One of the most important things I can possibly share with you with regards to any pursuit of purpose and fulfillment is this: know what you want. Know what you want and fix it in your mind. This is far and away the first and most important step to accomplishing nearly anything.
The hardest part of the entire career search process is knowing what you want. It all goes back to that question we’ve asked ourselves a million times: what do I want to be when I grow up? Researching companies, writing a resume and cover letter, building meaningful relationships with the right people, interviewing, negotiating… these are all things that can be taught.
Knowing what you want comes from the inside. It comes from the intentional and extremely difficult pursuit of quiet time and self-awareness. It comes from asking yourself the most fundamental questions that are the most difficult to answer.
How to Know What You Want
So you’re thinking: “Know what I want? That’s what you’re giving me right now, Barrett? Give me a break!” I wouldn’t leave you hanging with that simple comment, so here’s how to know what you want with absolute certainty:
Step 1: Define your values.
Your values are the five to seven words that describe the ideals you aspire to live by. We’ll never be perfect in living our values, but we can definitely use them to make decisions and serve as guideposts along the way. Your values matter in your career search because they help you understand what kind of workplace you’re really looking for and how to evaluate your fit with potential employers.
When values come into play:
Your values come into play at two main points in the career search process. First, they will help you narrow your list of possible employers. Every employer on your target list after the first round of career research should align with your personal values.
Second, your values come into play when you begin the process of building meaningful relationships. Your values give you great fodder for asking intentional questions. They give you criteria for evaluating a company’s culture, and they tell you whether the stated values and the reality of the company are one and the same.
Step 2: Understand your passions & purpose.
Your purpose is your higher calling. It is the statement that transcends all of your activities in life — when you are truly fulfilled, your personal and professional life will align with your purpose. Your personal purpose reflects your core belief behind all that you do.
Passion is a hot topic these days. You’ve heard plenty of people give the advice of “Follow Your Passion.” And then maybe you’ve heard some on the other side of the debate say “Follow your passion is terrible advice.”
My coaching experience has told me the answer lies somewhere in between. The key is to understand your passions, interests, and motivations. Understand where you spend your time and energy. Understand what topics, industries, or causes you love learning about and would be willing to become an expert on.
At the most basic level, when you define your purpose, you are filling in the blanks of the following statement: I want to help _________ become/find/have ______________.
At the most basic level, your passions are highlighted when you fill in another blank that follows your purpose statement. I want to help _______________ become/find/have _______________________ by ________________________. The last blank tells you what you are most passionate about. You can fill it in with multiple answers, because we all have multiple passions, interests, and motivations.
Let me add one thing: blindly following your passions and not being willing to put any effort in to make yourself valuable is a fool’s errand. If you don’t love something enough to build expertise and become super valuable, then it’s unreasonable to expect the money, well-being, etc to follow.
Follow your passion is a terrible phrase because it neglects the reality inherent in doing something you love: it’s hard work… perhaps harder than any other work there is. But it is fulfilling work because with each passing day and morsel of expertise, you grow more valuable and more ingrained in the thing that drives you.
When passion & purpose come into play:
When you are researching companies and job opportunities, you must be able to connect your purpose with the job you will do at the end of the day. A recent study showed that 72% of college students want a job where they can have an impact. What that tells me is that more and more people (especially young people) are realizing that work is about more than just showing up. Work is about doing something meaningful that helps make an impact in the world. For you to be happy at work, the new standard is that you have to have an impact. The way you know you’re having an impact is by connecting your purpose to your work.
Understanding your passions, interests, and motivations gives you more criteria for evaluating job opportunities. You have to know that the job in front of you will allow you to become an expert or extremely valuable by building on one of your interests or passions. Passion and motivation will also show up in your tone and excitement as you build meaningful relationships and interview for job opportunities.
Step 3: Embrace your strengths.
Fact: people who use their natural strengths on a regular basis at work are more fulfilled and have better well-being than those who don’t. [See Gallup and The Marcus Buckingham Company research.] Fact: If you don’t know and embrace your strengths, it is nearly impossible to use them on a daily basis. Another fact: if you don’t know your strengths, you can’t possibly communicate your value to an employer.
When strengths come into play:
Strengths come into play throughout the career search process. Most importantly, they tell you whether you will reasonably be able to create value and expertise in a given job opportunity. If your job will not allow you to use your strengths, it will be an uphill battle to create any kind of traction in your career.
Focusing on the companies and jobs that will allow you to use your strengths will give you a much greater chance of success. Hint: The structure of the company and the leadership style will be the deciding factor just as often as the job responsibilities. Different companies with the same open position will mean different things for your strengths.
Your strengths should be a main aspect of your communication strategy throughout your career search. They should be incorporated to your resume and cover letter, as well as your networking and interview strategy. Your resume and cover letters are tools for communicating your value to an employer and landing a job where you can be fulfilled. Your strengths make this possible.
Employers and recruiters want to know how you can provide value and how to manage you to get your best. Your strengths are the answer to both questions.
Step 4: Lay out your vision.
What do you want people to say about you when you die? What do you want to accomplish in your lifetime? How will you measure your life? Heavy questions, right?
The more you do the soul searching required to understand what kind of impact you want to make in the world, the more likely you’ll be to relate your first or next job to what matters to you. Can you imagine what it would be like to tell an employer where you want to be in 3-5 years and honestly explain exactly how the job for which you are interviewing relates to that vision?
To do this, you have to start with your purpose. What does your purpose mean for the rest of your life? Literally sit down and answer these questions:
- What do I want people to say about me when I die? How will I have pursued my personal purpose?
- What do I want colleagues to say about me when I retire? How will I have used my work to have an impact?
- Where do I want to be in five years? What kind of lifestyle do I want? What do I want my priorities to be? Will this create the impact I outlined in the questions above?
- What do I need to do in the next year to make sure I am where I want to be in five years?
- What do I need to do this month to make sure I reach my one year goals?
- What do I need to do every day to make sure I accomplish my monthly goals? What habits do I need to build to find my version of fulfillment?
Again, these are the tough questions, but nobody said this was easy.
When your vision comes into play:
Your vision is your road map. It tells you how you will use your purpose, passion, values, and strengths to positively impact other people over the course of your life. It will change. Be ok with that. Your vision should be the final criteria for all of your career search decisions.
When researching companies: will the company give you experience that helps you build your vision?
When deciding whether to apply for a job: will the job allow you to accomplish what you want in the next year? 3 years? 5 years? If no to all three, ditch it. If no to one or two, then that it probably when it will be time to change jobs, companies, or careers. Are you ok with that?
When creating your story that will be used for your resume, cover letter, networking, and interviews: am I communicating my vision effectively? Will the person across the table understand how my first/next job fits into my vision?
Put it All Together
When you take these five steps and put the results all on a sheet of paper together, you have a cheat sheet for finding a job (an ideal job description) that will give you the chance to seek fulfillment in life and make an impact in the world.
Here’s what you want:
- Your values:: You want alignment of your values so that you work with people who share your beliefs and an organization that you believe in.
- Your passion & purpose:: To do great work, you have to be passionate enough to build expertise and put in the effort. To be fulfilled, you have to connect your work with your purpose because your purpose is how you want to impact the world. You want a job that sparks your passion and connects with your purpose.
- Your strengths:: To be fulfilled and maximize your impact, you have to use your strengths. You want a job that will allow you to use your strengths and build on them.
- Your vision:: People who live fulfilling and meaningful lives inevitably leave an impact on those around them. You want to have a vision for your life and your impact. You want a job that will help you fulfill that vision.
Photo: Bullseye by Ryan Thackray on Flickr
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