Life and career progression is all about asking questions. The trouble is, sometimes we get lost and struggle to ask the right questions, especially if we feel stuck or locked into something that makes us uncomfortable.
Having just come back from an amazing trip around Europe (which also meant a small career break) I had time to reflect on what some of those questions are.
In my last blog post I talked about some general observations that having a longer break gave me. This week I wanted to focus more on the career side of things.
For most of us, work takes up a huge part our life in terms of effort, energy and reward. We get paid, acknowledged and add value. We also struggle with frustration, expectations, communication and purpose.
In a fast paced world with lots of moving parts, purpose seems to be the key navigation tool for many of us. How else are we meant to realign when we get lost?
Whilst being away, I noticed how often people (myself included) ask themselves “Why do I do this?“. Sometimes related to family and other decisions, but more often it seems to be about work. If you’re feeling misaligned with your current work you might even ask things like “Why do I put up with this?” or “Does my contribution even matter?“.
It’s very important that we question ourselves and our decisions from time to time, but we need to ensure we do so from a reflective and constructive perspective with the view to tweak and improve. As we’re only human, it’s likely you’ll want to beat yourself up a bit in the process, just be aware that you may get stuck here unless you change how you formulate that inner question.
If you have locked in a project, role or area to study that feels right for now, you don’t need to question your decision endlessly. But if you are able to connect that choice to your bigger picture purpose you will feel a lot happier.
You don’t need to know the full extent of your purpose and values to do this quick exercise, you just need to be open to reflect on what feels good and what does not.
To do this in practise is actually easier than you think:
- Book in a time with yourself once a month (or weekly if you prefer that). Make sure it’s in your calendar and treat it as just as important as an external meeting/social get together.
- Look at the activities/areas of your life that took up the most time and energy in the last month (or week).
- Identify the ones that feel the most draining/least rewarding. It could be a challenging work project, going to a family gathering you did not want to be at or learning a new topic that’s more challenging that you thought it would be.
- If you find yourself asking “Why do I/did I …” about any of the above challenge areas, you can simply turn that around and use the statement “This matters because …” instead.
For example: your work is really draining this month, but you’ve just been promoted and are in the midst of learning how to manage a team of 5 people, something you’ve never done before. You may answer the statement with “This matters because I’m learning how to be a better leader. This in turn will open up opportunities beyond my current role so I can continue to grow. If I don’t feel more energised in 3 months from now I will reassess my situation and look to adjust my role”.
Or if you feel really tired and unhappy with how your new project is tracking at work and feel really disempowered, you might answer “My work right now matters because I’m earning a comfortable salary that allows me to save up for an emergency fund by the end of the year. This emergency fund will allow me more choices in terms of the work I choose going forward.”
- Everything we do won’t always have clear link to our purpose, but we all have enablers that bring us closer to the things that matter more. If something has a link to something meaningful, the task itself does not have to feel meaningful all the time.
If you can’t complete the statement above with anything helpful/strategic/exciting/resourceful, it’s a clear sign you need to disconnect from whatever you are locked into and draft a new plan.
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