Every year I take a couple of days to myself near the beginning of the year. I like to go somewhere quiet and peaceful for a bit of introspection. Usually, I have some overall theme in mind but it doesn’t always happen that way. The intent of this time is to step back and take a strategic view of life. Where is it going well and not so well? Why? What do I need to change? What will that change cost me? Am I willing to pay the price? During this time away I evaluate the current status and future of all areas of life, including family, financial, career, and spiritual. Never have I come away from one of these retreats feeling anything less than renewed, re-energized, and focused.
There are three main questions I ask myself each year regarding my career.
Do I enjoy what I am doing? This may seem simplistic, but it is a meaningful question. I have learned that enjoyment is a byproduct of the life process and is a clear sign that what I am doing is either in alignment with my purpose and personality, or it is not. I never set a goal to ‘enjoy’ my job, but I know that if I am not something is wrong. This is the first question I ask because the answer guides the thoughts that follow. It is important to note that it is unlikely that everything about your job or career is enjoyable, so when you ask yourself this question be careful to take the big picture perspective and not let little annoyances steer you down the wrong path.
Is the work we do important? Notice that I said “we.” None of us is an island and trying to evaluate yourself and your situation as if you are can be a mistake. You are no doubt part of a team in one fashion or another. This question is really about the work you and your group are doing. It challenges the worth of what you do. Is the effort contributing in some way to the greater good? Are you, your services, your products, improving life for someone in some tangible way? When I worked for a global financial services company I could answer “yes” to this because I knew we were helping people secure their financial future, educations for their children, allowing them to invest in new technologies, etc. When working on staff at a large ministry I could see the positive affects of our work on a minute by minute basis. And now while working with a public policy non-profit think tank I can see the value of our contributions to society on a wide range of issues. Yes, I am a facilities guy. But I am a facilities guy supporting real work that is making a real difference in the world.
Am I making a difference? This last question is the one that challenges me the most. Oh sure, I can point to project A and project B that have recently been accomplished any time I stop to ask this question, but most of those could have been done by many others. Where is it, how is it, why is it that I am able to make unique contributions? Is it in mentoring other staff? Is it in providing vision? Is it in better execution? Is it as an encourager? Is it in holding someone accountable? Somewhere, somehow, each of us makes a difference. This question challenges me more than the others because it is personal. Am I part of a problem or part of the solution? Is the difference I am making worthwhile, is it significant enough? Does it matter? What do I need to change in order to improve my impact?
You may be thinking that you don’t have the time for an exercise like this, or that the answers are obvious, or that you won’t benefit from it. I challenge you on each of these fronts. You don’t have the time because you don’t make the time – meaning that you don’t think it important enough. It is. The answers are obvious only at the start. As you delve deeper into the questions you will discover things that will surprise you. By definition, recognizing, understanding, and acting on these discoveries will provide immense benefit.
Go on. Take the challenge. Ask yourself.