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Blog Insight & Commentary

7 Essential Questions for Reflecting on Your Career

For when asking about your 10-year plan seems like a lot

Beth Castle
Managing Editor, InHerSight

woman asking questions

“What you do every day matters more than what you do once in a while.” That’s Gretchen Rubin on happiness, routine, and mindfulness, but at InHerSight, it’s how we think of women’s careers. The average person spends 13 years and two months of their lives at work (add an additional year and two months if you work overtime), and we want to know that time is well-spent.

You might attend a conference that inspires you once, but what are you doing every day to ensure you’re happy and healthy in your work life? Do you know your career goals and how you plan to achieve them? Are you actively prioritizing the values that matter to you at this stage in your life and career?

Consistent and critical self-assessment is key to helping you understand where your career is. Use these questions to take a thoughtful look at how you feel now, then ask them again in six months, a year, five years, 10, every day to see whether you need to readjust your priorities.

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Do I like my role in my office? 

Maybe you’re the go-to techie when IT isn’t around. Maybe you’re always the project lead because you’re more organized than Marie Kondo. Maybe you plan every office event because you have glitter in your veins. These are good shoes to fill, but whether you like playing that “part” in the office is what matters. Each takes time away from the job you were hired to do and might cause extra stress. Look at the extracurricular tasks you pick up and ask yourself if they add value to your work life. If they do, wonderful. If they don’t? Kindly start saying, I want to focus all my energy on this project right now. Can you ask someone else?

Read more: 40 Things to Do Before You Retire

Who benefits from the work I do?

It’s easy to forget why your job matters when you’re firing off emails all day long. But no matter what you do, there’s always someone who directly benefits from your tenacity—and hopefully you’re proud of that. Remind yourself of the person, the community, the big picture. Even if all you can think is, I make someone’s day easier, you win. You did that.

What’s my least favorite part of my job and why?

We all have parts of our jobs we don’t enjoy. You might hate writing up quarterly reports or loathe the lighting in your office. Those are expected and manageable dislikes. If your answer to this question is something larger, my pay or my hours, then you have reworking to do. Ask for a raise or negotiate flexible hours. Do what you need to do to get back to the point where your biggest negative is that you need to buy a better office lamp.

What bad habits have I picked up that aren't helping me or those around me?

Just like when you spend too much time with a friend and start using their favorite words or phrases, the longer you work in any role or office, you’re bound to develop habits—some good, some bad. Self-reflection is about celebrating, yes, but it’s also about evolution. Think about ways you’ve been cutting corners or have been negatively contributing to your work life. Be honest, but don’t be overly critical. It’s normal to gossip with coworkers too much sometimes, get a lazy with paperwork, or respond to emails too slowly. Recognize the problem, acknowledge how it could impact your career, and plan how you’ll change that behavior. Easy peasy.

Am I living my values? 

Values are simply what you’ve deemed to be important in your life (travel! kids! working for a mission you believe in!), and they’ll change throughout your career, which is why continuous self-assessment is so important. You need to know what your priorities are and be able to adjust yourself when they shift.

Try asking yourself the basic, What is important to me? Then look at how your career and job align or diverge with your answers to that question. Do you value a company with a mission and often feel like your job doesn’t impact lives they way you’d like it to—or perhaps compromises your integrity in some way? Do you need a more flexible PTO policy so you can get your bucket-list travels in? (Yes, that is a thing.) Do you value self-care and wellness highly but not think your current company meets those needs? Decide how you can best live up to these values and talk to your manager. And if you can’t achieve them while working where you are, start taking steps to make a career or job change. 

Read more: 7 Cool Things You Can Do on InHerSight

How can I better help others succeed, especially those who often go unnoticed?

Part of having a fulfilling career is building other people up. (Scientists consistently study this feel-good-do-good phenomenon, and it’s as important at work as it is outside of it.) How are you finding ways to make sure other people on your team or in your organization are recognized and taken seriously? You don’t have to be a mentor necessarily, but you should find consistent ways to support others in both big and small ways. Did you read over your intern’s resume before they started applying to full-time jobs? Did you give coworkers kudos when you admire their work? Do you speak up when you see discrimination or harassment taking place in your workplace? Ask yourself whether you’re doing enough to bolster success and break down barriers to advancement.

Am I happy?

Sometimes when you ask yourself this question, it can feel like you’re staring unknowingly into a void. But the question of happiness at work is less metaphysical than it implies. What you’re really asking is, Do I like what I do? Do I like who I work with? Do I like the company I work for? Do I enjoy work more than I dread it? (You will dread even your favorite job sometimes.) And finally, Am I getting everything done that I want to do?

That last question can be tricky because it’s not always about work. It’s also about carving out time for whatever it is that matters to you: your kids, your partner, volunteering, that book that’s been on your shelf for three years, more work. All valid responses. All worth pursuing.

Read more: I Learned How to Be Happy at Work

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