Are You on the Right Career Path? Ask Yourself These 4 Questions

I just found out a close friend has cancer.  I was shocked by the news.  Although her cancer is highly treatable, it was a complete surprise.  She will need to go through 6 months of chemo and hell to recover.  I share this with you to help you step back from the daily grind and see the big picture.  Life is short and finite.

  • Are you on the right career path?right career path
  • Are you doing what you are suppose to be doing?
  • If you were told you have cancer today, would you make different choices in your career and life?

Our life is a gift.  Don’t wait until you have shocking news in your life to reexamine.  It’s never too early to reassess or take a different direction altogether.   Today, I want to help you answer these questions.

Many of us work long hours, forgo time with family, friends, and skip vacations, so we can get ahead in our career.    But do we know why we do it?  The superficial answer is to make more money, or get promoted, or be recognized.   But I would argue none of that really help us feel fulfilled.

Our career path must have a deeper meaning for it to be worth the effort and the time away from our families.   That meaning will also help ground us if we receive sad unexpected news like this from a friend or from a doctor about our own health.

Here are 4 questions to help you examine your current career path and trajectory?

Question 1: Does my job & career make a difference somehow?  I have shared the definition of success before.  It’s not about material status, and much more about our level of contribution to others.  Making a difference comes in all forms.   For example, it can be about

  • earning money so I can support my family and my kids’ education
  • making a positive impact to the customers my company serves (whether with a new product I launch or solving service issues painlessly)
  • coaching those on my team so they can learn from my experience and skills

Perhaps you never thought about your career this way. It’s not too late to start.  Even if your immediate answer is no.  Start now and look for opportunities in your career to make a difference.   It will add meaning to your hard work.

Question 2: Does my career path give me increasing flexibility?  As we advance in our careers, we should have more control over when and how we work.  However, sometimes we get caught up in the game of gaining more power at work instead.   I actually tend to work more as I get more responsibilities and recognition at work.   This in turn means less time with my kids or doing things that make a difference for others, like writing in this blog.

I often have to remind myself the true reason I want more career success.  It is not so that I can work more.   Instead it’s so I can actually choose how I work

  • Take the time off when my kids are off from school (like this coming Thanksgiving week)
  • Leave work early so I can attend our neighborhood Halloween party (and dress up as Gru and the Minions from Despicable me :-))
  • Be able to say no to certain work and have it not affect my overall career.

Question 3: Does my career path give me freedom?  Ironically many people who are successful in their career actually have less freedom.   Earning more money and having power at work can be addictive and never ending.

  • Do you know how much money you should earn to be happy?   Studies shows $50-70K may be enough.
  • Can you quit your job tomorrow and be okay for a year?  There is mental freedom in being able to have this option in the back of your mind.  Work is hard.  There are incompetent leaders, difficult bosses, and unreasonable pressure at work.  Have a mental outlet where you know you can quit tomorrow and be okay is mental freedom from unnecessary stress.
  • Do you have a $ number for when you can “retire”?  It’s good to set a finite number ahead of time.

Question 4: Am I still learning?  We are all meant to evolve and learn until the day we die.   Every job we have should teach us something.  If you are no longer learning, ask for a more challenging assignment.  While it can be stressful at first, it will also keep your brain alive and engaged.

If your answer is no to any of these questions, then it’s time to figure out how to get to yes.  Surprisingly the answer is not always change job or career.   I would recommend first trying

  1. Making a mental shift.   Look at your current job and see how you can make a difference, gain more flexibility and freedom, or learn more
  2. Manage yourself differently.  Often times, it’s us, not outside factors, that restricts our freedom, flexibility, and learning.  We are the first to say yes to long hours or more work even if our companies don’t expect it.  We are the first to say no to new assignments out of fear of failure.   Start saying no to unimportant work and yes to new challenges.

I have been working a lot lately, intoxicated by the increase responsibility and recognition I have received at work.  I write this article not only to help you but also to ground me in remembering what really matters in life.   Best wishes

Your comments: What are your answers to these questions?  Does this article make you think differently about your job and career path?  I look forward to your comments

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Work smart and live more!

Lei