5 Questions to Help Shape the Course of Your Career

Some Things to Think About

When I was just starting out in the world of work it took me a while to get my career track figured out.  I went from one job role to another in various industries, wasting too much time in a scattered and arguably chaotic fashion throughout.

But it doesn’t mean this was all bad either.

In certain respects it worked out OK because I was able to develop some diverse skills that served me well, at least in some capacity throughout all of my career.  A lot of this benefit was simply due to how I approached and utilized my experience – but that’s for a different post.
It’s clear now that a better plan in the beginning would’ve helped pave the way for greater progress (and also more income) in those earlier years.
Of course, back then I likely wouldn’t have known what to do with it.
Maybe everything works out the way it should.
But now, at this stage in my life I’ve accumulated some perspective as to what I could’ve done and how I could’ve thought differently.  And I use this approach today at this stage in my life.  I also share it with others when they tell me they feel lost like a ship at sea.
The approach I speak of revolves around asking certain relevant questions and doing so regularly.
Let’s walk through them now.

1.  What do I want?

This question is default mode for many people.

Others go down this road of inquiry subconsciously each and every day.  They may not realize they’re asking themselves “what do I want?” but they do it nonetheless.  And some even ask it selfishly without taking other people’s needs and wants into account (which isn’t a great way to go from my perspective).

In contrast to this, certain individuals ask this question more along the lines of what they don’t want.  Their perspective in life revolves around avoidance.  And if that works for them, that’s ok.  They have it figured out in their own way, and it’s not my place to argue.
But for my purposes, it’s always made the most sense to figure out what I want to do or acquire, who I want to meet, etc. from a deliberate, conscious perspective.
If you build a timeline around it, and assume that you’ll regularly be asking it every three months (or less) or so for years down the road it’s even better because you should get a steadily evolving idea of how all the pieces fit together.
You may also get a glimpse of how what you’re doing today influences what you want to do tomorrow and so on and so forth.

But what about those who fail to consider this question?

It’s unfortunate, but people who don’t ponder these things may find themselves working in a job they hate when they’re too old or established in a certain field to do much about it.

2.  What skills and experience do I have?

It’s great to have dreams.

Thinking about what’s possible and making clear plans to get there are important steps taken by some of the greatest innovators who ever lived.

But (and I hate to be the one who has to say this), it’s also important to also be realistic.

And in many cases it might make more sense to read the trends of life by looking at what you’ve done in the past and what skillsets have you accumulated in the process as a hint to what the next step should be.

From what I’ve seen people tend to move toward interests incrementally, and a clear understanding of your past choices is a great way to enhance your vision for the future.

For instance, I can’t tell you anyone off hand who has worked their entire life as an accountant and then suddenly decided to be a marine biologist.  Chances are, prior to wanting to become an accountant they had an affinity for math, working with numbers, and modeling out financial scenarios.

There must’ve been some degree of satisfaction there to stay in that field for so long.

Not to say big changes in one’s career path can’t happen, but I think the 180 degree pivot quite rare.

Now, the reason this question is so important is because having the right qualifications is often one of the first requirements you’ll see in job postings, and with that it’s only natural that the topic also gets brought up in interviews.  Employers want to hire people who have done the same, or at least similar things in the past – and having had some degree of success in these endeavors is usually preferred.

Another example of why this question is key is, depending on what you’re looking at doing with your career it can help give you an idea of where you need improvement.  If you don’t have the skills and experience necessary for a certain role, determining the answer to this question will give you insight into areas that you need to work on.

All that said, if you’re at the point where you’re contemplating a life change and would like to do some type of job that’s totally different, this certainly doesn’t mean that you cannot do that thing.  But your chances of success are certainly better if your past track record has provided you a firm foundation for future success.

3.  Who are my connections / who supports me?

If I’ve learned anything in my life it’s that you can’t accomplish anything noteworthy all by by yourself.

Sorry, it’s just how it is.

Don’t feel alone if you’re surprised by this.  As an ambitions, self-starter type, It took me a long time to learn (and accept) it too.

But let’s take this to another, more positive level.

You can go a lot further and get there a lot faster with the right type of people in your corner.

So why resist?  It might just make more sense to embrace it.

Start making your list, and see who can help you with what you need to get to where you want to go.  Some of these people might have some connections of their own who can provide you with the perfect introduction, and perhaps they’d be willing to do so.

But now, what happens if you make your list, and for whatever reason find out that your circle is a bit small.  Maybe you just have a few good friends, and they aren’t involved with the type of career that you’d like to have.

That’s where networking comes in to the picture.

Networking takes some time to master, and a more full explanation will require it’s own blog post.  But for right now, I’ll leave you with some points to think about when considering effective networking.

  • Start building real relationships.
  • Figure out ways that you can help others
  • Become better at marketing yourself
  • Create a system for effectively managing your contacts
  • Engage in regular networking (Meeting new people)

4.  Am I moving in the direction of my current goals at present?

Something that a lot of people lack (even some at what could be consider the upper echelons) is one key trait:


But what is self-awareness and how can you develop it?

Fundamentally, self-awareness is about knowing what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and the impact your actions are having.  For example, in using certain communication methods you may be pushing others away who could be of help to you in some way.  Maybe you’re being rude or grumpy and don’t even realize it.  In a case like this, self-awareness would revolve around looking at these past interactions carefully to determine why more people aren’t sticking around.

The first thing that I did to start learning this important skill was to learn to have some humility.  I realized that I had a lot to learn.

I also started taking more responsibility for my actions, and began writing about these scenarios in my journal.  This activity coupled with deep reading about the particular topics where I wanted to improve steadily began enhancing my self-awareness.

It’s a journey that never ends.  And if you do it right, it can be one of the most satisfying projects you undertake.

5.  Is it better to wait or move?

Timing is of the essence when it comes to career moves.

When an opportunity pops up on your radar you may have some lead time in which to decide.  However, opportunities in certain niches can go fast.  A lot of people may be looking for them, and if you decide to not step up, they may step in and take advantage of them.

Once you have established some self-awareness as referenced above, you’ll have a better idea as to whether you should take up the opportunity yourself.

Another step which can help here is developing a pros and cons list for the particular opportunity.  Once you’ve completed both of these elements, you’ll be better positioned to examine the particular opportunity from different perspectives and determine if it’s one that will work for you.

What other questions do you ask when considering your career?

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