Find your career truth via journaling

201602-pexels-pen-writing-notes-studyingMy professional journey has been wandering. It started in high school, which led me to college, which led me to graduate school, which led me to my corporate job.

Other people and outside events influenced me. I had my own innate desires, but they weren’t terribly specific. I knew I wanted to grow, and to achieve, but my environment steered me toward, and away, from particular outcomes.

In hindsight, I wasn’t as deliberate as I could have been about finding what really mattered to me. Fortunately, I kept my eyes and ears open, and I had great friends and mentors. Things continued to work out better than not for me.

A common thread for me has been writing. I’ve not written in the same way, or in the same place, or with the same intent. But I’ve written consistently about whatever occupied my thoughts at one time or another.

If I were to give advice to my younger self, I would push the idea of intentional journaling. I don’t mean buying a fancy leather-bound book and quill pen and sitting down for two hours every day to put words on a page. I do mean taking a few minutes here or there to think about what gave my life the most meaning. What offered me the greatest fulfillment.

I’m not complaining. I’m very happy with where I am right now. I’m following a fulfilling path, even without an ingrained habit of intentional journaling.

The reason I’m thinking about this is because I read an article in The Wall Street Journal recently, titled “The Power of Daily Writing in a Journal”. It’s a story of a 78 year old man that has kept a journal for 52 years. He journals to organize his thoughts and learn more about himself. The more he learns, the happier he becomes.

If I was starting a journaling habit today, and if I focused it on my professional growth, I’d probably reflect on things like

  • What work excites or bores me most?
  • When do I feel most or least fulfilled?
  • What do I think my strengths are? What am I most proud of?
  • If I could eliminate one weakness, what would it be?
  • If I had a dream job, what would my day look like?

And so on. It would be a good way to know whether I’m getting closer to, or farther from, where I want to be.

Take your situation. You know you want some sort of change in your career. Maybe you want to stay in the technical group, but take on responsibilities closer to the business itself. Maybe you want a clean break, to move away from technology and into the business proper.

Why do you want those things? How would you describe your current successes or failures? What insecurities do you have? Are those insecurities steering you in a direction that you won’t ultimately find fulfilling? Are you confident that you know what you want?

Don’t put a lot of pressure on yourself. If you wrote two or three sentences per day, two or three times per week, you’d have enormous success. I think the lion’s share of the gain comes from sitting down and just focusing on writing. The intentional peek inside your own mind is revealing, even if you’re not filling volume after volume of fancy journals.

Knowing what you want, and how you expect it to feel when you get there, is a great way to protect against burnout or disillusionment. Separating real wants, from what you think others expect you to want, is crucial. Reflexively gasping after the desires of others is a long, winding path to unhappiness.

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