What Does Your Career Mean To You?
When I first started coaching others many years ago, I thought that the most important reason for getting a job was money (at least for a lot of people). After speaking to hundreds and hundreds of job seekers over the years, I've come to realise this couldn't be further from the truth. Money is a small part of the puzzle, but careers have many other functions. In this blog article, we'll dive into some of those reasons. Hopefully, that will help you understand your own motivations so you can be more intentional and effective in your job search efforts.
Before reading on, I want you to pause and think about your own career. Why do you do what you do? Why are you planning what you are planning? What does a "dream job" mean to you and what role does it fulfil in your life? What is your passion?
Indeed, you're probably thinking about reasons other than money. A job can be intensely fulfilling, giving you a sense of feeling valuable, contributing to society and having a sense of purpose & fulfilment. Let's explore those and others in some more detail.
Asking the big questions about your career
It can be a little bit uncomfortable to truly examine your career goals and motivations. Why? Because it touches on some of the big questions of life. What is important to you? What makes you feel happy, energized, fulfilled? How is that for your professional life? Is it working with others? Being inspired by colleagues? Or is it about contributing to society and doing something meaningful and purposeful? Let's look at different motivations that I see regularly with the people I coach in finding their dream job.
1. Feeling valuable
We all want to feel valuable in our lives. That goes for our personal lives, but often also at our jobs. Grace Career Coach's research has shown that 75% of expat job seekers in the Netherlands agree that "feeling valuable" is a key motivation in looking for a job. It makes sense. If we imagine the opposite, we can easily understand why. If we don't feel valuable or valued, we might start to get feelings of self-doubt, confidence issues, and so on. Not to mention that it's just a lot more fun to work in an environment and with a boss, colleagues and reports that appreciate you and make you feel valued.
Not everyone feels as though this is so important, though. Some people get a sense of being valuable from other areas of life. One lady I spoke to, for instance, got a great sense of value from her family and as a mother. She didn't need a job to feel valued at all. That's totally fine, too!
2. A job as a building block of life
Some people insist that their career is an important building block of their lives. It's a way to build a life through meaningful relationships for them. After all, modern life can be somewhat isolated, and work is one of the few areas where we consistently meet new people, have new interactions and build relationships over time. In some careers, especially those that are very demanding, it can even be the only place to socialize for some people.
This is also not the case for everyone, however. Most people I speak to see the life-building and socializing aspects of their careers as "nice to have". As little bonuses on top of the other benefits that careers bring. But of course it's totally OK if this is a major driver for you personally or, on the contrary, if you don't really care about this dimension. Everyone is different, after all; extraordinary in their own way.
3. Avoiding confidence issues, anxiety & frustration
For some, it's not really about what a career brings, but rather what happens if they are not active in their careers. They start to feel like the job search is too hard, and get anxious and frustrated. It's understandable, really, as even the most confident person can get worn down by countless rejections. Tens or hundreds of them can make you feel horrible.
While this reason is often a powerful motivator to change your approach and try new things (which is good!), you also want to think of positive reasons to move on to something else. If you're feeling stuck, try living in the moment and see what gives you energy, purpose & fulfilment instead. Talking with a coach, mentor or trusted advisor can help.
4. Finding purpose & fulfilment
Life isn't always easy. We are all on a quest to find purpose & fulfilment, and it is often easier to be cynical and give up. Your career is a fantastic opportunity to do meaningful work and contribute to something larger than yourself. This can often come from a sense of doing something that:
You are good at
That other people value
That you love
That the world needs
This is sometimes called the "Ikigai": a Japanese word that signals finding that sweet spot where you feel purposeful and have a large, positive impact.
Also consider the retirement age of today's world. This age likely means that you will probably still work for a very long time. So why not do something meaningful with all those years?
You might wonder if it wouldn't take too long to find such a "perfect job". From my experience, it takes 2-4 months to find it if you really know what you are looking for and how to do it.
5. To facilitate continuous learning
Many professionals have a strong desire to keep learning throughout their life journey. Not just in school or graduate studies, but also throughout their careers. For myself, this was also the case. When I started doing Human Resources work in a fortune 500 company, I wanted to learn so much as quickly as I could. In hindsight, this taught me a lot and it was a fantastic experience. This photo was when I just got hired and was keen to learn!
I don't think my desire to learn will ever get less. I hear this a lot from the people I coach, too. They value learning intrinsically, even if it's not directly useful. This can also give meaning to your career. If we think about it, careers offer a lot of opportunities like that:
Learning new skills within your function
Taking on new assignments in other functions
Doing cross-functional projects
Managing a small team
Transitioning to middle or higher management...
And so much more
All of those transitions and situations offer so much potential to learn new skills, facts, approaches, and so on.
Careers are much more than just a way to make money. Today, we've looked at some of the different meaningful aspects of careers that I see when talking with the people I coach. Things like feeling valuable, building a life, avoiding anxiety, finding your "Ikigai", and having a sense of continuous development and learning.
Now take a moment to reflect: what does your career mean to YOU?
Is it one of the above motivations? Or a combination of some factors? Or perhaps something else entirely? I'd love it if you would share it with me.