Something I think is really overlooked in the current approaches to career development is the most critical part of any job:
What do you want to do every day?
I don’t mean “work with books” or “be a sports writer” — I mean, “divide my time between emails and meetings,” “work with my hands and body producing tangible work,” “be heads-down with documents for hours on end, and spend very little time chatting with others.”
These are some of the most critical questions to ask yourself — after all, this is what you’ll be spending your valuable time doing, day-in and day-out. And it’s going to make or break a job for you. The job you’ve coveted at the nerd company of your dreams may be ruined for you when you find out they require your time be spent in meetings and constant collaboration, when all you want is to be left alone to work in peace on the things you love! Or if you’re someone who thrives on the energy of working with others, doing a job that requires hours of self-driven, solitary work may be stifling.
Think back on your jobs up to now; or if you haven’t worked enough to know, think back on elements of your school, or your life. What do you enjoy doing? Have you liked being on a team, or would you rather work on your own? Do you enjoy meeting new people, or would you like to come in every day to a few people you know well? How do you feel about constant meetings? Do you like to travel? Do you enjoy managing people, or would you rather have process expertise? Or both?
This includes what you want your commute to look like: Do you want somewhere you can walk to or get to by public transportation? Can you tolerate long hours in a car? How about where you live — are you okay with living in a city to do what you love, or would you rather live somewhere else more cheaply? Are you someone who would prefer to work from home? And how does your ideal job balance with your non-work time?
I, for example, had planned to move back to Denver after I finished graduate school, when fate led me down my current path. When I took my current job, it meant giving up the gorgeous Rocky Mountains to go live in densely urban NYC, which is not somewhere I ever thought I’d be. I’m someone who loves getting out on weekends: hiking, snowboarding, paddle boarding…things not normally associated with New York City! However, knowing that taking my dream job would mean a sacrifice in a lifestyle I valued, I made it a point to find areas in my life where I could adapt my need for nature, enabling me to enjoy my time at work.
I encourage you to sit for a few minutes and write out what your ideal work day would look like. Of course, you may never find a job that offers you that perfect mix, but by knowing which elements of a job offer you fulfillment, you’ll be well-equipped to ask questions in your interview to see if the job is a good fit, or may enable you to adapt your current job to allow your to spend more of your time doing the things you prefer. There are so many different jobs and different kinds of work in the same industries, so figuring out what you want to be doing on a daily basis can help you find niche jobs in industries you love that you may never realized even existed!