The search for self is social. Don't do it alone. 

15 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Job Search

15 Questions to Ask Before Your Next Job Search

"...there is virtually no time spent learning about the one thing for which we have a distinct and competitive advantage in understanding better than all other human beings — ourselves."

In the almost 3,000 years since my first college graduation, I’ve witnessed a lot of miserable people at work — myself included. People who are RIP (retired in place), clock watchers, complainers, excessive break takers, meeting makers, long-lunchers, drama seekers, suck-ups, lifers, goers through the motions; people who are unhappy because they are wasting away their precious years and talents, spending a majority of their waking hours at a job they can’t stand, aren’t good at, or are underpaid for. Or they are constantly in the market for a job that doesn’t exist.

One reason so many people hate their job is because we have been taught to believe misery at work is the status quo — namely, no one likes their job, that is why you get paid for it. They graduate high school or college and make an employment decision out of desperation; for want of money, to pay back student loans, to make their parents happy, to impress their friends, to have an easier time getting laid, to move out of their parents house (probably helps with getting laid), because they think it is all that is available, or a litany of other reasons.

Throughout over a decade of schooling, we spend endless hours memorizing facts and information that are immediately available to us by the click of our keyboard and we are told that getting good grades in a completely irrelevant subject will ensure we get a great, well-paid job. Yet there is virtually no time spent learning about the one thing for which we have a distinct and competitive advantage in understanding better than all other human beings — ourselves. And so it goes through college.

Without self-reflection, it is no wonder so many people are unhappy at work. How can you find the right job without understanding who the candidate is, what they are interested in, what they are good at, how those factors combine to fill roles demanded by the market, and the going rate of pay that is offered for those roles and qualifications?

These factors are part of an essential work equation known by the Japanese as “Ikigai,” in other words, the reason you get out of bed and go to work each morning. An Ikigai requires a balance of all of the following elements:

  1. What you love
  2. What you are good at
  3. What the world needs
  4. What you can be paid for

The questions at the bottom of this post are the first step in exploring one element of Ikigai, “that which you love,” or as I think of it, your “hire passion.”

Please recognize that what you love is only one piece of the puzzle. I know a lot of people who have the opposite problem of what I am describing in this post — they believe they should have a job they totally love, without consideration for whether they are qualified for it, whether someone is willing to pay them to do it, and whether those jobs are available. Without relevant skills, labor market demand, and related job openings, you simply trade one career problem (lack of passion for your job) for another one.

What you love is a really good place to start and I will share additional resources for exploring the other three puzzle pieces (what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for) and applying what you learn through answering these questions in future posts. (Hint: If you breeze through these questions, then it is worth considering “why” you answered the way you did and how your preferences may play out in the context of work).

There are no right or wrong answers — you won’t be graded. Given that most education systems and workplaces operate under hierarchical management, it may feel strange to do something just for the sake of learning it. These questions are meant to be a tool to help you exercise the muscle needed to self teach, organize, manage and lead your own career, without someone holding your hand and telling you what to do next. Self leadership, along with the self discovery you are aiming to achieve through exercises like these, will become increasingly more useful as we witness the employment system fundamentally shift over the next decade. I will leave that for a future post as well, though.

1.What am I grateful for? It is through recognizing what you are grateful for in your life that you begin to unearth your values. If you can’t think of the big things, start with the small things.

2. What am I passionate about? What activities or topics evoke a very strong emotion in you, good or bad? What could you talk about for hours? These things offer clues about how you can spend your time that aligns with your character and purpose in life. Which industries and positions allow you to focus on the stuff you love or fix the stuff you really can’t stand?

3. What do I enjoy doing the most? Often times we focus so much on what we don’t want, that we forget to think about what we do want. By identifying the things you enjoy the most, and focusing on how to spend more time doing them, you can make decisions based on whether they propel you toward what you want to spend your time doing or not.

4. What do I enjoy doing the least? By identifying the things, people, or experiences that we dislike the most, the things that drain us, we can opt out of any paths that require us to spend a significant amount of time doing the things we enjoy the least.

5. When am I in the flow with time standing still? Have you ever had the experience of doing something in which you are so consumed by the experience that time seems to stand still? This phenomenon is known as flow or flow state, and it occurs when you are doing something you truly love. It can happen at home, in your work, or when you are learning something new. Identify these times and seek to find the common element in them. If you’ve never felt this, explore the times when you feel the most content or satisfied with life, and try to identify what was so special about them.

6. What would I do if money were no object? Imagine that you had enough money to support yourself for the rest of your life — how would you choose to spend your time?

7. What was the most important moment of my life, thus far? By identifying the moments, events, and people that move us the most, we get more acquainted with the core of who we are, our values, and the lessons that our most profound in our lifetime. From there we can begin to explore how those themes relate to our career or life.

8. What is my greatest fear? Like limiting beliefs, fears create blockages to the things we want in our lives. Rather than focusing on your fear as a vague thing that might happen, face it. Explore the worst thing that could happen and what you would do about it. By developing a plan for the worst case scenario, you can begin to relax, stop focusing on your fear, and start focusing on your wish list.

9. What do I think is impossible? You find what you look for in life — if you leave your house in the morning looking for the color blue, you will notice all of the blue around you. So it is with your belief that something is impossible — you will find evidence to confirm that belief. Instead, by saying, “that seems impossible, but if it wasn’t, here is how it might happen,” you start to make space for things you previously thought weren’t possible.

10. What do I want to attract in my life/career? We spend a lot of time in reactionary mode, responding to what life has given us. The most successful and influential people in the world step out of the actor role and into a director role — they proactively seek and create opportunities that are in line with the life they want, rather than waiting for it to happen. Imagine trying to give gifts to a lover who refused to tell you what you wanted, and got mad at you when you got the wrong thing. Imagine the universe as the ultimate gift giver, and help it know what you want.

11. Who has taught me the most in life? Viewing life as a series of lessons to be learned, with mastery to be demonstrated, enables you to be more objective about the way that you apply that knowledge. Recognizing who teaches you the most can provide information about the people you should be spending your time with.

12. Who do I admire? The importance of this question is less about the “who,” than the “why.” What is it that you respect about them? Their integrity? Their genius? Their boldness? How can you take actions to help you develop those characteristics? Do you admire them most because you have similar tendencies or because they seem totally out of your league?

13. What makes me angry? Like joy and passion, the things that make you angry are indicators of your values and beliefs. Which injustices do you seek to right? What unfairness can you be a voice in fixing? Anger can be a powerful force in creating positive results when channeled correctly.

14. What do I wish people said about me? Have you ever met someone knew who said to you, “I’ve heard so much about you,” and thought to yourself — “I wonder what they’ve heard.” What do you want them to have heard about you? What are you doing in your life to make that reputation precede you?

15. What situation keeps reoccurring in my life? What difficult situation keeps happening over and over in your life? When bad things happen, we typically take the perspective that we are unlucky victims of fate. What if instead, you view the challenge as a chance for you to prove you are growing and learning? Are you playing at least a minor role in this continuing saga? Surrender to the lesson. How can you respond differently? Admit that although you may be trying your best in this situation, there is still something for you to learnNext time the voice inside your head says, “Poor me. Not again…” Ask yourself, “what is the lesson here?”

For more self discovery questions follow me here or on Twitter.

I’m Rich and Successful. And Unhappy. Now What?

I’m Rich and Successful. And Unhappy. Now What?