Think to the Future Now With a Career Bucket List

Posted by Patra Frame

So many people have bucket lists for some distant future. Often these are tied to retirement. While I dislike the bucket list term – the concept applies to one’s work.

Why wait till you are in your 70s or 80s to start checking off things you want to do? Start now with your career.

  • What do you want to achieve over your work-life?
  • What impact do you hope to have?
  • What new technology or designs or fields do you want to be a part of?

Answer in the plural. Give yourself a range of interests and ideas so you become more likely to achieve your desires. Dropping one interest in favor of another is far smarter than losing THE ONE and feeling like a failure, instead of a person moving forward.

I recently worked with a young engineer who desperately wanted to work with one of the big-name Silicon Valley giants. Her engineering background was more hardware than software, and she was failing even when she got an interview. A year went by like that – rare interviews, lots of failures. Finally, some thinking about options led to a broader perspective and a job offer she was interested in and happy to accept.

Many people hit a period in their 40s, 50s, and again in their 60s, where they wonder what is next.

  • Often the current career/role is no longer enjoyable.
  • Maybe a long-term contract is ending.
  • Military and government retirees often are forced into such decisions about their next roles.

Such stages are a normal part of a career and a life. Yet too many people fight themselves at these stages. They only seek the next straight-line job option. If you are in such a place in your life, try looking forward to a new stage. What would you do now if you were 20 again? If you had not had the career you have had?

A life of successes, achievements, and multiple interests depends on maintaining a sense of curiosity. Increasingly, neuroscientists think that is important to delaying or avoiding dementia too. What are you curious about? How does that impact your future?

Grab a sheet of paper, a notebook, or open a document to start dreaming. This trip is far more interesting than even the best vacation.

What You Value Most

Start with what you value most. List six to eight values vital to you. You might include achievement, integrity, wealth, innovation, or respect on your list. But think about your values carefully. You can find values exercises in many life planning books or on the web to effectively work through what is most important now. Just keep your list short – none of us can have ten or twenty ‘top’ values, tempting though that is.

Your Work History

The next step is to think about your work history.

  • What specific activities have you most enjoyed?
  • Which made you miserable?
  • What is most exciting about your current work?
  • What jobs interest you? Why?
  • Are you thinking strictly in linear career path terms? If so, why? If not, why?
  • Do you want to work where the mission or the technology or the clients are important to you?
  • What corporate values match yours?

Addressing these questions and others they raise takes some time to think and to revisit your answers. So start now and move forward without expecting everything to be immediately clear.

Identify What Interests You Now

The third step is to identify what interests you now. I was at a meeting recently and was talking about the unintended consequences of what databases are used to train an AI system. One of the CEOs was quite surprised an “HR person” knew such things. I gave him a very business-oriented answer – and did not mention the sci-fi novels with their AI and robots, which I started reading as a child.

  • What interests you? And what do you do with your interests?
  • Do you read about them? Actively study them?
  • Follow specialists on Twitter or other social media?
  • Go to talks? Listen to podcasts or watch programs on them?

Not every interest turns into a career. However, you may not want to do the actual jobs of an archaeologist or big rig driver to consider working in organizations focused on those fields. Look at your interests to see if they:

  • Influence your work choices or not.
  • Add to work you already do or are exploring doing.
  • Keep your mind active and vital and give you a break from career-focused work.

Use what you learn about yourself in this exploration to start moving. Talk to people about your interests and goals. Consider options in your current job to pursue some changes, where possible, to meet your goals.

Make a careers bucket list and start acting on it!

Perhaps work success for you is tied to achieving a top management position, as rare as that is. Or being a nationally recognized expert.

But when you talk to older people about their work, what they remember is the people they worked with, the big event they were a part of, and interesting experiences.

Think of career success and fulfillment as a result of doing many things on your ‘career bucket list.’ Better yet, think of it as a part of life success. Career goals are only a part of living a happy, successful life.

Focusing on a range of goals minimizes the fear of the future, the worry when a job goes bad or a big promotion eludes you. Multiple goals offer choices along the way that meet your interests and needs. What’s on your list?

Patra FramePatra Frame is ClearedJobs.Net’s HR Management Consultant. She is an experienced human resources executive and founder of Strategies for Human Resources. Patra is an Air Force veteran and charter member of the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Follow Patra on Twitter @2Patra.

This entry was posted on Monday, March 02, 2020 11:57 am

2 thoughts on “Think to the Future Now With a Career Bucket List”

  1. Patra, great article. I reflected that I really enjoyed teaching – at both the Academy level and at the prospective commanding officer level – but I don’t want to “waste” my TS/SCI clearance. I’m post major command O-6 with 9 years DoD civ experience. Suggestions?

    1. Jeffrey, interesting question. Why do you feel you would ‘waste’ your clearance? Certainly, if there is work in your career field that you really enjoy doing and could do as a contractor, that is one thing. But the road to ‘job hell’ is paved with decisions made because someone thought that was the way to bigger bucks and neglected the impact of the work on them. If you love teaching then explore it – can you find a role you really like at a pay level you can be happy with? Then decide what makes the most sense for you and your needs and goals. FYI, you will likely have to answer this question more than once still in your career.

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