So, what’s next?
If you’re at a career crossroad, this is the looming question that has taken over your headspace.
Of course, underneath this question, is a bigger question –––
What’s my purpose?
If you’re seeking the answer to this question, you’re likely asking it in the context of your career.
And that’s fair. Our careers play a role in giving our lives meaning. Our careers are often a reflection of our strengths, our values, our contributions.
We want our work to inspire us. We want that Simon-Sinek-kind-of-Why. We want a purpose that goes beyond ourselves.
Though, sometimes this desire for purpose can lead to what The Atlantic is calling ‘Workism,’ a sometimes unhealthy obsession with work and meaning.
As someone who has sought to both uncover my why and cultivate a healthier relationship with my career, I’ve learned is there is no singular definition for purpose. Your purpose is for you, and you alone, to define.
Below is a series of questions, prompts, and ideas that can help you uncover your purpose.
Keep in mind, uncovering your purpose is often a slow, ongoing process. These questions aren’t likely to give you the answer. They’re intended to prompt a healthy dose of self-reflection.
Alrighty, let’s dive in!
First, let’s get a broad overview of your personal and professional history:
01. How did you come to be here in your life?
Reflect on how you got to be where you are today, what choices did you make? Why? Which ones still align with who you are today?
02. What have you achieved to date?
Reflect on your past accomplishments. What are you most proud of?
Take a look at how you spend your resources:
03. How do you spend your time?
Review your to-do list, your calendar, and your current commitments. For this one, you’ll want to look at the past year as well as what you have coming up.
04. How do you spend your money?
Review your bank, Paypal, and Venmo account. Thoroughly analyze your spending habits for the year.
Find out what’s not working, this will likely be easy to come up with:
05. When do you feel drained?
Looking at both your work and personal life, what things do you dread and avoid doing?
06. What or who makes you feel angry or frustrated?
What do ruminate about, or who do you vent about? What specifically irks you about those scenarios or people?
07. What change do you want to see?
This may be something you believe personally or professionally needs to change. It could be a cultural observation, a broader social issue, or something as simple as wanting to see people enjoy their lives more.
Next, identify what is working. This is often more challenging because we tend to take our gifts for granted.
08. What are you distinctly good at?
Identify your inherent signature strengths along with the skills you’ve acquired through work and personal life. Don’t just list adjectives, get specific.
09. What do people come to you for advice on?
This gives you an objective perspective on your strengths and skills.
10. What activities get you into flow?
Identify the work and personal activities you naturally gravitate to, the ones that energize and engage you, the ones you find yourself getting lost in.
11. What do you enjoy talking about, listening to, watching, or reading?
Identify the topics you’re innately curious about. It’s helpful to observe when you light up in a conversation, and what content engages you. Observe the articles you read, the podcasts you listen to, the videos you watch, your browser history, your recent book purchases, etc.
12. What are your quirks?
What makes you, you? What are your unique traits and/or habits people typically associate with you or remember about you?
Now, let’s get to know your preferences and tendencies.
For some answers, you may be somewhere in between. If so, include specifics around the scenario. And when relevant, include percentages to indicate where you are on the spectrum.
13. What’s your preferred work environment?
Get as specific as you can regarding location, who you’re surrounded by, noise levels, design elements, etc.
14. What’s your preferred communication style?
Writing, one-on-one conversations, group discussions, public speaking, teaching, performing, etc. This can be a combination of what you enjoy, and what you’re good at.
15. Do you prefer predictability or spontaneity?
Do prefer having a plan or keeping your options open? Which one do you find less stressful to cope with?
16. Do you tend to be more an introvert, ambivert, or extrovert?
Do you tend to get more energized by solo activities, one-on-one, or group interactions? This is less about whether you are shy or outgoing and more around how much interaction you crave.
17. Do you tend to be more interested in ideas or facts?
When coming to a conclusion about something, do you look for theories and deeper meanings or do you look for data? We all use both, but which one is more important to you, or simply more enjoyable for you to dissect?
18. Do you tend to make decisions based on logic or feelings?
When dealing with people, do you care more about coming to a practical solution, or coming to a consensus?
19. Do you tend to respond to inner or outer expectations? Neither or both?
Are you more likely to complete something if you believe in it or if someone is counting on you to get it done?
In addition to observing past hindsights, it’s helpful to look within to uncover insights.
Often, we don’t take the time to understand ourselves. This lack of self-knowledge is why we find ourselves on career paths that aren’t a fit.
This process will help you better understand that ever elusive subject: yourself.
The following questions will require you to get raw and vulnerable. What you find may be illuminating.
Let’s start with your self-image.
20. What personality traits are you most proud of?
This tends to be something you identify with, often a positive trait you’re known for within your close-knit circle of friends and family.
21. What identity do you most associate with?
This could be being a startup founder, a wellness enthusiast, a parent, a marathon runner, a creative, etc.
22. What are you striving to improve?
This could be related to personal and/or professional growth.
23. What’s a common misconception about you?
This is a false assumption people may make about you based on snap judgments or when they haven’t had a chance to get to know you.
24. What do you wish people knew about you?
This is something that you know is true about you but it is not widely known.
Next, let’s get to know your aspirations and challenges.
25. Whose career do you admire?
Who is doing something that you’d like to be doing? The people you admire are often a mirror reflecting back what you want.
26. Who do you want to connect with?
Who are you fascinated by? Who do you want to learn from? Who would you like to build a relationship with? What community would you like to be a part of?
27. What’s your vision for your career one year from now?
We’ll get into the specifics later. This space is for visioning the touchy-feely elements of what you want. How do you want to be? How do you want to show up? What kind of impact will you make? Allow yourself to dream.
28. What habits would you need to break?
We all have habits that can sabotage our vision for ourselves. Identify the physical, mental, and emotional habits that are holding you back.
29. What habits would you need to cultivate?
In addition to breaking habits, realizing your vision will require you to step up and become the person you want to be. What new habits will propel you forward?
30. What skills would you like to improve or learn?
Learning and growth are essential to career fulfillment, identify what expertise you’d like to build upon or cultivate.
31. Aside from your career, what other areas of your life are impacting your wellness?
Below is a wellness wheel. Rate each area on a scale of 1 to 5. What other areas might you want to address alongside career fulfillment?
32. Rank your top 10 things you would do in an ideal week.
This will give you insight into how you would spend your time if you had complete autonomy.
33. Reflect on the visceral moments in your life.
Describe moments where you experienced strong emotions, both joyful and challenging emotions. This will create a mind-body connection and point you to what matters.
34. What type of work would you do for less money than you make now?
Yes, money is an essential part of life as we know it. But sometimes making more, for the sake of more, can keep us trapped. This question helps you see what type of work you truly enjoy. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll have to make less money in order to enjoy your work.
35. How much money do you need to support your minimum viable lifestyle?
Often, we come up with arbitrary money goals. Identify how much you need to make based on your non-negotiables, set aside your nice-to-haves.
Now, on to the heart of the matter ––– core values.
36. What are your core values?
All of the above questions were intended to reveal your core values, what’s truly most important to you. Write down a maximum of five core values.
37. What patterns do you see?
Connect the dots, reviewing your previous answers and core values, what patterns are becoming apparent?
38. What career options come to mind?
Based on this insight, braindump all your potential career options without judgment. Get creative and include specific roles, entrepreneurial ideas, consulting opportunities, side projects, etc.
39. Which three options are you most drawn to?
With more options available than ever before, it’s both liberating and overwhelming to decide what to do next. To keep your options open while preventing decision fatigue, narrow it down to three options.
40. What is your gut reaction?
As you name each of your three options, what sensations are you noticing in your body? What immediately comes to mind?
41. Does it reflect your core values?
Utilize your core values as a compass, which option is most aligned?
42. Will you enjoy the day-to-day work?
Will you have autonomy over your work? Are you likely to experience flow while engaged in your work? Are you willing to do the nitty-gritty that comes with the work?
43. Will you experience growth?
Will you get to learn new concepts and be exposed to new experiences? Are you excited by the challenge?
44. Will you have a meaningful impact?
Will you get to utilize your strengths and skills? Do you care about the problem you’re solving? Will you play a critical role? Does your work create positive change? It doesn’t need to be grand, just worthwhile to you.
45. Is it viable?
Is there a need for your work? Can you get specific on who you’ll serve? Will people pay for it? Depending on your financial circumstance, your next move may not need to make money right away. However, you’ll want some evidence that it’s a viable path.
46. Are you willing to overcome the obstacles?
Every path has obstacles. Is your desire to make this shift strong enough to overcome the obstacles? Be honest with yourself.
Now back to the question at hand…
47. What’s next?
Take the pressure off, there’s not just one singular path for you. Your career is meant to be fluid. Make a decision, and let learning and growth lead you. The only thing that will keep you stuck is not deciding, so decide.
Hooray, you’ve identified what’s next!
Remember, there isn’t a perfect path and this doesn’t have to be your forever path. This “what’s next” you’ve identified could be just one step toward your purpose.
Take one step forward for the sake of learning and evolving. If you discover that this next step isn’t serving you, pivot. If this next step is challenging but you want to keep at it, work on resilience.
48. So, what small step can you take today?
Who can you reach out to? What can you experiment with? Take tangible action.
49. What’s coming up for you now?
Avoidance and resistance often accompany the path to change. The cognitive-behavioral model may be helpful here.
How might your thoughts, beliefs, and emotions be creating inaction? What reframes and shifts can you make?
If you’re stuck here, a therapist or coach can support you.
50. What are you taking away from this?
Reflect on what you’ve learned from this process. What’s becoming clearer?
Purpose is a process, not a destination.
Uncovering your purpose is an iterative process. A process in which you follow the breadcrumbs, and take itty bitty steps towards a path that resonates with you.
If you’re feeling a little lost. That’s human. Seeking is part of the human experience.
Being here is our innate purpose.
What we’re actually seeking are ways we can lead a more purposeful life that is congruent with our values.
As we deepen our awareness and connection with ourselves, it will all unfold in due time.
To delve deeper on purpose and values work, learn more about coaching here: darabelliott.com