After a visit from death saved my life I’ve been looking in the mirror and writing a series of articles focused on giving advice to myself as a 30-year-old, knowing what I know now. The first four articles in the series built upon each other and included:
This article builds upon the previous four and focuses on how to create a kickass career path by focusing on our joys.
In my last article, What the F*ck Should we Do with our Lives?, I ended with this exercise: identify the experiences that we’ve had that made us feel joyous, or expansive, and ignore those where we felt neutral or contracted.
Some of our most salient experiences in life are easy to remember because they brought us joy in one form or another. Those are the experiences that we want to focus on as we think about creating a kickass career path.
If you didn’t have time to do that exercise, write down everything that pops into your head, past or present, personally or professionally, that truly brought you joy when doing it. Seriously, it can be anything.
Once written, these joyous experiences will begin to inform us about our deepest needs, what we value, and help clarify our interests. Eventually, this process will give us a way to make better personal and professional choices. In the end, we’ll be more focused on what we want and need in our lives, and have the tools needed to reimagine our career path.
When you write down the joyous experiences, keep it simple.
We’ll write a narrative for each in more detail after we distill each into a single verb that captures what we were doing. For now, after writing each, rank them in order of preference by noting which felt the most expansive as we check in with our body.
Here are some of the things that were on my list of joyous experiences, presented in no particular order, and selected to show that variation is okay:
Writing for various outlets, clients, or purely for creative reasons.
Conducting in-depth primary research on global environmental challenges, developing and writing strategies for a range of clients: governments, think tanks, NGOs, or high-net worth individuals.
Reading fiction and nonfiction books or articles for personal pleasure, for intellectual growth, and professional reasons, especially while in a favorite coffee shop or next to a roaring fire, preferably inside of a cabin nestled in the woods, or while in any library with cozy nooks and crannies.
Creating new and original art in various mediums, but especially painting and drawing.
As an actor, I get immense joy in preparing for stage productions: taking on a challenging character, rehearsing lines, and delivering performances on stage, in commercials, or in film for large and small audiences.
Engaging in thoughtful, intellectual discussions with super smart people who test and challenge my own ideas.
Translating ideas into practical actions—originate new ideas for organizations, start-ups, government or non-profit initiatives, established companies, or business ventures—and show the way forward.
Being of service and experiencing new cultures, languages, and meeting random and interesting people while traveling and/or volunteering abroad.
Teaching undergraduate and graduate students; connecting students, friends, colleagues, and clients with opportunities, while mentoring and advising.
Now that we have our joyous experiences written down, create a list of verbs associated with each.
Use a verb to capture what we were doing in relation to each. If an experience included multiple actions, simply write another verb on another line. On my list, for example, innovating, strategizing, and ideation were all related to item #7, but I listed them on separate lines. In sum, capture as many verbs as needed in relation to each joyous experience.
These words are going to become our watchwords as we read new job descriptions, review career opportunities, or begin creating a professional life independent of an established organization.
In a narrative format, we are now going to write a little more about each of these verbs.
The narrative format doesn’t have to be complicated. When we write these, the goal is to think about the specific moment or event, then write about it using more detail. We should immerse ourselves in the actual experience as we remember it and include the characteristics, qualities, or the traits of each.
Interestingly, we’ll notice that the narrative may mirror what we previously wrote for the why behind everything that we do (see the first and second articles in this series). At this point, if there is incongruence, it’s probably because our why wasn’t aligned with our truth. This process helps to correct that going forward.
Here’s an example of the narrative format that I wrote for “writing,” which was first on my list.
I feel joyous when writing because I can immerse myself in thought for lengthy periods of time. I love the process of conducting research and constructing an argument, while creating a new way of thinking about life, or the world. Writing gives me an opportunity to explore different facets of myself and to share them with others. I feel exploratory, open, and expansive as I disappear into the undistracted flow of the process, which makes me feel calm and buoyant. I feel autonomous, independent, and peaceful, especially when I write while in interesting places.
After writing a narrative for each item on our list we should have a clearer picture of what we love doing versus what we think we should be doing based on the expectations of others, like family, friends, and colleagues.
The purpose is to separate out what is true and false for ourselves. We can do this by analyzing our narratives for each verb to tease out a bit more about ourselves: our needs, values, and interests.
Here’s what my narrative around writing tells me about myself and career:
I have a deep need to continue learning. I clearly have an interest in working alone; any type of remote position is best for me. Joy arises as I immerse myself in thought for lengthy periods of time, uninterrupted, so the less distractions in my career, the better. I feel joyful when writing because I’m generating new ideas, exploring differing ways to debate or argue a point, and creating or constructing a written piece that, hopefully, communicates ideas in an effective and pragmatic way that’s easily understood by my readers. I have a deep need for independence and autonomy. I value clarity.
After completing this step, we are now in a position where we can more quickly identify the things that we do not want in our lives—the things that we subconsciously do to please others against those that bring us joy separate from others. This also applies to the things we were conditioned to do because we believed others valued it, or approved of it.
Once we have these written, we can more clearly see the path to a kickass career in our life.
We can now use everything we’ve done to explore new career opportunities, or to create our own path outside of a formal organization. We also have a quick reference guide that we can use to evaluate job descriptions against, or future opportunities pursued.
If a position doesn’t reflect at least 75 percent of what was written, don’t pursue it. If the work described in the position description doesn’t include any of the verbs on our list, it likely won’t be a good fit. Move on to the next position description. Once we have three to five positions aligned with our joys, those are the positions we ought to pursue further by reaching out to a contact, or applying.
We can even use this process to envision and write out our dream job. To do that, simply write a mock dream job description fusing everything written on the list. If we find a job on the market that mirrors it, that’s probably a job we should pursue further. If there isn’t a job that mirrors it, create your own enterprise.
We now know a bit more about ourselves and can begin crafting a vision for the life we imagine, one that is aligned with our deepest truth and most joyous experiences. We’ve also gotten one step closer to answering the question in the last article, What the F^ck should we Do with our Lives?
In my next article, we’ll begin taking what we’ve learned thus far and crafting our life vision in a more deliberate way that also considers the balance between our careers, love life, and spiritual well-being.