We go through life envying the certainty that some people seem to have. They know what they want, they declare it and march forward with a confidence that can make us question ourselves, wishing that we could just get a drop of whatever they have. Just a drop. Remember the kid who, in first grade, said he wanted to be a doctor and today, yep, he is Dr. So and So? Yeah, people like that.
I am not one of those people, and chances are you aren’t either. And let me tell you why that may be a good thing. We change every day, every month, every year. And because those change are subtle, we really don’t see them. Have you ever looked at a picture of yourself from five or so years ago? Were you surprised that yes, you did actually look five years older? (and I’m not going to even mention those extra pounds! Yikes.) It works that way with our professional selves as well. Over time, as we accumulate experiences and develop new skills, our interests change. In retrospect, the work we may have loved ten years ago sounds like torture to us today. Why? Because you are a different person than you were ten years ago. Would it make sense that your professional interests and goals would stay the same while you as a person were constantly changing? Probably not.
I was having a conversation about this very topic with a friend last week. He told me that early in his career, there was one company he wanted to work for so badly that he said he would have killed for it. (He was kidding, I think!) At that point in his career, working for that organization would mean that he had arrived, that he was someone to be reckoned with in his field. Fast forward several years to when he was established in his career, and with some significant success in his pocket. The phone rings, and you guessed it, it was someone from “that” company. They offered him a big job on the spot, as he had established a reputation that changed the dynamic. Where he couldn’t get them to acknowledge his existence early in his career they were now throwing the moon and stars at him. A dream come true, right? His answer to them was, “Thanks, but no thanks.” The company still had a lot to offer, but they no longer had a lot to offer him, because he had changed, and his definition of career and life happiness had changed as well.
Think back to your early career years. What did you want? Do you remember why you wanted it? And is that what and that why still relevant today? If it is, great! Keep forging ahead! But if your answer is less than a yes, it is time to revisit your goals. Some tips:
1. Know yourself. Stay attuned to what you like to do and what you are good at. Be able to articulate who you are professionally. And know that this will change—and should change—as time goes on.
2. Commit to the idea that you must put your head up and look at your options as a habit. Remember, you don’t have to exercise any of them, but it will give you peace of mind just knowing when changes inevitably occur, you have them. I do not believe that being in one job for 30 years was ever a good idea.
3. Focus on integration of all sectors of your life. If your dream job is one that is filled with global travel, and you just got married and the baby talk is beginning, it is probably time to step back and revisit your “big picture.”
The career and life happiest people I know are ones that insist on nothing less, are willing to take some calculated risks, and ask themselves the hard questions that keep them moving forward.
It is hard, and it can be frustrating, and some days you will feel like you are pushing a wet noodle up a hill. Keep pushing, because a career or life lived in “good enough” probably isn’t.
I will ask you again: do you still want what you thought you wanted? If not, what do you want?
Photo (Flickr CC) by Bilal Kamoon