Fear & Other Tough Stuff: values-first career

Remember a few years ago when I quit my job and everyone said I was crazy? Remember that?

People said, But you’ve already invested so many years in your field. And, But the money! How are you going to replace a six-figure salary?

And then there was this: You want to be WHAT!? A life coach? Couldn’t you be a sports coach of some kind? At least people know what that is.

Going through the motions…

Of course, my inner circle of friends and family wanted me to be happy. They could tell I was going through the motions. But, but… the security, the money, the time you’ve invested…

They worried I might be making a big mistake.

You know, the kind of mistake where you lay awake in bed at night, tossing and turning with regret. What was I thinking? If only I could have a do-over. Maybe I could ask for my job back.

Well, last night I was reading Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much and stumbled on this, which had me shouting, Bingo! Bingo! That’s fancy, research-based language to describe what I was doing.

We thrive when we love our work, our lives and those close to us. That is success. We are succeeding when the reason we put effort in at work, when the reason we try to improve, is that we love what we do. Work is intrinsically interesting, especially these days when there are so many opportunities for us to shape what we do. The problem is, if the primary reason and driving force in all our decisions is money, or status, or fame, we turn what we do from play to work. It becomes less interesting, less engaging. When this happens, we are in danger of turning a big percentage of our waking time into drudgery, which can’t be success.

To counter this, we should shift to what I call values-first careers. That means that, while you may want more money and that promotion, your primary focus, your primary decision criteria are your core values. We focus on what’s important and interesting to us, on using our greatest skills and on doing what we love. We work to improve in these areas. When we change our priorities to values-first, we change our reasons for working. Work becomes lighter and more fun. Our interesting work stays interesting. We bring more play into our work and our lives.

Values-first career.

That’s what I was doing, even though I certainly didn’t think to call it that.

I was making a values-first career transition.

Because usability was no longer interesting to me. Because my greatest skills of being a thinking partner, catalyst and coach were not being used. Because managing people in corporate cubes wasn’t doing what I loved.

OK, this sounds like it’s all about me, me, me. But it’s really about you.

Are you doing work that lets you focus on your core values?

Maybe your core values are learning, making a difference, and being creative. Or maybe you value relationships, stretching yourself, and fun.

Whatever your values are, do they get to show up at work?

And what about your definition of success?

Do you narrowly define success by the numbers on your paycheck and getting that next promotion? Or does your definition of success include taking care of your health, fully showing up in your relationships, and engaging in activities that energize?

What would it look like if you shifted to a values-first career?