The longer it is that we’re not clear about what we want to do with our careers, the higher the likelihood that we’ll settle for something that may not be a fit or worse, get stuck with something we don’t even really want.
One of my life goals is to be able to work and live elsewhere for 2-3 months every year. I’ve talked about this for years, friends and family are likely sick of the talk without the walk.
To my defense, I’ve always had good reasons for the non-action.
I had a job that couldn’t possibly allow me to be away for such an extended period—even if I were working for part of that time. Then, when I started Second Breaks, I was so busy setting things up I couldn’t possibly have the time to get away. After that, I was watching my expenses and couldn’t possibly afford to do this thing that I said I really really want to do.
At the start of last year, I got tired of hearing my own excuses. I put my foot down and finally said, “C’mon Lou. This was supposed to be your goal, one of the reasons why you started a mobile-friendly career.”
I sat down and got real. I picked my destination: Maine. Eating lots of lobsters and seafood for as many weeks as I can? Yep, sign me up.
With the destination decision made, it was easier to get my arms around the other details.
I decided I’d drive my car so that I wouldn’t have to rent one the entire time I was there. Which meant, I could visit friends along the way, from Florida to Maine. I set about arranging dates with friends for the reunions. And of course, there had to be an extended stay in NYC.
Once I had a time frame in mind, I was able to settle on lodging. I didn’t know all the specifics around what I would do once I got to Maine. I just needed a reasonably-priced home base for the time I was there (thank goodness for Airbnb).
Long story short, I was finally able to take the first step toward this lifestyle goal of mine. I’ve now made it happen once and have an idea about how I would do it again. And I’ve confirmed to myself that this is truly what I want to do! Get away for 2-3 months (height of Florida summer, preferably) to live and work someplace new during that time.
Are you still with me? I haven’t lost you, have I? 😃
There’s a point to this story, and it HAS to do with getting stuck.
It reminded me that we tend to get stuck when we’re not clear about our desired destination.
Even the best GPS out there needs a destination point for it to work. It can’t guess where you want to go. No directions for you!
Having a clear desired destination is like having our own personal North Star. We have a guiding framework for our decisions and actions. With respect to our careers, we get to our desired destination by answering the question “what do I want to do with my career?” Or even “what do I want to do next?”
For many, answering these questions are easy. My brother always wanted to be a doctor, and so that’s what he studied. He does what doctors do every day, and he tells me he’s very happy about that!
Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple for many others. A lot of us are still trying to figure out what we want to be when we grow up. Right?
The older we get, the higher the stakes.
It’s one thing to be in our early 20s and not be sure about what we want to do for a career.
My good friend C has a young daughter in college who’s still figuring out what she wants to be when she grows up. My friend is one of the most supportive mothers out there. She tells her daughter not to worry about it too much. The important thing is to keep exploring and trying different things. I keep telling her I want to go back to my 20s and be her daughter.
As we get older, the pressure to find our thing mounts up. We want to do meaningful work and make a living. We want our work to matter. We want not to be depressed about our work-lives!
The problem is, the longer it is that we’re not clear about what we want to do with our careers, the higher the likelihood that we’ll settle for something that may not be a fit or worse, get stuck with something we don’t even really want.
A few things that happen when we’re not clear about what we want to do with our careers:
#1 We don’t make a move at all.
We simply stay put no matter how unhappy we may be with our current job. We begin to settle for less than what we want. We live for the weekends and anytime we can be away from work. Our stress level continues to rise. Soon our health suffers and our relationships begin to get the brunt of our frustrations. Over time, we become more and more cynical about the idea of having meaningful and fulfilling work.
#2 We get swayed easily by external suggestions about what we should be doing.
There’s a difference between being curious about what else is possible and getting easily influenced by other people’s opinions.
In the first instance, you are keeping an eye toward changing times and being open to new possibilities. In the second, you’re letting other people’s suggestions or expectations direct where you’re taking your career. This has a higher chance of happening when you’re not clear about your North Star.
If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else. —Yogi Berra
#3 We roll the dice and make a move anyway, keeping our fingers crossed that we’d be happy where we land.
One of my friends admits that he falls in this category. Because he’s not sure about what he wants to do with his career, he’s simply looking for jobs similar to what he’s doing today. He’s hoping that a new job in a new company combined with higher pay will make everything better. At least, for a while. He’s been there before.
The good news is there are many ways to figure out what you want. You just have to put in the time.
The second habit in Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.”
To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you’re going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction. It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall.
Clearly, figuring out what you want to do is key to having meaningful work. But it’s the first step to getting unstuck and improving your work-life.
The good news is there are several ways you can discover your calling, your passion, or simply, the thing you want to do. The important thing is to devote some time to find your answer.
Yes, it can be frustrating. Some of the questions you may be asking yourself are difficult precisely because you can’t come up with the answers just like that. It requires a healthy amount of self-reflection and self-awareness.
Imagine the rewards of all that work though: a clear sense of direction and purpose, feeling excited about your future, working towards something meaningful to you, and taking control of your career direction.
There are many frustrating results of being in a state of doubt and indecision about your career—the most unfortunate of which is remaining stuck in a work or career situation that you’re not happy with.
The good thing about it is there are techniques and steps you can take to gain clarity. But you have to be serious about finding your own answers to the question: “What do I really want to do.” Allocate some time to it. There’s too much at stake to leave it to chance.
Related Reading: 3 Ways to Figure Out What You Want