How many times have you wondered if you're in the right job, the right career, or whether you should be doing something entirely different with your life?
Many of us have experienced this sense of doubt. For some it's daily, for others it lies dormant until an event forces a hard rethink — an illness, redundancy or becoming a new parent.
Summer is a great time to reflect on the meaning we seek from our lives and whether we are on the right track — a large part of which comes down to our relationship with our work.
What to do with 100,000 hours
Work is what we "do". It's what we typically get paid for, what we spend much of our waking hours in and end up calling our career. It's fundamental to our sense of worth and meaning.
At its very best, it's a calling, an ultimate expression of who we are and we couldn't be ourselves without. Many artists, writers, musicians and entrepreneurs may live this way but for a lot of people, that's a more difficult ask.
Some people are reluctantly doing work they hate for someone they can't stand, solely for the money to get on with what they really want to do in life — which is not work.
Except, in large part, work is life. Because it makes up half our waking hours, five days a week for almost half a century. All told, if you were born today you have the gift of more than 100,000 hours to build a life through work — a vocation.
That's just too large a block of our lives to be in jobs and careers that we don't find rewarding, and ideally love.
How do you know if you are? Try this exercise: each morning ask yourself, if today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do?
Steve Jobs shared this ritual with us in a talk he gave to a class of students at Stanford University in 2005. What he was looking for was, "whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."
If you do need to change something, how do you know what it is? Think about these three things:
What we love
Another way of understanding what we love doing is to know what motivates and draws us to make choices or pursue certain activities. Neuroscientist Dr Kerry Spackman calls these our "intrinsic drivers" in his book The Winner's Bible.
To better understand them, list all of your passions, pursuits and things that give you real joy — in life and work. For each of them, go a layer deeper and probe what exactly it is about that activity that you love.
This exercise can reveal useful and powerful personal insights that will show unexpected patterns between seemingly different types of activities.
As an architecture student at university, I was drawn to the experience of exploring possibilities and designing the blueprints to turn ideas into reality.
Looking back, architecture has become the central theme of my life since — but it's turned out to be of start-up companies, products non-profits, campaigns and more — anything but buildings.
What we believe in
Many people love the work they do but don't love those they work with. Certain values you hold strongly will need to find their match in your working environment with colleagues and importantly, the customers and clients too.
You may value the willingness to take risks, be creative, be transparent and open and if your workplace doesn't embody those values, then you would be better off finding a place that does.
To be clear, however, the starting point is not the organisation's values — it's yours. Hardly anybody actually sits to think about, articulate and write down theirs — so take some time to do it because every one of our actions and decisions in life is guided by them.
• Practise the Steve Jobs daily ritual: each morning ask yourself, if today were the last day of your life, would you want to do what you are about to do?
• Write down a list of your values and select the three to five that are non-negotiable. Compare them to how the organisation you work with behaves and look for any gaps.
• List all the things you love to do — examine and list the driving reasons behind why you love each one. Look for recurring drivers and identify your top three to five personal drivers.
• If you need to make a major change, confide in close friends who are open-minded, supportive and confident enough to not judge you or discourage you. How many times have you wondered if you're in the right job, the right career, or whether you should be doing something entirely different with your life?
What we care about
If we feel that in some way we are a part of a bigger cause or a mission that we can believe in, it makes us feel that our lives have meaning. We are willing to make a lot of sacrifices if there's something bigger we are making a difference towards.
In a great organisation, the answer is strong and clear. Eat My Lunch, an Auckland-based meal delivery service I've been a part of, has a clear mission to ensure every Kiwi kid always has a lunch at school.
So when anybody joins, they know what they are working towards, beyond the day-to-day of their role. If that's missing in your job it can often be a large part of any dissatisfaction you may have.
Being really clear about specific themes you care about — whether it's sustainability, healthy food, music of innovation — can help you find places to work that match your passions.
Truly understanding what we love, what we believe and care about and comparing it with the work and life we have today can highlight a gap that we need to find a way to close.
Often the gaps are small and just take effort and thought. But if in your heart you know you are not following your path and the gaps seems so large that you are in a life you don't want to be, courage and understanding supporters will be necessary to make a big shift.
Transitions are uncomfortable, difficult and liberating all at once but the worst that can happen is you will learn and grow in new directions.
This can mean going sideways or backwards to move forwards and it will then come down to overcoming any inertia or fear you have to actually make the changes you want.
If with the 100,000 hours we have, we can each aspire to pursue what we love, live the values we believe in while serving a purpose greater than us — we will shape lives we can be proud of.
Derek Handley is a futurist and entrepreneur who is passionate about shaping a better New Zealand. This is a part of a series of columns exploring how you can live your best life in 2018.