Last year, in the midst of my own (and a number of my friends’) mid-life “What am I doing?” moments, I came up with a career inventory spreadsheet (whatever the problem in life, I generally think a spreadsheet makes it better. Sit down, have a cup of tea, and make a spreadsheet, that’s my motto.) Below is a copy of the inventory.
Perhaps it will be of use to someone else trying to get a handle on what they really want to do for work–or what matters most about the work they are doing now.
Career Inventory (Can do in a spreadsheet or whatever tool suits you).
Format: list on a page your career history going back as far as is meaningful for you. (Don’t need to include summer, or school jobs if it was just for the bucks.)
List title and place of job (or educational activity) rough dates. For each, write as many responses to these prompts as you can. (Some it won’t be necessary/possible for.) Easy to do this as rows and columns in a table.
a. What, if anything, did I like about the job?
b. What did I do well in this job?
c. What, if anything, did I dislike about the job?
d. What did I do poorly in this job?
e. Would I take this job again? (Why/why not?)
f. If I were the (objective) boss would I hire me again? (why/why not?)
g. If I were traveling back in time to give advice to myself about this job, what would it be?
h. If I were going back to talk to the boss about my strengths and weaknesses? What would he or she say? [use the language they would have used.]
i. Did I have a mentor in this job? If so, what did he or she say? Did I follow that advice? [use the language they would have used.]
j. What was the single least rewarding aspect of this job? be as specific as possible and give concrete details).
k. What was the single most rewarding moment in that job?
l. What story do I tell to outsiders about that job? What story do I tell myself? How does this story make me feel?
You can adjust the questions as you need to, but you get the sense of it. It is important to try to consciously put yourself in the position of others around you for questions that refer to others. And for your own reflections about what you liked or disliked, it’s important not to lie to yourself about your answers; for instance, saying what you “should” have liked most. If you liked that you got paid a lot, or got to work out of doors, etc. that’s what you should put down.
Bullets are fine. Doesn’t have to be an essay.
After you have done this for any work that was meaningful, let it sit for a day or two and then come back to it and “code” it. Meaning, pull out lists of all the positive answers and all the negative answers, and look for themes. Continue to boil it down as much as seems useful.
After you have completed this, look at the positives, and ask yourself whether they are available and can be optimized where you currently are or whether it’s just a mismatch. If they can be optimized, make a plan to do that, if they can’t, make a plan to move on.
Here is the Career Inventory as a PDF.