I’m a huge believer in learning as much as I can from others. I’ve done my best to take on the advice I hear from mentors, fellow business owners, and more seasoned entrepreneurs I admire, reports Forbes. I’ve also done my fair share of listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and watching TED talks for entrepreneurial inspiration and guidance.
While professional advice can be helpful, I’ve actually gotten some of the most helpful career guidance from my friends and family, especially during these past five years of running my own business.
Here are three clarifying questions they’ve posed to me during those times when I felt most uncertain about whether I was on the right track with my work.1. Can You Do The Things You Want To Do?
Although I wouldn’t describe money as the primary motivator behind any of my biggest career decisions, the idea of earning a higher salary, getting an end-of-year bonus, or landing a promotion at a higher pay grade has always had a somewhat irresistible allure.
So when my salary took an initial hit during the first year of starting my own business after leaving my corporate marketing job behind, I started to question whether I was earning “enough” as a business owner. I even called up one of my best friends from college, Hitesh, to lament the fact I wasn’t as financially “well-off” as I was before. I remember him saying, “Okay, so you earn less. You spend less. But can you still do the things you want to do?”
For me, doing more of the things I wanted to do was one of the original drivers behind starting my own business. I wanted to have more balance, to take better care of myself, to spend more time with people I cared about in my life, and to do work I truly cared about. During that first year of self-employment, I was still managing to do all of these things in spite of my lower income.
I realized that you can always earn more money, but as long as you can spend your time doing things that matter to you, you may already have enough to be happy.2. Is The Cost Of Doing This Worth It?
I think of myself as an ambitious person. On the one hand, that ambition has served me well in my career. I’ve always tried to strive for more, to do more, to be more. However, the downside of ambition is that it leaves me wondering whether I’m doing “enough.” Whether I’m doing enough billable work, whether I’m growing my business enough, whether I’m achieving enough.
I can’t help but feel like I need to cross the next milestone I’ve created for myself before I can truly feel “successful.”
Oftentimes, I end up verbalizing these internal musings at the dinner table with my wife, who often witnesses my emotional ups and downs as a business owner. She hears me compare myself to other entrepreneurs who have made it big already. She hears me wonder out loud if I should be taking on more client engagements that would be time-consuming, but could add stripes to my credentials.
She often responds by saying, “There’s always a cost to everything you do. Is doing this work going to be worth that cost?”
This reminds me that although “making it big” has its benefits, it can come at a cost. For example, in the form of reduced freedom, increased work pressure, diminished work-life balance, or less time with loved ones—those very elements I value most in my career and life.
This cost-benefit tradeoff is something I now always try to keep in mind, especially when I catch myself envying someone else’s professional achievements. It also helps me say no to alluring opportunities when the costs are simply too great.3. Will You Be Motivated To Bring Your ‘A’ Game?
Like every business owner I know, I’ve faced difficult career choices about which professional opportunities to pursue. Which clients to work with, which side projects to pursue, which public talks to give. With time being one of my most valuable assets, pursuing the right opportunities is critical to ensuring I spend my time wisely.
In 2014, I gave a TEDx Talk in Cardiff, Wales. I’d always wanted to give a TED Talk, and this ended up being one of the highlights of my career. A couple years later, another TEDx Conference organizer invited me to serve as a featured speaker again. My immediate reaction was to say yes, as giving another talk like this would be another unique opportunity to share a message with the world. However, preparing and giving a TEDx Talk is an enormous investment of time and work.
I remember calling up one of my best friends, Aaron, from business school to talk about whether I should do this talk. Afterward, he told me, “You just don’t sound that excited about this. And if you’re not excited about it, you’re probably not going to bring your ‘A’ game.”
In other words, this specific opportunity just wasn’t compelling me to give it my all. And not giving something 100% means doing a subpar job, delivering little value, and perhaps even harming my reputation as a speaker.
When presented with a professional opportunity, I now always ask myself if it excites me enough to bring out the very best in me. If not, I try to remind myself it’s really okay to just say “no,” knowing that another more suitable opportunity could be just around the corner.Focus On What Really Matters
In your career, you’re going to be faced with a lot of opportunities and choices that force you to evaluate your true priorities. Checking in with the people who know you best can help reground you. Considering these three questions can help refocus you. And being honest with yourself about what really matters can help you gain the clarity you need to invest your energy into the most rewarding pursuits that mean the most to you.
Joseph Liu is a speaker, career change strategist, and host of the Career Relaunch podcast featuring stories of career reinvention. Follow him on Twitter & LinkedIn.