Feeling stuck, stalled, confused about what career is best for you? Are you wrestling with the usual questions?
- Should I go back to school?
- Should I take this path or that?
- What should I do with my life?
Why not step back a bit? First, take a look at the bigger picture. Decide what your life's vision is.
Here's an exercise that will help you expand the picture: write your own obituary. No, this isn't easy. We don't like to face our mortality. Jane Walmsley said, "Americans think that death is optional." It isn't. So get over it and start writing.
Think about your last party - your funeral. Who do you hope will be there? What do you want them saying about you? Do you prefer that your friends talk about what a great widget saleswoman you were or about the many positive ways that you affected their lives (or some combination of both)? Do you want your children remembering that their father achieved career success by working 60+ hours a week or that he coached their baseball teams and never missed a soccer game?
I'm still working on my obituary, but here are some parts of it:
"Her life's work was connecting people to themselves, to others and to their life's work. She lived each day in the present. She learned something new each day. She was quick to forgive and slow to anger. She was a loving wife. Her marriage was the biggest and most enduring happiness of her life because she celebrated that joy each day and didn't sweat the small stuff. She always treated others with courtesy and respect. She looked for hope. She was a shameless optimist and a great cook. She loved to laugh."
Do I live up to every part of this every day? No, but I keep trying. Writing it made me think about what's most important to me. That vision helps me to measure my behavior against those goals.
The next step is to define specific behaviors or actions that will help you to achieve your vision. For example, "She learned something new each day" prompted me to ask whether I am doing enough toward that goal. Do I need to read more? What kinds of books and articles will I read? What new subjects do I want to tackle? How will I make the time for that? Do I want to talk to more people with viewpoints different from mine? Where will I find those people? Answers to these questions helped me to set specific goals like: Start a must-read list of books. Spend at least five evening hours a week reading (instead of watching TV). Attend at least one thought-provoking lecture or discussion every month.
You must also look at how your values fit into your vision. Blanchard and Stoner say that values are deeply held beliefs that "define what is right or fundamentally important. . . . They provide guidelines for our choices and actions." Values explain how you want to live and what actions create and continue that life. Values are the vitally important basics of your life. Your work - what you do, where you do it and with whom - must align with your values.
Let's say that honesty, cooperation and fair play are high on your values list. Does every part of your life support those values and allow you really to live them? Could you be happy working with people whose mantra is "smash the competition; do whatever it takes to win?" The answer is "probably not for long" IF your success depended on adopting that attitude.
On the other hand, recognizing the importance of those values could open up a new career possibility for you - mediator, ombudsman, attorney, ethics professor, marriage counselor, investigative journalist, consumer advocate, forensic accountant, or even consultant to ethically-challenged corporations.
Making a career choice without a vision statement can be like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle before you have all of the pieces. First, search out those missing pieces. Then you can start moving them around to see how they all connect to form the big picture.