Making Career Decisions By Focusing On the Wrong Part Of the Problem

Aaron McHugh

I felt trapped. My kids were little, my mortgage was big, my lifestyle was bloated and we had a lot of medical bills. I loved the work I was doing, but the environment I worked in was really difficult. It felt like I couldn’t afford any risk, risk of change, risk of not earning enough or risk of staying where I was.

I was stuck and corroding on the inside.

I spent a lot of worried energy scrutinizing imaginable scenarios, outcomes and career changes that I could forecast. I was really focused on trying to solve the outcome. It felt like, my career map was a series of dotted lines all headed in different directions, each concluding with an unknown. I felt…

Helpless.

Hopeless.

Anxious.

Worried.

Frustrated.

Despair.

Focusing on the wrong part of the problem

Start on the inside

I phoned up a couple of friends. One guy I’d known since college planned every move he made. He’d successfully landed satisfying and rewarding work for decades. His advice was, “You start from the inside”. Instead of attempting to answer the question of which company do I want to work for, his mantra was that I should start with what do I want?

I had spent so much time concentrating on my dissatisfaction I couldn’t answer the question What do I actually want? What do I desire? His wisdom guided me to remove the external questions about destination and instead focus on a different set of internal questions.

  • What kind of work gets me out of bed in the morning?
  • Do I want to dig ditches and work with my hands or do I want to be at a computer?
  • Would I rather start with a blank sheet of paper and build a map?
  • Or Would I rather improve or revise a map that already exists?
  • Do I want a lot of autonomy or do I prefer a lot of structure?
  • Do I want to work with a small team or big?
  • Do I want to be in charge and direct other people’s work?
  • Would I prefer to be an individual contributor?
  • Do I want to work remote or drive into an office every day?
  • Do I want to work for a mission organization or for profit?

Decide what’s most important to me

I decided to create a rank and order of priority to these key questions. You can listen to the podcast I recorded on this topic-How to Rebalance Your Career in Thirty Minutes.

  • Amount of money I earn
  • Character of the people I work with
  • Ethos of the company (what do they stand for)
  • Business problem I’m attempting to solve (what am I going to be spending my time thinking about all day)?
  • Relationship with my boss
  • Pace of life (how much do I want to work 40 hours or 80)

Even writing these questions out again a decade later, I feel empowered. Empowered to chart a course from the inside out. Starting with the answers that are deep inside is a lot more empowering than concentrating on the infinite possibilities of destinations.

Once I got clear on what I desired, it was a lot easier to decipher the external options that surfaced as I moved forward. The unexpected byproduct of this helpful exercise was self-confidence. I knew who I was, what I was about and what mattered most to me. Subsequently, as opportunities surfaced, I had a strong filter to apply against to help make my decision.

Finding your path to a well-lived life is a lot easier when you know what’s important to you.

Keep going,

-Aaron