March 26, 2024

Answer this one question to make better career decisions

How do you describe your work? Is it a job, a career, a profession, a calling or something else entirely?

In my years of coaching, I have seen that people use a lot of terms to describe their work, and often the language they choose says something about what their work means to them.

I chose a couple of those terms for the title of my new book, Professional Careers by Design. Coming from medicine, where “profession” has a very particular meaning, I grew into my working years learning that a professional career involves taking responsibility for learning, self-regulating and following a code of conduct — and doing so over a lifetime of work and growth.

This might bring to mind professions like accounting, law and education. But I actually believe any job approached with integrity and commitment to lifelong learning can become a career, and any line of work can be a profession. It’s all about intention.

I also believe that any line of work can enable a life of meaning, purpose and fulfillment – in and well beyond the workplace. It’s all about identifying what matters most to you and then using tools and processes like those outlined in my book to design a work life that aligns with your priorities, now and at any stage of career.

A touchstone for making better career decisions

Identifying what matters most to you is the first step in my Professional Careers by Design model because you can use it as a touchstone for any professional decision – and you don’t have to read my book to try it (although you certainly can! Preorder here).

Grab a piece of paper or open a doc on your computer and settle into a quiet and comfortable place. Think about your life holistically – work, of course, but also family, friends, personal interests, goals, etc. You have one wild and precious life, as the poet Mary Oliver wrote. Use this as your lens.

Now, list your top 10 priorities. There are no wrong answers, and everyone’s list will look a bit different. Here’s a made-up example:

  • Time with my children
  • My painting hobby
  • Traveling the world
  • Saving for kids’ college
  • Starting an organic flower stand
  • Connection with my spouse
  • Becoming a partner at my firm
  • Giving back to my faith community
  • Building a fitness habit
  • Supporting my father through his illness

This list makes us think this is a very interesting person! But what does a list like this have to do with career design? There are only a few things that really speak to work on this list .. becoming a partner, saving for college, and perhaps time with family, if this person is able to pull back on their schedule.

However, dig in a bit, and we can start to see the intersections among personal and professional – and we can leverage them. Suppose this person takes the time to organize the list in order of priority.

  1. Time with my children
  2. Connection with my spouse
  3. Supporting my father through his illness
  4. Saving for kids’ college
  5. Building a fitness habit
  6. Giving back to my faith community
  7. Traveling the world
  8. My painting hobby
  9. Starting an organic flower stand
  10. Becoming a partner at my firm

Now we are getting somewhere. What this person seems to want most is time with family and the resources to support them. This information will enable them to make better career decisions to support these priorities. Maybe at the moment time with family – children, spouse, father – takes precedence over the work it will take to become a partner or start an organic flower stand. Or maybe upon further reflection this person will determine that becoming a partner IS the path to more time with family and better compensation, and so the list might be reordered again.

Identifying what matters most to you is just the beginning. My book, my community and this space on my website are packed with tools to help you build on these ideas, create greater alignment in your life and achieve more of what matters most to you. But it all starts with this question.

And, I promise, it will work for you no matter what your career is and how you describe it.

Unlock your potential and align with what matters most to you. 

It’s that simple.

Get Started

Metta Solutions Icon