What do you think everyone would want to do, if only they could? What kind of work? In what kind of environment? At what time of day? Under what circumstances?
Answering this series of questions can provide you with the single greatest insight into your own preferences — and also into your fears.
About a decade ago, I leaned over a paper placemat at Friendly’s and answered a friend’s query about the sort of working life I’d love to have: based at home full-time with no boss, no “team” to have to collaborate with, making my own schedule — which likely would look like working from 6am to 10am, having the middle of the day off, and then going back to work in the evening — writing articles and books that simultaneously self-express while helping others.
I followed up my description with, “But who wouldn’t want that?”
My friend stared at me, then lifted an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t. And I honestly don’t know anyone who would.”
This took me by complete surprise. So I then launched into grilling her about what did *not* sound good to her about my vision for my ideal work lifestyle, then spent days (weeks? months?) wondering if I was a horribly strange person.
Before that day, I honestly believed that I was fantasizing about a working lifestyle that “everyone” would want. In fact, I believed that so many people wanted it, I might not be able to get it because “it” was already taken (as if such a thing could be true).
Furthermore, I hadn’t articulated my vision for years on end because I’d taken it as such a given — as something that was so obvious that it need not be spoken. Who doesn’t want to be their own boss? Who doesn’t want to work in their pajamas? Who doesn’t want to spend hours not having to talk to anyone?
Lots of people, I now realize.
The Friendly’s moment of realization is part of what drove me to want to hear people’s work stories — and to help them construct in reality what had been previously only been in their heads. Through much formal and very informal interviewing and coaching of people from a wide range of ages and backgrounds, I’ve come to realize just how idiosyncratic my preferences are. They are very “me.” Are there others in the world who share my vision of the ideal working lifestyle? Absolutely. Chris Guillebeau, for instance, has made a living stoking the fantasies of people like me.
But of the hundreds of clients and students I’ve known, it’s only a small percentage who share my vision — or share a vision with one another. I’ve come to believe that work lifestyle preferences are our ultimate psychological fingerprint: as unique as each of us.
So, then, what have you been failing to articulate because it’s “so obvious”? What is your vision of a work life that “everyone” would want? What do you take so for granted that you usually don’t even bother to let it into your consciousness?
Do you think that “everyone” would love to work with an endless supply of coffee in close reach? Would “everyone” love to interview celebrities? Would “everyone” prefer to spend their day out in the sun?
I’d bet most of those examples don’t resonate with you — yet for someone, one or more of those represent their core assumptions for awe-inspiring work environments.
Two caveats before we wrap:
First: DO NOT think about reality yet. When you hear the pesky voice in your head say, “but that’s impossible” as you consider some aspect of your ideal working life, that’s a sign that you’re on the right track. Write that thing down! Is endless coffee just a dream? I don’t know. I’m not trying at this moment to assess its odds of occurrence. It’s beside the point. If the thought of it makes your pesky voices rise up in opposition, you’re onto something. A good vision should be internally controversial. If it weren’t, you’d simply be describing the work life you already have. And if you’re reading this article, chances are you don’t want to keep working exactly (or at all) as you are.
Secondly: Aim to write about the process of the work, not the outcomes of that work. For instance, would “everyone” love to make seven figures a year, especially if that money didn’t come along with a huge lifestyle cost? Probably. But “making seven figures” is not a work lifestyle. It is not a “doing” of something. It’s an outcome of that doing. We actually do tend toward having universals about outcomes — e.g., wanting more time with our family members, wanting more time off in general, wanting money flowing in without having to do anything at all — and so they aren’t that compelling or helpful in our work search process.
It’s the HOW that comes before the outcomes that varies from person to person. It’s the HOW that can guide your choices as you move from where you are to where you want to be. It’s the HOW that can unlock the fulfilling working lifestyle you’ve always wanted to have.
So take a moment to write down your obvious. What, do you think, does “everyone” want to do?