I’ve always been really close with my Nanna. I’ve turned to her a lot over the years as I’ve juggled kids, work, study, friends, relationships...
If you crave meaningful work, it might not happen by accident. Here's how to shape a fulfilling career, by asking 5 questions.
YOU SPEND A LOT OF TIME AT WORK
One third of your life is spent at work. According to some estimates, people spend an average of 90,000 hours at work - so what you do for a job really matters!
If you're lucky, you'll land in a meaningful and fulfilling career by accident. If not, you will need to put a bit of extra intention into the choices you make when it comes to work.
In this article, we'll look at how you can take charge of your career and build more meaning and fulfilment into your 90,000 hours, by asking five killer questions.
1. What do I care about?
The first step in shaping a fulfilling career is to identify your passions. What are the things that excite you and make you feel energised? What activities do you enjoy doing, even if they aren't related to work?
When you know what makes you tick, you can start to explore careers that align with your interests and provide opportunities for personal fulfilment.
If you love helping others, think about career paths that offer a solid path to contribution - like social work, counselling, or non-profit management. If science and technology is your thing, take a closer look at engineering, software development, or research. You get the gist.
⚡️ Write a list of all the things that light you up, and see what comes out.
2. What do I want out of my life?
Too many people get halfway through their career and wonder how they got there. For a lot of people, that's fine.
But if you're reading an article on how to shape a more fulfilling career, that might not be for you.
Unless you have an intention in mind, you're vulnerable to winding up on someone else's path. By defining what you want to achieve, you set your internal Google off to find the opportunities and options that will get you there, and you'll find yourself more focused and motivated along the way.
Don't panic too much about a detailed plan - it will be irrelevant as soon as you start. Instead, play the long game. Think about the legacy you'd like to leave, and the impact you'd like to have, and take small steps that align with that.
With a clear endgame and a flexible attitude, you dramatically increase your chance of getting somewhere you're proud of.
Need help getting clear on your long-term plan? Download this free resource to help you play the long game!
3. What are my values?
If you want fulfilment, you'll need work that aligns with your values. Once we know what drives us, the gaps and gnawing feelings in our current situation become easier to understand, and we can take action to change it.
Every day, we make decisions about how we spend our time, attention, and energy. Those actions reflect our values. When we know and live our values, we’re more connected to our behaviour and we can focus on what matters.
To find your values, try asking what you most detest in others. The reverse is what you care about. If stinginess is upsetting, then you value generosity. If lateness offends, you value promptness. If groupthink grinds your gears, you value independence.
For bonus points, try upgrading your values. Mark Manson argues that not all values are created equally. Bad values are based on uncontrollable and destructive emotions, while good ones centre on controllable and constructive evidence. When we’re propelled by how we feel, we make distorted, short-term decisions. But when we’ve chosen our values carefully, we can override those instincts and make choices that really count.
Try replacing low-level values with more abstract versions. If you chase money, seek freedom. If you crave popularity, prioritise connection. Most importantly, commit to values that you have agency over.
You can’t always control how much money you have or whether people like you, but you can control how you manage your time and how genuine you are.
You can certainly control what you do for a job - and you can make sure it lines up with your core values. Do that, and your 90,000 hours will feel an awful lot more rewarding.
4. What do I need to learn?
Once you're clearer on the things you're into, think about the skills you need to pursue a career in that field - and don't limit yourself to the standard options either. Sure, you might need a getting a degree or certification, but equally you might not. What classes or workshops are available to you? How could you get some hands-on experience through shadowing, internships or volunteering?
It's worth thinking outside the box on this one. It's never been easier to learn a new skill than it is right now, and until you know what's involved in a career, you won't know whether you love it. I've always harboured a secret goal to write fiction, but rather than committing to a year long programme, I've signed up to a one-week workshop and I've been busy getting my word count in order to make it happen. After that, I'll have a clearer idea on whether I'm cut out for it - and whether I like it!
Take small steps. If you think software development might be your jam, learn a programming language and build something small of your own.
5. Who do I know?
You know the old adage - it's not what you know, but who you know! Hopefully we've moved on a bit from the nepotism of yore, but relationships are still a huge asset when it comes to shifting and shaping careers.
When you get to know others in your industry or field of interest, you can learn more about what's involved, get an early heads-up about job opportunities, gain valuable insights into the industry, and connect with potential mentors or colleagues.
It's a good time to be a networker, too. You might want to try attending industry events and conferences, or joining a professional organisation - or you might follow people you admire on LinkedIn and engage with their posts, webinars and events. Send out 10 coffee requests and cross your fingers one person says yes. Either way, the ticket is to make an effort. When you're proactive and reach out to others, rather than waiting for opportunities to come to you, good things happen.
- What you do for work has a huge impact on how you feel about your life
- If you want a fulfilling career, ask yourself what you care about, what you want out of life, and what you value
- By learning new skills, building relationships, setting goals and taking small steps, you can shape a career you're proud of.