skip to primary navigation skip to content

How to pick a career?

Prompt questions 3: what do I want from life?

If you could design your ideal job, with all concerns about whether it's actually feasible put aside, what would you do? Don't worry if you're not sure. It's not an easy question, and there's an awful lot to think about. To give you a steer, the following exercises are intended to guide you through what is really important to you your work values and the kind of lifestyle you want.

Think about your values

Just as it's important to look beyond your skills to your strengths, so too is it vital to look beyond practical considerations to your work values that is, beliefs, ideals, and principles that underpin your behaviour and aspirations. At the end of the day, your work values are probably going to have the biggest determining influence on what you find fulfilling.

Here, again, we need to be rigorous and deconstruct our assumptions carefully. For example, it's common for people to say that one of their work values is 'helping people' which is perfectly logical and reasonable. But it's also very loose and open-ended. So, the next step should be to ask:

  • What would success look like for me?
  • What do I want to help these people to do (solve business problems, learn new subjects, overcome spiritual dilemmas, increase profits, improve sanitation, etc.)?
  • What would I need to see in order to feel satisfied that I've helped people (grateful expressions, better results, a bonus)?
  • In what timeframe do I want to see evidence that I've been helpful (several times a day, weekly, monthly, from time to time, etc.)?
  • Am I comfortable working at one remove from the people I'm helping (e.g. supporting the organisation from the back office), or do I need to be hands on (e.g. in the field)?

You might find this work values exercise helpful in identifying what's important to you. Crucially, you then need to apply the same kind of logic as in the example of 'helping others' above, in order to ask yourself what a particular work value would mean in practice.

Visualise your perfect job

The following questions are part of a visualisation exercise. Take each prompt slowly and see where your thoughts take you noting your first, instinctual response as well as any subsequent ideas. Some people also find that it can help to close their eyes. As always, don't forget to write down your ideas afterwards.

It's five years in the future. You are working in your dream job:

  • You wake up on a Friday morning. How do you wake up?
  • What time is it? Do you wake up at this time every day?
  • You go to your wardrobe to dress for work. What clothes do you put on? Or do you stay in your pyjamas?
  • You go to your workplace. How did you get there? Did you walk? Did you drive? Did you take the train? Did you leave your house at all?
  • You get to your place of work. Are you in an office? Are you in a laboratory or studio of some sort? Are you out in the open air?
  • Is your place of work in the middle of a big city, on some sort of industrial estate, or out in the countryside? Is it in the UK, or somewhere else in the world?
  • You start work. What sort of work are you doing? Are you providing a product, providing a service of some sort, or are you doing research?
  • Are you sitting down for long periods of time, or are you up and about all the time?
  • It's the middle of your working morning. How many people have you physically met and talked to in that time? Lots, just a few of the same people, or none at all?
  • It's lunchtime. Do you go out to lunch with work mates, eat in a company canteen, or do you eat a sandwich at your desk while you're still working?
  • You start work again. Is the work predictable? Do you feel comfortable that you already know for sure what you'll be doing next week? Or are you nervous and excited by what might hit your desk before the afternoon is over?
  • You finish your work and head for home. What time is it? Who's waiting for you at home? Do you feel guilty if you've worked later than you intended?
  • Are you carrying work home with you to do over the weekend? Or have you been able to leave the work and any pressures back in your workplace?
  • You go to bed. As you are dozing off to sleep, you think about your work day. How do you feel? If you had a good day, will your pay packet show it at the end of the month? Is that important to you? Or do you feel satisfied that you made a difference to other people? Or are you just happy to have done a good job for the organisation you work for?

Go to the next section: Explore