According to Gallup’s annual survey of American workers, more than 70% of us are disengaged at work. Think about that for a minute.  A majority of us are not happy and likely not as productive as we could be for most of our waking hours.  To us, that is just sad and unacceptable!

I once met a financially successful lawyer who was miserable going to work everyday.  When I asked him why he chose a legal career, he told me that during his senior year of college, as graduation was looming, he started to panic when he had no idea what we wanted to do.  Going to law school, he said, bought him three more years to try and figure it out. But then he was saddled with student loans in the six-figures. Despite miserable experiences during his summer legal internships, he felt obliged to accept one of the attractive offers he received from a top firm. Besides, he still had no idea what he really wanted to do. He told himself he could do anything for a few years, pay off his debt, and then find a career path more aligned with his passions.  So he put his head down, worked long hours, and made enough money to pay off his law school loans, buy a nice house (along with a big mortgage), and pay for private school for his kids. But to maintain that lifestyle, he needed to keep “feeding the beast,” as he put it. He had the “golden handcuffs,” a phrase we hear often in the recruiting world and he didn’t feel capable of escaping without making a major sacrifice.  So, he kept his head down. When he finally looked up thirty years later, he was twenty years older, fifty pounds heavier, and just as unhappy as the day he started.  

It’s pretty remarkable to think how many of us make a decision about our career before we’ve had any real experience in the world. There’s a lot of societal pressure to “just pick something and then stick with it.”  And maybe you’re one of the lucky few who found a true vocation right out of the gate.  You know those annoying people who say they never worked a day in their life because they love what they do so much? Well, good for them.  For the remaining 98% of us, it’s very likely going to take some trial and error. And that’s ok!  With the right mindset, we can learn from these experiences and grow in our character and skills.

What would the world look like if instead 70% of us went to work every day with an understanding of what we were uniquely good at and then used those gifts for good?  And, just as importantly, what if we understood our weaknesses and learned to minimize them?  We would not only feel more engaged but also more productive and a lot happier.

If you are reading this, you are among a small group that is privileged to even ask these questions. With that privilege, we believe, comes responsibility and opportunity. In our work as executive search consultants, we meet thousands of job seekers each year who are burnt out, depressed, confused, and frustrated.

Before you embark on your job search, we encourage you to take some time to reflect on the following ten questions that can help make your journey much easier:

  1. What are you uniquely good at?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What do you like and want more of in your life?
  4. What are you not good at?
  5. What do you not like and want to avoid?
  6. What are your proudest professional accomplishments and why?
  7. Who inspires you and why?
  8. What are your core values and priorities?
  9. What is important to you in a work environment?
  10. What do you want to learn?

And if you’re like my friend the lawyer, it’s not too late to change careers!