For years now, we have been “navigating” our careers on the basis of wherever the next best opportunity lies. But it is not exactly navigating when it is this reactive, is it? For some, the next best opportunity is what motivates them. But how many times do we walk into a party only to hear (and often, crack) self-deprecating jokes about the work we do, the bosses we are expected to pander to, and the lack of time to use the money that every “next best opportunity” brings?
If so many people in this era are not pleased with the criteria for career moves, could there be something inherently flawed with our approach? Do we really need to continue pursuing the same path just because we didn’t know any better when we graduated? What is a better way to find and pursue career opportunities that don’t just pay our bills but also make us happy?
Here are a few questions that have helped my decision-making process. They might help you too.
This one goes without saying. I have observed over the years that the new workforce is an incredibly diverse lot. Some of us thrive on the validation and wins that come from a fast-track career – and that is hardly a bad thing. Some have personal commitments like home EMIs, education loans, ageing parents and children’s education fund. Some need the money just to pay for their travels. For some, interesting work and flexibility score much higher than annual salary hikes and promotions. Some like the structure and certainty that full-time employment provides; some couldn’t care less about it.
It helps to know exactly what purpose you want your work to serve in your life. It makes the decision making process that much more deliberate and informed.
Keeping things simple is essential when you are trying to answer career questions. If you can figure out what goes into making your ideal weekday, you will know the specifics of that you want to pursue.
What parts of the job do you like the most? How much do you enjoy all that happens on the sidelines of work – coffee and banter, meetings, commutes, and more? How would you feel if some of it was taken away or you had to do more of it? Consciously thinking through what works in your current job or desired employment model will ensure you find opportunities where you get to do more of it.
When someone first told me that interviewers might want to know where I see myself five years down the line, I laughed. But I have found that organizations might ask you this to find out how long you intend to stay with them, the question itself holds great value. If at the end of five years, you know a natural professional progression of a few promotions and salary hikes will make you happy, you’d be better off putting your head down and doing what it takes to get there. If you don’t see yourself enjoying the work that your bosses do, it is probably time to consider alternative jobs or employment models.
The struggle to stay motivated in your current role is real. A year or two of doing similar things every day of the week can get incredibly monotonous. Before you make a life-changing career decision, it is important to understand if you are just letting monotony get to you. Take a few days off, travel somewhere; maybe consider a sabbatical or a different client, role or team within the same organization.
At the same time, too much work is also a reason people switch jobs and careers. I will tell you this – any good, rewarding career needs hard work.
Being deliberate about your career choices doesn’t just help when you are itching to switch. Change is an amazing thing, which brings with it new challenges, new people and new lessons. But it is also very scary, for exactly the same reasons. Do you have a hundred problems with the current job but wanting to try something new isn’t one of them? Is it because you are really happy doing what you do? Will you consider yourself successful and content if you progress naturally from your current role in the same or similar organizations? Is it just comfort talking?
Asking yourself these questions can help you realize when it is time to move on.
Last year, I came across an insightful piece by one of the more practical and interesting self-help authors of our times, Mark Manson. He says, “If I ask you, ‘What do you want out of life?’ and you say something like, ‘I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,’ it’s so ubiquitous that it doesn’t even mean anything. A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you’ve never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? That seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out.”
No matter what you choose for yourself, there will be struggles along the way. Want to move up the career ladder? Be prepared for long hours and successfully navigating office politics and unnecessary hierarchies. Want a job that lets you travel four days a week? You must be up for the physical exhaustion it brings. Considering self-employment? You will have to bear the uncertainties even as you enjoy the flexibility. See yourself as a unicorn startup founder in the future? It is going to be a long road of funding rejections and relentless perseverance and hard work. Want to make a difference to the world? Be prepared for the emotional struggle when you come face to face with the many injustices we dole out on a daily basis.
Knowing the end goal for which you are willing to struggle for helps you make informed choices and lessen the load of unpleasant surprises along the way. There is no such thing as the perfect life or career, no matter what people’s rose-tinted social media posts will have you believe.
I believe it is crucial that we navigate our careers on the basis of personal priorities. After all, we spend a good one-third of our lives as employed professionals. It is only fair that we make it work for us in the long run, purposefully accepting and rejecting the trade-offs of each choice. We are fortunate to have this luxury in our times – let’s not flounder it.