For a Thriving Career, Ask Yourself These Questions

Rather than slipping into career autopilot, focus on opening doors to opportunity and possibility.

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Considering how busy most of us are, it’s easy to slip into autopilot in our careers. But if you want to really thrive—both financially and emotionally—autopilot is the last place you want to be.

To continue opening doors to opportunity and possibility, make a habit of asking yourself these twelve questions:

What do I love about this job? Why?

Always start with this question, because the more you understand what energizes you, the more potential you have to incorporate that into your work. And the more energy you get from your work, the more energy you have to put into both excelling at what you do and overcoming inevitable obstacles.

Think of your job as a learning laboratory to explore what lights you up. Make a list of things you find fun or energizing about your work, then ask yourself, “Why?” Identify the underlying themes (or reasons why) that tend to be present when you feel energized. Then continually look for opportunities to experience them.

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

What do I dislike about this job? Why?

This question goes hand in hand with the question above, but here you’re trying to understand more about what you want to avoid. Figuring this out helps you add energy to the picture as well, but in this case you’re using “addition by subtraction,” by eliminating or reducing an activity that drains your energy.

How can I accomplish my next goal?

Get out of the habit of thinking that anything’s impossible to accomplish. Instead of looking at a goal that seems out of reach and giving up, ask yourself, “What if I had to make that happen? What if I had no choice?” This forces your mind into creative problem-solving mode. The more practice you have thinking outside the box, the more likely you are to think creatively on a regular basis.

What do I need to prioritize?

Life offers us a million distractions to focus our energy on, distractions that don’t move us in the direction we want to go. On a regular basis, give yourself a moment to stop moving and take stock of the choices you’re making and the action you’re taking. Is it in line with your priorities? If not, ask yourself what should be the priority. What is really most important right now?

What can I learn from this?

Life also offers us a million opportunities to fall flat on our faces. When that happens, our egos try to pretend it never happened; no one likes to dwell on failure. Instead of pretending, ask yourself how you can benefit from the failure. Keep a journal about what you’ve learned from mistakes so you can avoid those mistakes in the future.

Does any mundane work need my attention?

Most of us only want to do the fun, sexy work. We don’t want to do the boring, mundane, unglamorous tasks it takes to make great things happen. Ask yourself what mundane work needs your attention and get it done, so you can thrive on the work you want to do.

[See The 6 Worst Ways to Pick a Career.]

Am I making any assumptions?

Whenever you catch yourself saying things like “I can’t,” “that’s not possible,” or “I have to,” it’s a good bet assumptions are at play. Stop and ask yourself which assumptions you’re making, and whether they’re really valid. Sometimes they are, but often they aren’t. And when they aren’t, you’re needlessly limiting yourself.

Am I creating a limited reality?

This is another way of looking at how you limit yourself unnecessarily. Do you think certain moves are or aren’t possible? If you think something isn’t possible, has anyone else done it? Is it conceivable that it’s actually possible to accomplish? Or maybe you have limiting beliefs about yourself. Have you ever done something you didn’t think you could? Is it possible that you could do that again?

How am I ignoring reality?

On the flip-side of the false limited reality is the unrealistically rosy reality. If you find yourself focusing on only the positive, are you ignoring potential dangers?

What help do I need?

It’s easy to get stuck in the spin cycle of trying to do it all yourself. But if you’re doing anything other than a paint-by-numbers career, you will need help from someone else. Regularly ask yourself what kind of help you need to move forward toward your vision.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers, or find us on Facebook or Twitter.]

Who can help me?

Knowing what help you need isn’t enough. You have to use that knowledge by reaching out and asking for help. For each area where you need assistance, ask yourself who can help you. Maybe it’s someone you already know, or maybe it’s someone you have yet to meet.

Where’s the opportunity?

Finally, every so often step back from taking action and look for opportunity. Do you notice trends you can take advantage of? Or doors opening via people you recently met? Projects you could take on that would provide a springboard to a new career? Don’t expect opportunity to come looking for you—you have to go get it.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.

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