How do you know whether you are doing the right work or whether it’s time to move on? For me, it boils down to saying yes to the following three questions.
- Is my work allowing me to have the life I want to have?
- Am I discovering new things I really like thinking about every day?
- Am I able to deeply explore, learn, and do those things as part of my work?
I like using the metaphor of riding a wave to describe how I feel when I know I’m in a good spot. Waves have direction, power, and momentum. They make an impact! When you are in a wave you know it. When you aren’t, you might feel like you are floating, waiting, adrift. Waves also have a start and an end. Having these regular cycles, even drastic ones, in what we do is natural and essential.
Here are the three components of my perfect work/wave. They all need to work together.
- Your goals (the foundation of the wave) – for me this isn’t “be a manager” or “own a company”, it’s more like what kind of life do you want to have? What do you want your days to look like? Where have you been and where do you want to go next? Your work should support your goals, not the other way around.
- Your interests (the curl of the wave) – who do you admire? what are you curious about? Are you discovering more every day? Does there seem to be no limit to what you need to learn? Doing your work should unfold new interests constantly.
- Your opportunities (the crest of the wave) – Do you have license to explore your interests? Do you have agency to learn what you want to learn? Your work should provide you with opportunities to deeply learn the areas you are interested in.
Don’t have all these things working together right now? Don’t worry, not many do and no one can keep it going for long. Every wave crashes.
You can always swim back out and get on another.