“I feel stuck. I don’t know what’s next,” a good friend of mine lamented over lunch one day. He was ready to quit his job, and he wasn’t sure what his next steps should be. He felt like he wasn’t growing in his current role, hadn’t received a promotion in several years, and felt anxious that the world was passing him by. He wasn’t even sure if work was a top priority in life anymore and felt stressed by that. “What do I do now? What’s next?”
Life is a journey, not a destination. While Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote speaks the truth, I think what drives members of FWIO (the noble Fraternity of Worldwide Insecure Over-achievers) like me is feeling like we are passing the correct mile markers on the way. This is true in all aspects of our lives, especially our careers.*
A common theme I see among my friends and colleagues is that they feel lost or stalled in their careers. This usually this manifests itself as general dissatisfaction in their jobs, not knowing “what’s next”, or just a general feeling of being stuck. In the worst cases, I’ve witnessed people changing jobs or careers merely as a façade of “progress.”
Here is a series of questions that I ask to help people refocus their energy in their careers.
The first set of questions revolves around doing an assessment of yourself. Sometimes we get so caught up in what is expected of us that we lose sight of ourselves. This set of questions is intended to allow you to reflect on yourself as you are today:
- What makes you spring out of bed in the morning saying, “I’m excited to tackle the day!” Especially as it relates to work? What intrinsically makes you feel satisfied regardless of compensation/title/recognition?
- Of these, which are you naturally good at (your strengths)?
- Which are you weak or inexperienced at (your gaps)?
- What are you naturally good at but don’t necessarily like doing?
- Can you perform a 360° Feedback on yourself to confirm your strengths/gaps or expose any blind spots?
Assess Your “Destination”
Once you have a good idea of your abilities and motivations, it’s time to figure out if you have your destination dialed in correctly. The intention of these questions is to get you to think about where you are headed in your career:
- What’s missing for you in your current role? Is the grass really greener somewhere else? Are you trying to avoid tackling a problem or avoid improving your gaps within your current role?
- What do you enjoy in your current role?
- Do you really need a role change or can you have a sense of progress by optimizing within your current role (growing your scope, improving yourself every day)?
- What do you feel like the next step in your career is and does it excite you? How did you determine this next step?
- Is there a role where can you maximize your strengths/interests and minimize work that doesn’t excite you?
- Do you know what career opportunities are available to you within the company or industry? If not, are there people who you can talk to who may know all the options?
- What’s preventing you from pursuing what you really want to do? Are they truly blockers?
Your Path Forward
After reflecting on yourself and the type of work you want to do, the next set of questions around setting up a plan to meet your new goal. Generally, a change in role doesn’t come immediately and will need some investment in yourself to meet the requirements of the new role:
- What are your strengths that are relevant?
- What are your gaps? What training or opportunities do you need to fill those gaps?
- Who can help you get there? Is there anyone currently in your role who you can interview?
- How can you measure progress toward your path forward?
- Are you willing to invest the time, energy, resources, and discomfort it will take to enact change?
Overall, I’ve seen a few common results from this exercise. The first is that people realize that they are chasing greener grass (or conversely, running away from browner grass). They find that focusing their energies on tackling something they are trying to avoid in their current roles or optimizing their skills/scope in their current role actually brings quite a bit of satisfaction. The second result is that people realize that there isn’t a “perfect job” where you have fun and are inspired all day long, every day. Work is tough, and if you are constantly chasing a non-existent standard of happiness and fulfillment through work, you will be sorely disappointed. Your job should be a source of pride, for sure, but it won’t be perfect, and that is okay! Another result that I have commonly seen is that people realize that they are chasing progress for the wrong reasons (external validation, societal expectations), and even if they achieve their desired progress, they are not significantly happier for it. The final result is that people find that there are other opportunities either within their company or externally that really matches their passion and skill set better than their current role, and they now have a good game plan to transition to a new role.
As for my friend, he has decided to grow his scope within his existing role and to take on a new set of challenges within a space in which he is already an expert. We re-visited the topic of his happiness at a subsequent lunch, and he appears to be happy with his new set of challenges and less concerned about the world passing him by.
So what is my advice for you? If you are in a job where you are being disrespected, are severely underpaid, or simply hate the work, it’s time to look for a new role. If you are happy with your job and are legitimately enjoying your journey through life, kudos to you! For those of you who are feeling a little lost, I hope that visiting the above questions can help you establish your North Star.
*Is this the healthiest way to view life? Probably not, and we should all take time to really assess our Life Mission Statement and the roles we play for others. I recommend 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and doing some introspection on how you are handling the first 3 habits and how to focus on not looking for happiness through external validations. I also recommend mindfulness training and meditation, although I am guilty of not prioritizing it in my day to day life.