Advance your career, strengthen your character.
A few years back, I was at an inflection point in my career. I was content; I loved my boss and the whole leadership team. They were genuine mentors and model leaders. To this day they are my benchmark because damn, they were good.
But on the other hand, I wasn’t growing anymore. After a few years, the time had come for a change. I was antsy and ready for a new challenge.
My eyes no longer lit up when people asked what I did. I wanted them to.
So I set out to find a new challenge. But I didn’t want just a “new” challenge, I wanted to find the right challenge. Where to begin? I needed a compass, a grounding point to provide direction. At the advice of a great human in my life, I thought about what I value most in my own life and career. I wrote down what ultimately became my “value set” and identified companies that seemed to fit. Despite this industry-agnostic, seemingly random list of companies–they shared a mission, morals, and culture that aligned with my values.
I began interviewing. I had been down this road before, but for first time, I felt truly prepared. Even though my search was dictated by something very personal, when it came to moving forward with a company or not, my decisions were cut-and-dried. I was driven by my pre-determined values; I knew what I wanted, and so did they. Either I fit, or I didn’t. No tears necessary.
The contrast was notable. This time around, the notion of “being rejected” didn’t even enter my head. My once laborious, draining job hunt became nothing of the sort; I was just executing my plan.
During my search, I remember catching up with a friend who at the time was seriously working the dating scene. She said she was about to go on a first date with a surgeon! She desperately hoped the surgeon would like her. I remember thinking, but you don’t even know what kind of person they are.
Self-awareness can go a long way, whether you’re selecting a company or a companion.
My tedious but but tearless search finally led me to a company that did make my eyes light up. Over months of conversations, I vetted the vision and the company. We were a match. I joined and found myself challenged in a way I’d never been, and loved it. I was learning and growing quickly. I worked a lot and didn’t even notice. I was all-in.
Time to get comfortable, right? Not quite; every experience offers a lesson, but only to those who work for it. Every so often I revisited my values, my guiding compass, my concrete benchmark. I gave myself performance reviews. By keeping this consistent ritual, I found a direct correlation between how well I navigated by my values and how fulfilled I felt.
Guiding my career by my values has not only advanced my career, but has also strengthened my character. When I feel fulfilled, I am successful. It is then that I am the best version of myself, and that’s also good for business. Cha-ching city.
To high-school students, new grads, and professionals mid-career: I invite you to reflect not on your desires or future goals, but on your consistent values. Think of the moments you felt most fulfilled. The challenges you overcame to get there. Think of the moments you felt dissatisfied, the times you fell short. Ask yourself why you felt that way. These answers will help you create your very own, one-of-a-kind value set (built-in compass included).
Everyone has different goals and priorities. What motivates you may not motivate me. You do you.
If you think this post is as inspiring as my mom thinks it is, then you are probably wondering, how? There are many great people and places to turn to, and the internet has your back. To dip your toe in, below is a DIY at-home starter kit.
Values-Driven Hunting | What you need
- Answer the questions below. Stream-of-consciousness only. Pairs well with wine.
- Forget about them. Let a week go by. (No, you’re not procrastinating. Don’t feel guilty.)
- Revisit and refine your answers. Add clarity. You might see some themes.
- Prioritize them into a list. Be realistic about which you value most, and put those bad boys at the top.
- Tape them to your mirror. Evaluate your current situation. Pinpoint where you are feeling fulfilled and where you aren’t. Ask yourself why.
- Rinse, repeat, and ritualize. From here on out, this is your tough-loving, truth-telling guide to fulfillment. Use it well and reference it often.
Focus Your Scope | Q&A, with yourself
Think about moments that triggered strong emotions for you (happy, sad, peaceful, anger, frustration, love, hate, jealousy, etc). Why did you feel those emotions in those situations?
- Example: “I was so happy to see my colleague take challenges head-on and thrive.”
- Interpretation: I feel good when people around me are being supported and empowered to learn and grow. I value empowering communities and supportive environments.
When you last felt torn or conflicted about something, why did you feel that way?
- Example: “I felt torn when my boss and CEO had differing opinions on a project I managed. I felt like either way I went, I was letting someone down.”
- Interpretation: I want to be relied on to execute a project. I want to add value to the company. I feel fulfilled when I can focus on accomplishing goals, not office politics. I value leadership teams that work together to accomplish a clear company vision.
What frustrates you at work? Why does it frustrate you?
- Example: “I am frustrated at work when people lie and gossip behind other people’s backs.”
- Interpretation: I value honesty and integrity, and people focusing their energy effectively.
What are 2–3 of your greatest accomplishments?
- Example: “Traveling the world to experience different cultures, to expose myself to different opinions and ways of living.”
- Interpretation: I value being able to understand and appreciate others and being in-tune with the world we’ve created. I don’t want to work in a vacuum; I want to create something meaningful.
What are 2–3 of your greatest failures?
- Example: “I knew the metric I was supposed to deliver on, but felt pressure to cut corners to deliver on time. Not only did I miss deadline, I under-delivered.”
- Interpretation: I was unreliable when I didn’t have to be. In order for me to reliably deliver, I need to be in an environment where I feel trusted and supported.
What are traits that you admire in others?
- Example: “Managers who act as effective cheerleaders for their team, not as controlling dictators.”
- Interpretation: I feel most productive when I’m part of a collaborative team that has the support to rise to their best selves. I value leaders that build teams they trust.
What is your personal elevator pitch?
How would your trusted friends and mentors answer that question?
BOOM. Look at you, reflecting and all, crushing life like the beast you are. Now you have specifics. You know the things (or people) that positively impact your life. You know the things (or people) that don’t. It is up to you to decide what you want to keep doing, and what you want to change up a bit.
You have values, you have focus, and now you need a ritual.
Respect the Ritual | Incorporate it into your life
Randomly reflecting during your morning commute on how well your job aligns with your value-set counts! Intentional monthly evenings filled with wine and reflecting is better. Dedicating your findings to paper is best (chart below). Do what works for you. Send yourself calendar invites, make a pact with a friend, give yourself a reward afterwards, just do what works. But do it, and do it habitually. You can’t change your future until you know where you are today.
To help you move forth with value set in mind (and on mirror), here are a few things that have helped me add meaningful rituals to my journey to career fulfillment.
Hope this advances your career, strengthens your character, and brings you to a place that celebrates the person you are.