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by Derek Loosvelt | July 24, 2019

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Summer is a time when many professionals use a large number of their PTO days. Professionals often take summer PTO to take advantage of the warm weather in order to swim, surf, hike, bike, road trip, and tour the great cities of the Northern Hemisphere. However, what many professionals fail to take advantage of when it comes to their summer PTO is the time away from the office to take stock of their career goals, aspirations, hopes, and dreams. To that end, here are three questions that all professionals, at all levels, should ask themselves during their summer vacations.

1. Do I still want to be at this job and company in one year?

First, it's important to point out that you don't want to ask yourself this or the following two questions on day one of your vacation. Let yourself unwind a bit. Take two or even three days away from the office, and only then start to ask. The reason is distance (both time and space) can help you answer more clearly. That said, this question is very important to know the answer to. You need to be clear about your answer, so when you get back to the office you can start to take specific steps, based on your answer, about how to proceed.

For example, if you don't want to be in the same job and company in one year, then you'll need to create a list of actions you need to take (and take soon, since the job search takes time) in order to make your goal a reality. Also, you'll need to know where you want to be instead. Do you want to work for a competitor? In a different role? A different industry? You'll need to think about all of these questions, too.

On the other hand, if you're happy with where you are, that's great, but you still need to come up with a plan for how to spend the next 12 months on the job. What do you hope to improve in? Which new skills do you want to gain? Do you want to set yourself up for a promotion? More money? The answers to these questions will help you strategize when you're back from your vacation, which, as you know, always goes by way too fast.

2. Where do I envision myself in five years?

There's a reason this is such a popular interview question: people value people with vision who can plan ahead and make their plan a reality. And note that it is one thing to have a one-year plan and quite another to have a five-year plan. Which is to say that it's much more difficult to make long-term plans. More thought needs to go into them. More plans need to be made. And more steps need to be charted out and followed through on.

All of which shouldn't deter you from thinking about the answer to this question; just keep in mind that it's not an easy one and could take a lot of thinking (much longer than a few hours on the beach). Why it's so important to know the answer to this question is if you don't know, then your career won't be as focused; you'll be more of a passenger than driver when to comes to your career.

And so, give this question a lot of thought. Think of it over on several days (if you have the time). And try on different jobs and roles. That is, imagine yourself in various roles, at various companies, in various industries. Try to picture what your work life (and personal life) might look like in these roles, at these companies, in these industries. If a picture starts to look attractive, and it's a realistic one, then keep imagining, keep fleshing out the picture you see. Many people believe that clearly imagining what you want is the key to making what you want a reality (here is a classic book on just that).

Once you do have a clear picture in mind, when you're back in the office, you can start to create a list of actions that you need to take to reach your long-term goal. Note: It's okay if your goal changes. It probably will. Don't forget: you'll be thinking about these same questions on your long break next summer. And then, your answers might be different.

3. How will my career and career goals help me reach my personal goals (if at all)?

To answer this question, you want to be thinking short term and long term. That is, think about how your career is affecting your personal goals now, and how your career might affect the personal goals you might want to pursue in the future. And the first thing you want to do here is to identify your personal goals. Which could be a host of things, like goals related to family, a side gig, passion projects, your creative pursuits, buying a house, putting kids through college, having a relationship, spending time with your friends and family, caring for aging parents, etc. Whatever they are, once you do identify your personal goals, begin to ask yourself how your working life will help you or hinder you when it comes to reaching those goals.

Note that this is also not an easy question to answer, but chances are there will be some thoughts that jump out at you right away. Often, time and money are two of the main things that are either helping or hurting us when it comes to personal goals. That is, how much time we spend working, and how much money we earn from working. Another thing that often helps or hurts our personal goals includes how we feel at work: satisfied or unsatisfied, fulfilled or unfulfilled. Today, for many people, a personal goal is to find meaning in everything they do, including their work. So this should be taken into account, too.

In any case, give this question a lot of thought. And try to be as honest with yourself as you can. Which certainly can be difficult, since it's not easy to see or look at a situation that's hurting you and your ability to reach your goals. But, if you can, keep in mind that the sooner you can identify a problem, the sooner you can fix it.

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