Month: March 2021

The Most Important Decision in Your Life: Your Future Dreams Unfulfilled

The right decision is the wrong decision, if it’s made too late

Lee Iacocca

As a career counsellor, I have taken many calls from people inquiring into my services. However, there is one that will always stand out in my mind. The call was from a woman who asked to get a resume completed. She stated that she had been driving to and from Toronto for approximately 20 years and wanted to look for work closer to home. From where she was located the drive is about 1+ hours away, with very busy highway driving. The drive had progressed to being very frustrating and grueling, and it had been that way for a very long time. So, I discussed my process and set up an appointment to help with her resume. The day of the appointment came, and I attempted to call her. The result, no answer.

The question that then dawned on me was, “How many people are there desiring to make a career change, but never do?” There are individuals very similar to the lady that I spoke to, wanting to change some aspect of their lives or career, but don’t. They have the desire to change, but when it comes to taking a leap, they stop short. Individuals can constantly spin their wheels with a decision that needs to be made. People continue to live in the same stage of life even if it is miserable, because they have grown used to it. They stay stagnant. Ironically, putting off this decision-making process is actually a decision in itself. It is a decision to ignore future possibilities.

Not making a decision is equivalent to never starting your journey towards a possible new life. People tend to worry about making “bad” decisions. However, in life there are very few decisions that will lead to catastrophic disasters, such as getting yourself killed or leaving you completely bankrupt and penniless. Indeed, to be contrary and a devil’s advocate, there have been a multitude of stories about people becoming disgustingly wealthy after being penniless. The majority of life decisions are not disastrous, and with a pivot you can always find ways to change your direction.

However, never making a decision is a critical mistake, because it will rob you of a potential future. For example, let’s take the lady that called. Assuming that she still has no resume, if there is a possible job opening she cannot even apply to it. She has zero chance of getting a new job. This is the severity of making no decision, it leads to no possibility of ever moving forward. She will be in that same job until she decides to change, or unfortunately someone else could make a decision for her, by being downsized, reassigned, laid off or even perhaps being fired. In these cases, the decision to leave will not be hers.

To use a sports analogy, not making a decision is equivalent to never getting on the field to play a game. You never make a decision to join the action. Never getting in the game means having a zero chance of ever playing in the big leagues, or perhaps even getting into the Hall of Fame. So, let me ask you this. Are you still sitting on the bench refusing to get in the game? Do you have dreams of a career that are unfulfilled? Have you chosen to settle into a career that’s just “fine”? Are you watching the world, your life and career go by? If you are, then you are putting off the most critical decision that you will ever make in your life. I suggest you don’t keep putting it off, before it does become too late.

What do you SEE in your career?

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.

Steve Jobs

I once read an article on a popular career website that was titled, “No, Really: Why There Are No Right or Wrong Career Decisions.” The final sentence of the article boldly stated, “There is no right and no wrong. There are just choices and opportunities.” The main argument was to not worry about being satisfied with your career decisions, because every decision is simply a “stepping stone” to something better. Having read the article I was perplexed at what the author was trying to communicate. If there is no right or wrong decision, then why do people have careers filled with many unhappy jobs? From a wide range of employee surveys, we know this to be a miserable reality for many workers. Having provided career counselling to individuals, was I giving the wrong advice? Should I simply say to all my clients, “No need to be concerned, because no matter what choice you make everything will work out in the end, as all roads lead to new opportunities.”

I have encountered many clients who have taken this approach, treating every job as a move to another one. However, when I talk to individuals that have done this, they never seem authentically satisfied with their career choices. Sure, they find it “okay”, but it was not described as deeply inspiring or meaningful. To achieve an intensely satisfying, rewarding and purposeful career, one needs to have a vision, and I believe that the article was missing this key concept. Without a very clear career vision and specific goals, you will not be able to define what is really important in your career. Having a vision and goals sets a stage, enabling you to find true meaning and provide you a process by which you can evaluate what is worthwhile. Many famous personalities have attributed their success to this one critical factor. One such person who utilized his extraordinary visionary abilities was Walt Elias Disney.

Out of all the great business leaders, Walt Disney stands as one of the most influential public figures of the 20th century, with powerful talents for executing a uniquely creative vision. Throughout his career, he provided leadership through the impacts of the post-World War I economic boom, Great Depression and World War II. In addition to these severe times, he experienced his share of hard failures including company bankruptcy, mental breakdown, devastating employee strike, and loss of control over one of his major creations. However, it was his vision that was his key to success, stating that his most powerful tool was “dreaming.” He used to say, “If we don’t dream or desire to have a vision for something better for ourselves or others, then what is it that gets us out of bed every morning?” He also stated, “I execute my vision to make those dreams come true.” Walt Disney knew how to focus his time, talents, energy, and resources to make his dream a reality. To this day Walt Disney’s legacy lives on.

Walt Disney did not achieve these accomplishments by meandering through an unintentional series of “stepping stones”. He had a very specific vision of what he wanted. Indeed, there have been many stories told by early Disney Studios employees explaining how Walt would even demonstrate his ideas for a new film. He would gather everyone together and then act out the entire movie sequence, to show what he envisioned the final story to be.

But why specifically is a having vision so important? Creating a vision is vital, because it reveals exactly how you want to live and the dreams that you have. Most people have no idea about how they want to live, instead letting circumstances, life situations and other people dictate where their life is going. How may people do you know that aren’t living their own lives, but the goals and expectations of others? All things are first created in the mind, and a vision will help you design a picture of your future. A vision brings to life the dream of your new reality, enabling you to achieve something very specific and tangible. Without a vision, you will not know what you are trying to achieve.

Ask yourself, what are your greatest dreams, and do you believe you can achieve them? Do you have ongoing “hunches” or “whispers” about different career choices you want make? What is your future vision? A very famous celebrity once said, “You are the author of the book of your life.” Don’t you think it’s time to start envisioning and writing your own book?

What are YOU working for?

What man is, he ultimately becomes through the cause which he has made his own

Karl Jaspers

Why do you get up to go to work in the morning? If you ask the average person why they go to work, a majority of people would likely say one word, “paycheque”. Financial motives are probably the major reason that most people work. Working provides a living, enabling us to pay bills to support ourselves and those that we care for. However, in a study published by BetterUp Labs, they surveyed 2,285 working professionals. The study found that almost 9 out 10 individuals would sacrifice 23% of their future earnings, which is roughly $21, 000/year for work that is meaningful. So, maybe the money notion is not so clear cut, and this finding is contrary to the idea that most people simply work for the almighty dollar. In another informal survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review, the author surveyed a group of professionals between the ages of 28 and 58, asking them what they regretted most about their careers. He found that by far, the biggest regret came from those people who opted into high-paying but ultimately dissatisfying careers, implying that they wished that they had not taken the job for the money. But then this begs the question, why are most people attempting to go after top dollar instead of meaningful work? What is the true importance of finding meaning and purpose in our careers?

Simply put, meaning and purpose are important because they impact other essential career elements. Having meaning and purpose within your career increases many factors such as motivation, engagement, empowerment, career development, job satisfaction, individual performance and personal fulfillment. * Meaning and purpose contributes to greater work satisfaction, beyond monetary rewards. Meaning can be defined as the importance or role that work plays in one’s life. This implies that perceptions about meaning are defined by each individual person.

Imagine this. You are at a lake during the winter, standing at its banks. The river appears to be frozen, but you can see in many areas that the ice is extremely thin. If you to stand on these thin spots you could possibly fall in, as they might not hold your weight. If I offered you $5 dollars to cross the lake to get to the other side, would you cross?  I think it would be safe to assume that most of you would say a definite “no!” However, what if I kept raising the amount to say $1,000 dollars or even $10,000 dollars, would you cross? Now, let’s suppose that your young child has crossed to the middle of lake and fallen in. Time is of the essence and you do not have the time to get assistance, what would you do? I think that most people would not hesitate to try and reach their child. What has changed in this story? The factor that is changing are your reasons for crossing, as the actual situation remains the same. To apply the frozen lake scenario to a career, two people can perform the same work for very different reasons. Their “whys” for doing their jobs differ. Each person values different things.

Ultimately, the career development process is about discovering what is truly meaningful to you. We don’t live in a vacuum, and a lot of us have taken on reasons for work that are not truly our own. We can be influenced by our parents, family members, personal idols/heroes, life circumstances and societal expectations, the list goes on. We adapt our beliefs and actions, pursuing work for many reasons even though it may be completing dissatisfying. Working can even get dysfunctional, leading to extreme levels of tension, stress and anxiety.

It’s important to separate the signal from the noise and begin to reflect on what is important. Having a great career means finding work that is truly meaningful to you. What are you really working for? Are you simply working for a paycheque, and is this enough? Do you want a career that is meaningful and purposeful? Are you living the career plan of someone else or your own? Have you stayed too long in a job that is contrary to your own values? It is time that you ask some deeper questions to give yourself a real chance at experiencing true joy, satisfaction, contribution, meaning and purpose in your career.    

* On the meaning of work: A theoretical integration and review., Brent D. Rosso, Kathryn H. Dekas, Amy Wrzesniewski (2010 )