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What if the biggest thing holding you back from a fulfilling career is your own lack of clarity about what you really want? In our April 29 workshop, part of the Quartz at Work (from home) event series, we spoke with a trio of experts who regularly help others sort out their professional goals.

Notably, none of our panelists are currently in the same type of job or even the same field in which they began their careers. Each shared their story of how they came to pinpoint what they wanted out of their work and how they got it. They also offered advice to audience members with questions about when it’s time to change careers, whether it’s worth going back to school, how much emphasis to put on money, and where to find mentorship in the absence of a formal program.

Click the large image above for the complete video replay. Below, we share highlights from the panel, followed by a Quartz at Work reading list for further exploration of topics covered in the workshop.

On how our angst about getting what we want out of work changes over time

Lee Shapiro is a New York-based clinical psychologist who frequently works with new college graduates who are sorting out their goals at the start of their career journey.

“Initially there’s a real wish to demonstrate that you are competent, that you have legitimacy in the world, and you want to demonstrate that through your work, also as a way of establishing your own independence. Then I think later on, if you’ve managed to find your foothold and you’ve found success, there’s a way in which we start to think, ‘Well, is this really all there is, and is it what I hoped it would be?'”

On why we put so much stock into getting what we want out of work

Here’s Shapiro again:

“I really do think that what we crave is to feel valuable. Just like in that the way that you become an interesting person is to take an interest in things, I think the way you become a valuable person is to value things. … People need to really recognize what it is that they value. If work can be an opportunity for them to express that and feel that, then I think they’re going to be well set up for a rewarding experience.”

On how the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way people think about career goals

Nicole Wood is CEO and co-founder of Ama La Vida Coaching, based in Chicago. She says the pandemic has raised plenty of questions for clients about whether it’s a good time to search for a new job, switch fields, or ask for a raise. It’s also had a broader effect on how people think about their career goals.

“Most people don’t think about [a five-year plan]. Most people make decisions about their careers when they’re thrust into it, because they moved or they got let go, or something crazy happened, and what we’re trying to help people do is to think about that more proactively. If nothing else, this [pandemic] situation has helped people go into that reflection mode, which I think is really positive, and I think [they are starting to] prioritize health and wellbeing in different ways than they thought about before.”

On whether you’re better off finding a job you care less about so that you’re less invested in outcomes and less stressed out day to day

Here’s Wood again:

“It’s such a frustrating wall to come up against if you are naturally that type of person… who [would say], ‘I care so much about the way I contribute and the way I show up for work that I can’t be content to just keep my voice quiet.’ [But] if you found a job where it was less demanding in that way or you cared a little bit less, would you be sustained by that long term? Because maybe that’s in your nature to really care. So maybe it’s less about [doing a] total 180 and finding something you don’t care about, and [instead] maybe finding a cultural environment that’s a little more aligned, where people really respect that you have a strong voice and especially a leadership team around you that values that type of tenacity.”

How can I figure out what I want from my career?

Jordan Taylor is the co-founder and CEO of Medley, a startup focused on personal and professional growth. It puts clients from around the world into eight-person groups that meet monthly with a coach and join in other events related to shared values and self-discovery. Taylor spoke about her own career twists and turns:

“[G]rowing up [I] had always loved and thrived and learned in group and team environments. I always loved sports. In college I was on the rowing team. But … when I was in college din’t know what I wanted to do with my career. I had internships in finance and in tech out on the west coast and found myself at an info session for a consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, and they pitched it as a great place to figure out what you wanted. It was certainly a challenging experience for me.

I think the transition from college to my mid 20s to my 30s was certainly a lot about figuring out what I really wanted. I realized that for me, being in a culture where I really feel a sense of teaming is absolutely critical. So I went and joined a startup, a digital media company called Mic, [where] I was chief of staff … but ultimately realized that my heart wasn’t in advertising, and as a media company we were dependent on advertising, and I felt like I wanted to work on something that was closer to what I cared about most, which was teams and group experiences—hence Medley. So I ended up going back to school, I went to Harvard Business School, and took a class that inspired what Medley is today, which was a leadership course where you spend two hours in a room with six people.”

Is it best to exercise my entrepreneurial streak in my current job, or is my interest in something new a sign that I should start my own business?

Here’s Taylor once more:

“It really depends on whether the business that you would want to start is in your industry or in a different sector, and if that [idea] functionally, feasibly could happen within your current organization. For me it was more straightforward in that I knew I actually wanted to be working in a different industry and on a different problem, so that’s why I had so much clarity. [But] there are real benefits from operating in a bigger company versus starting off on your own.”

A Quartz at Work reading list about career growth

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 How to find meaningful mentorship without asking anyone to mentor you

👵 Why you should spend time with older colleagues outside of work

🎓 Lessons for the class of 2020 from the class of 2008

🤹‍♀️ Why every woman should learn the rule of thirds

👨‍🏫 I went to grad school in the last recession. Here’s my advice to people considering it now

10 questions I wish I’d asked prior employers before accepting a job

💼  There’s never been a better time to build a “protean career”