The most common work-related complaint I hear from friends and colleagues in San Francisco (aside from feeling stuck in their job) is — wait for it — about their commute.
There are the Google employees spend up to three hours a day aboard a company-sponsored coach bus shuttling between the city and the Mountain View HQ. The Oakland residents who encounter a halting traffic jam on the Bay Bridge every morning when they head into the city for work.
Even the city inhabitants who reside in outer districts like Richmond are not spared from the madness. Their door-to-door commute via the MUNI to their downtown SOMA office still takes an hour.
Commute is an example of a need that many high-achieving professionals have, but overlook in their career decision-making — until they get a taste of the insufferable consequences.
While it might appear logical to invest in professional growth before personal happiness, research shows us that in reality happiness not only precedes but promotes our success.
So, you’re probably wondering, how does one identify their “needs” in life? What can you do, as a thoughtful careerist, to take action based on these insights?
The answers are surprisingly simple.
It all boils down to one thing…
Here’s how you can use them to avoid frustration down the road:
The first step is uncovering your non-negotiables, which are our needs converted into actionable criteria.
Then we’ll look at a few common types of non-negotiables.
Finally, we’ll show you how to prioritize your non-negotiables and use them to make hard decisions in your career.
Two Ways to Uncover Your Non-Negotiables
The direct prompt and lifestyle inventory are the two techniques you can use to surface your non-negotiables.
This one is a journaling exercise so break out your notebook and pen.
Once you’re ready, take 15 minutes to answer the following questions:
- What are your non-negotiables for making a career decision? Brainstorm as many as you can.
- For each of these non-negotiables, why is it important to you?
Try not to give a surface-level answer for question #2… even if it feels like challenging — like hitting your head against a wall.
Dig deeper and get more specific on what your core reasons are.
For example, compensation comes up for many people as a possible non-negotiable. If this is the case, ask yourself what does compensation really mean to you? What does it tangibly help you achieve?
The answer might be different than what you expect.
To illustrate, take my close friend. She views compensation through the lens of financial freedom. For her, it’s important to have enough income to travel inexpensively and live a flexible lifestyle.
However, she doesn’t care for lavish luxury. So, she doesn’t require a top-of-market income to feel fulfilled.
Her non-negotiable may actually be flexibility rather than compensation, because her needs are about not feeling constrained rather than meeting a minimum salary target.
On the other hand, some of my clients are parents providing for their family. For them, a minimum salary target is critical so that they can ensure their children’s livelihood.
Compensation makes complete sense as a non-negotiable for these heads of households.
Doing a Lifestyle Inventory exercise is useful for bubbling up non-negotiables that you might have missed in the direct method.
Here’s how you complete the exercise:
- Record all the work and life activities you’ve done in the last week. Which activities were a source of frustration or dissatisfaction in the last week?
- Were they sources of frustration or dissatisfaction in the last 4 weeks? 3 months before?
You guessed it.
If there is a source of frustration that’s been weighing on your conscience for months on end, then we’ve spotted a non-negotiable in the wild. Well done.
Make sure to write it down — we’ll make use of it soon.
Six Common Types of Non-Negotiables
Still having trouble with brainstorming non-negotiables?
Never fear — below are six examples that I see frequently come up for my coaching clients. See if they resonate with you:
- Commute: Did the intro feel too real for you? Hold on to that thought — before you move on, also think about what length of time and means of transport are dealbreakers for you. Is your breaking point spending two hours in a car stuck in traffic? Or is it more about type of transport — you just can’t stand riding the bus?
- Flexibility: Are you a parent and want the option to work from home 1-2 days a week to be there for your child? Do you get cabin fever from sitting in the same office everyday and desire working from a cafe?
- Compensation: What compensation do you really need to support your lifestyle? That’s not the ideal salary you want, but will you be able to afford the things most important to you in life?
- Not being bored: This one comes up surprisingly often, especially amongst clients who hit a plateau in their current role. What activities in your job do you need to avoid feeling stagnated? (which will slowly suck the life out of you)
- People-facing: How much social interaction do you need to feel fulfilled at the office? Some people are fully independent and enjoy having their own space. Other extroverts can’t live without a lively team collaborative environment.
- Mission-driven: Do you care about a particular mission or just want to work towards social impact in general? Several clients of mine know that they no longer want to work for a business that’s solely a money-making machine. They may feel disillusioned, but they’re much more clear about what’s important for them to feel like they’re making a contribution.
As you can probably tell, each non-negotiable has to be tailored to fit your personality and desires.
Prioritize Your Non-Negotiables
Now that you have a list of non-negotiables, we’re going to trim it down to make it more actionable.
Choose your top 3-5 non-negotiables that aren’t already accounted for by your values, superpowers, and curiosities exercises. To illustrate, if one of your values is freedom, then there’s no need to add another non-negotiable around freedom.
Use this shortlist of non-negotiables as an additional filter for each position and/or career path you’re considering.
Take the case of commute.
Let’s say that you’ve done some reflection.
Your threshold for feeling frustrated with your commute is a door-to-door travel time of 45-minutes each way by car or public transport. Any more than spending 1.5 hours a day in a moving vehicle and you start having a mini-existential crisis.
Since you know that this criteria is linked to your happiness, what you can do is refine your search for positions within a 45-minute commute distance.
Using what you’ve learned, you’re ready to put non-negotiables into practice in your career mapping.
But before you go, as a parting gift to send you on your way, below are a few common mistakes to watch out for when using this framework:
Mistake #1: When you make exceptions for your non-negotiable (Hint: It’s negotiable)
“I know that commute is one of my non-negotiables, but this job is just so perfect in every other way! I think I’m going to take it.”
How many times have you heard yourself or a friend say this?
If your friend took this job and ended up having a satisfying experience, then in reality, commute was not a non-negotiable.
Your non-negotiable didn’t survive under pressure, which *surprise surprise* means that it was a negotiable in disguise.
Label only the most essential requirements as non-negotiables, otherwise the term loses its gravitas.
Mistake #2: Everything is non-negotiable
Remember that non-negotiables are meant to help you make a better decision, so that you lead a more fulfilling career.
Going beyond a handful of non-negotiables can be paralyzing.
You start feeling like there’s no position out there that fulfills all your needs. Or worse, you start second-guessing yourself and your understanding of what is truly important to you.
To avoid getting stuck in this emotional no man’s land, then limit the number of non-negotiables you have.
Mistake #3: Nothing is non-negotiable
Yes, that’s right. The opposite end of the scale is ironically just as paralyzing.
When you haven’t explicitly called out any non-negotiables, then it feels like you’re drowning in a big blue sea of possibility.
And the reality is that no one is completely open to every option on the market. There are always positions that will go against your work and lifestyle requirements.
As a last resort, if nothing in this article worked for you, then identify a few positions that just sound awful for you.
Ask yourself, why do these roles feel awful? Are there any hidden non-negotiables that you possess and just haven’t brought to the surface?
Answer honestly, and you’ll arrive at more clarity than you might expect.
Having 3-5 non-negotiables for your career transition is the sweet spot. For each transition, your criteria may be different depending on your stage of life, health, financial situation, and your learnings from work experiences.
Regardless of what these factors may be, thinking through your non-negotiables is going to help you make a better decision.
In the next part of our Career Foundations category, we’ll discuss the concept of career capital, what is it, how to get more capital, and how to leverage it in your career.
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