Photo by R. Jordan N. Sanchez

Making the “Right” Career Decisions.

Someone recently asked me what I thought the right career decision was for their particular situation.

They were trying to “figure it out” and wanted a sounding board.

So I did what I do best, I listened.

They were talking about the pros/cons to the different options that were on the table: the benefits, the difference in flexibility, compensation, the standard stuff we all run through when evaluating these types of decisions.

After listening for over 30-minutes, I still didn’t hear what, to me, were the core factors in making decisions. This made me reflect on my own system of making decisions, which brought me to the second thing I do best, I asked specific questions. (Though I’d content that’s just another part of actively listening)

In my own life, I’ve come to see that Pareto’s 80/20 Principle, is everywhere I look. So in my own decision making process I’ve been able to distill my system to asking a few questions that now act as my guideposts to steer me down the “right” path.

1. What is it that I really want?

Groundbreaking question you’ve never heard before? No. But probably the most important one and the one we like hearing the least. I think we’re living at a time when we’ve heard this question so much that we ignore it. Everyone asks that right? And most of the time I don’t have an answer for it, so I do what most of us often do when posed with a tough and uncomfortable question, I ignore it.

Instead of battling that question, I’d rather look for silver bullets, for “a-ha”/epiphany moments, for the heavens to open and the decision to be made for me. Though the truth is without laying the groundwork, we can’t set ourselves up to have those realizations.

But I’d still rather avoid it. And the reasons are simple.

That I may be wrong about what I want. That I don’t really know myself. That I may have to say “no” to some things. That I may make a mistake. That I may have to fail to find out what it is that I want.

I’m afraid of failing.

If I don’t set a target, then I’m not on the hook. If I don’t tell my friends, my family, or even myself what I want, then I don’t have a stick to measure myself to, and I’m all good. Plus I could make a wrong decision and that would be worse then just letting life dictate where it wants me to go. Right?

But what I’ve had to confront myself with is, if I don’t dictate what I want in my own life, then I just accept what others are going to give and want for me. And the reality is, it’s usually other people’s scraps, hand me downs, and/or what is left over.

Do I often have an answer to “What is it that I want?”. Nope. But I’m starting to have better answers for it than I did before. I definitely have a better answer than I did a year ago, 5 years ago, 10 years ago.

The answers will change and that’s great. It means that the target is changing because I’m changing. It means that I got some things right and some things wrong. I’ve made mistakes and I’m still here. And it means that I’m coming up with more honest and better answers for Question 2.

2. Where can I offer the most value?

When having to make a choice where there is no clear “best” choice, I see where I can offer the most value.

I’m driven by progress. I thrive on making an impact.

I’ve built up my work ethic, intellect and courage to put myself in challenging situations in order to be the best version of myself I can be. I like to grow. I know my best work comes when I’m in the “zone”. So the question of value is extremely important to me because in essence if I’m working in a company or with a client that I’m not offering much value to, then I’ve already set myself to fail. I’ve done it many times. Why? Because I settled on a bad choice. The reasons will vary and I’m great at justifying things, but ultimately almost all the choices I made that weren’t based on bringing value, have taken me down the wrong path.

How YOU define that value will be a personal one, but just the act of asking that question will quickly take a lot of bad choices off the table.

It also pushes me to confront, what value am I really bringing to the table? Or can I even bring? Sometimes that is a humbling question because it forces you to evaluate how you’ve been spending your time, your energy, your resources. And sometime it means that the opportunities you want, aren’t right for you…. yet. I AM NOT talking about shying away from challenges and opportunities for growth. I’m talking about fundamentals. If you can’t find how you can be of value, you need to start asking yourself other questions to get a better answer to that question, a more convincing answer, and sometimes it means you need to go back to Question 1.

3. Who will I be surrounded by?

We are the average of the 5 people we surround ourselves with. Will this choice allow me to be with more of the types of people I want to be with? Or will it put me around people I don’t want to be like? This is probably the only question that is binary.

Like most good questions that prod you to introspection and action, I have an incredibly predictable response pattern. I get depressed and then I feel empowered.

I’m a pretty driven guy. That means I’m nowhere near where I want to be yet. It’s easy for me to feel inadequate, that I’m not the person I think I need to be to offer the value I want to offer, etc. But that’s the thing about time, it doesn’t only go forward, it also goes back.

I can see that there are people who are envious of where I am now, who would do anything to have had the opportunities I’ve had, who would fly across the country to have a cup of coffee with me and glean some insight. I know that because I would have done the same years ago. And when I think that way, it helps me answer these questions in a more honest way, it brings clarity to where I am now and what I need to do to get to where I want to be.

Which doesn’t mean I have a clear road map for the future. But that doesn’t matter, because in actuality when you’re going the right direction, you only really need to see the next step forward. If you look at the decisions where you can bring value and become a more valuable person, that’s always the right direction.

So back to the story about my friend. Did they come to the “right” decision? I think so.

Which did they choose? I don’t know yet.

How do I know, they made the right choice then? Because we stopped talking about the choices that were ahead of them and instead talked about what they really wanted, where they thought they were most valuable at, and who they wanted to surround themselves around. Even if they don’t make the “right” decision this time, if they are honest with those question, I know they can’t help but sooner or later start making decisions that will bring them closer to what they want.

Funny thing is that as I’ve gotten better and more in tune with my own answers, I start living in a headspace where opportunities quickly fall into 2 categories, either a “hell yeah!” or a “eh, maybe?”, which has made my life easier. Because ultimately we don’t have enough time in our lives for the “eh, maybes?” I’d rather be doing a “hell yeah!”. And when I’ve been stuck with only “eh, maybes”, that was a good indication that I wasn’t on the right path. I repeat, life is too short and time to precious for the “eh, maybes?”. Look for the “hell yeahs!”. And if you can’t find them, start creating them.

If this was helpful or you want to find out more, please check out my blog at http://brianwee.net.