Lately, you’ve been feeling kind-of rudderless in your career.
After digging in and working hard for several years, the glitz of prestige and pay no longer seem attractive to you like they did back in college. When you first graduated into the working world, you felt grateful for your first job. You could finally look forward to a real career path.
Fast-forward through your twenties. The magic of new co-workers and responsibilities have faded, and you have realized that this first career path hasn’t exactly aligned with your innate strengths nor interests.
Every morning you wake up with a sense of dread filling your stomach, “ugh, how do I get out of going to the office today??” And, as of late, your inescapable feelings of apathy sitting at your office desk has made it abundantly clear to you (and let’s be frank, everyone else around you) that now is the right season for a career change.
Through speaking with hundreds of clients, I’ve discovered that often at the root of this mini-existential crisis is an issue of personal values. The sinking feeling in your gut is triggered by the misalignment between your personal values and the work you do.
The first step towards professional success is re-defining your career navigation GPS. In other words, using your personal values to guide your career choice — instead of forcing your career choice upon your personal values.
When to Use This Framework
Personal values are a useful GPS in navigating your career IF the following principles hold true:
You define career success by deep fulfillment you get from your work.
The values-first approach is for you if work, in your eyes, is not only about prestige, pay, or getting a paycheck to fund the rest of your life. There is nothing wrong with any of these reasons to work, but this article doesn’t make them its focus.
On the other hand, if you care about developing a craft, making a significant contribution, and building towards a vocation — or dare I even say calling — then personal values are going to be a fantastic element to add to your career map.
You’re open and willing to making (difficult) trade-offs.
I’m going to be straight-up with you. Vocations are built off of making hard choices. While it may have been possible to “do everything” in your early career years, the reality is that developing expertise takes time — which you don’t have. So unless if you are absolutely convinced that you’re cut from the same cloth as Elon Musk, then get ready to pick a direction and commit to seriously exploring that path.
With that said, picking a path also doesn’t translate into narrowly settling on a single career track. What it does mean is run a career experiment to validate whether or not you this path fits you well before investing more of your limited resources.
Benefits of the Values-First Approach
Your values shine the spotlight on what’s important to you.
One language-learning phenomenon I find intriguing: whenever I learned a new word in Spanish, I started hearing and seeing it everywhere in the Spanish-speaking countries I was traveling through.
The same thing happens in a job search. When you discover that making casual relationships at work is important to you, you’ll start picking up the subtle cues of cold, distant strangers or the bright, cheery chatter of mates during your office visits.
For me, I know that adventure and curiosity are two of my top values. As a result, I always examine new opportunities from the lens of, “Am I going to be challenged to grow and venture into unknown territory in this new role?” If I don’t feel a bit of fear trying to claw its way up my throat from the pit of my stomach, then I know I haven’t pushed myself enough out of my comfort zone.
It’s easier to stay motivated.
In Silicon Valley’s intense work environment, I have spoken with dozens of friends and colleagues who remarked to me in private how stressed and burnt-out they felt at the office. Yet I observed that some friends were trying to fit into their career path like round pegs into a square hole. It just wasn’t a match, but they kept up their efforts for other reasons like external validation or a hefty paycheck.
For many ambitious people, the pressure mounts only higher and higher as they rise up to leadership roles. Motivation becomes an ever more important resource, which is why it’s vital to protect this wellspring.
Values alignment is an incredible source of energy. At its best, it feels like the universe is conspiring with you to accomplish great things. Yes, the work in front of you is challenging, but you also feel energized to tackle these complex problems head-on because they deeply resonate with your core beliefs.
Values help you decide whether to stay or go.
A friend messages you on WhatsApp, telling you about the fast-growing, potentially lucrative startup she founded and is now trying to recruit you for. Do you join?
Your company has a steady career framework, where you know you can get promoted into management in the next 1-2 years if you decide to stay. But you’ve always dreamed of starting a business around selling your artwork (which is seeing traction on IG). Do you start doing it as a side-business or give up your day job and work on your creative business full-time?
Believe it or not, instead of analyzing the pros/cons of each option, values are much better suited for helping you come to a decision that satisfies both your mind and gut. We often treat career decisions as rational, but they are not. They are emotional. Values provide a high-fidelity lens for seeing and examining how emotions influence our career decisions.
So there you have it. Hopefully, by now you’re convinced that using your personal values as a career GPS is a compelling idea and worth a shot.
Going forward, my prediction is that our working world is only going to move faster and faster. The frequent turn-over, rapid change, and intense FOMO of the tech industry are spreading quickly to other industries. As a result, the next decade will only get tougher to navigate without having an independent sense of career direction.
However, with a clear grasp of your personal values, you’ll always know what’s most important to you no matter how tumultuous the economy. You’ll know what to prioritize first and what’s a big waste of your time, so that you can optimize your time and energy for what’s closest to your heart and reach success.