Something came up recently when I was speaking with a client that got me thinking about the decisions we make and the motivations that drive us. I’ve had similar conversations with lots of clients, friends, and – let’s be honest – myself over the years.
It’s essentially this question: “What SHOULD I be doing professionally?” Then we answer that should from a bunch of external perspectives. What would happen if we instead asked ourselves what we could be doing?
Would it make us aim higher?
Take more risks?
Envision a professional life that allowed us to have more of a personal life?
For me, the answer to those questions was yes. Your answer may be different. What I wish I had known years ago was that I didn’t need to listen to that voice constantly asking me the should question. I remember when I started working for myself and I went from having a very easy to explain job (first teacher, then working in finance, then full-time MBA student) to trying to explain that I was starting a coaching business.
People often asked one follow-up question, then gave up. I saw their reactions with my friends who were consultants or lawyers. They liked those answers—they were easy to understand, clearly impressive. It made me feel awkward and bad about myself.
That’s now what I like to refer to as the “cocktail party test.” That is, when you’re thinking about which career path to pursue, are you thinking about what you should do? Or are you thinking about what you could do and what you want to do? Are you thinking about how you’ll feel when you tell someone your job at a cocktail party? Or are you thinking about how you’ll feel the rest of the week when you’re actually doing that job?
The “should” jobs tend to be much easier to explain at a cocktail party. And that feels good, but how long does that feeling really last? And are those people at the cocktail party going to be there with you on Sunday nights when you feel anxious about the week ahead? Or in the morning when you are dreading arriving at work? Or at night when you come home mentally exhausted? Clearly not.
So I say all this with a simple invitation—stop asking yourself what you should be doing, and start thinking about what you could be doing.