There is a simple exercise I suggest for anybody thinking about their career. Take a few moments and a notepad and find somewhere you won’t be interrupted. It can be on a plane, in a cafe, or wherever you can focus your mind without interruption. Then write down what you would want in your absolute perfect job. Force yourself to prioritize only 3-5 key items but be brutally honest with yourself. This list isn’t for anybody but you. Do not write what a career services office, your friends and family, or your colleagues would tell you. Write what that voice deep inside says you truly want. If the single most important thing to you is getting 2:00-3:30pm off so you can take a boxing class – write it down. If working with a team of world-class biochemists is what matters to you – write it down. Some Travel? Lots of travel? No travel? What would make your job absolutely ideal if you were a sculptor building it from scratch.
I actually find this exercise to be therapeutic. It’s not often that you can back away from the daily noise and think about what you want out of your career (and life). Most of the items on your list will be expected. But there are frequently thoughts that will surprise you, either because you didn’t realize how important they are vs what you actually look for in a job, or because they’re fairly simple to make happen in your current role. This list will naturally ebb and flow over time so practice it once a year (or whenever you want to make a change).
Below is the list I put together in a hotel room in Silicon Valley in the summer of 2012. I had just sold my startup, was looking for something new, and had a final round interview with LinkedIn the next day. Things happened quickly and I wanted to make sure I was making a good long-term decision. It’s raw and messy, but shows you what was most important to me at that juncture in my career. The most surprising thing to me was that salary didn’t show up. I love money and the sweet things it can buy, but assuming my compensation is fair and helps me reach a few specific financial goals – it’s not the biggest driver of what makes my life fulfilling.