What do you *really* want from work?

I’m not asking what you think you should want or what society tells you to want… but what YOU really want from work.

Getting to my answer…

For me, it took a lot of introspection to get to the point where I finally realized I was much happier freelancing than I was moving my way up in a startup or corporate environment.

And when I say it took awhile, I’m not exaggerating! This is my third time working independently. The last time two times I was a freelancer I let myself get pulled back into full-time work, even though I was making plenty of money and didn’t “have to get a job.” Both times, I went back to independent consulting within 12-18 months.

So why didn’t it stick? 

Because I was ignoring what I actually wanted from work: things like flexibility, being able to focus on the work/clients I cared about, strong work/life boundaries, etc. Instead, I was focused on what I thought I should want: a fancy title, achieving “success” in a high pressure environment, working hard (and often) to prove myself (for what or whom exactly? I’m not sure).

I let myself get distracted by shiny objects and brand names, and I forgot to check in with myself. Was it really what I wanted?

Alright, enough about me! How do you answer this question for yourself?

So, what steps can you take to untangle your professional needs and wants from what you’ve been taught to go after?

 When I work with clients who are stuck on what they want to do next or how to start thinking about this, I ask them to consider a few questions (click here to make a copy of the google doc worksheet I provide them)

 We start with:

  • How does your current job make you feel?
  • How do you want work to make you feel? (or NOT feel?)

Then, I ask them to reflect on their current job and write down anywhere from 5-15 answers to each of the following questions:

  • What do you wish were different about your job (why would you want to leave)?
  • What do you like about your job (what has kept you there)?

At this point, I encourage them to step away for a bit, and maybe reflect at the end of the next couple workdays to see if there’s anything they’d want to add. When the list feels robust and like it covers most things, they step away again for another 24 hours. Then come back to answer…

  • What’s MOST important to you?

I encourage them to circle the top 5-7 most important things on these lists. No need to choose an even number from each column– just quick gut reactions on what stands out. I ask them to refer back to their answers from earlier on how they want work to feel. And also to focus on what’s most important right now; this isn’t an exercise in “where you see yourself in 5 years.”

Then, we unpack these answers and anything interesting that comes up together.

I find this is a good starting point for folks to think a little bit more expansively and creatively about what they want from work. Remember, you can make a copy of the google doc worksheet if you want to go through the exercise yourself.