life. Sign up to receive your free Success Wise ezine—and get success tips, inspiration, and resources to skyrocket your success—at www.succeedcoaching.com.

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