What do You Want From Your Career?

Jakob Jenkov
Last update: 2014-05-25

The very first thing to think about in career planning, is to think about what you want from your career. You don't necessarily need a goal for your career, but if you want it to take a specific direction, a clear goal is a pretty good start.

You may not already know what you want from your career, and even if you do it will probably change over time. For instance, do you...

  • Just want to be able to pay your bills?
  • Want to work with something interesting?
  • Want to have more spare time to be with friends and family?
  • Want to make more money?
  • Want to be an expert?
  • Want to be an architect?
  • Want to be a project manager?
  • Want to be a front end (GUI) developer?
  • Want to be a back end developer?
  • Want to be a game developer?
  • Want to be a distributed systems developer?
  • Want to be a peer-to-peer network developer?
  • Want to be a freelancer?
  • Want to be a software artist?
  • Want to write books?
  • Want to write for popular websites and magazines?
  • Want to speak at conferences?
  • Want to be an ISV (Independent Software Vendor) ?
  • Want to be an open source developer?

All of the above options are possible, though perhaps not all at the same time. Some of them imply tradeoffs, like the tradeoff between making more money and having more spare time. As your career progresses you might actually be able to do both, but in the beginning it is often either or.

There are many more options than what I have listed here. These are just a few of many options.

Two Paths to "Happiness"

My career goal used to be to become rich. I am not rich now, but as a freelancer I make more money than most people. Now I have discovered, that money alone does not make me happy. In fact, you don't need a lot of money to be happy. So, now my career goal is to have fun - to create something "big", challenging, and useful. Not Microsoft or Google "big". Just big enough to make me proud. You know, something that isn't so easy to create. Perhaps even make a living from it.

Furthermore I have discovered that there are two ways to achieve happiness:

  1. Be happy with what you've got, and make the best of it.
  2. Pursue whatever it is you want, you do not already have.

Both methods are equally valid. The first option sounds easiest, but it isn't always in reality. Especially not if you are are surrounded by people who constantly talk about all their goals in life, and all their achievements. It may make you feel inferior, for not chasing any dreams yourself. People like Dalai Lama plus other intelligent philosophers can be inspiring in this process.

The second option, "the pursuit of happiness" is more "american dream"-ish. In fact the "right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" is written explicitly into US declaration of independence. But, the constant chase for the next thing you do not already have, can also be stressful. I often find myself not being happy with where I am, even if most people in Denmark will never get even to where I am in their entire life. Financially, I mean. Such behaviour is really stupid - but very human.

A mix of both options is probably not bad. You know, appreciating where you are, while you chasing the next thing. During the chase it is also important to enjoy the process.

Sometimes I catch myself only looking forward, forgetting to enjoy where I am right now. It's like a game, and I keep wanting to push the high score up. Even sometimes having trouble sleeping, because I feel things are going too slow, or because I just got a great idea. When I catch myself in this mode, I try to take a step back, slow down a bit, and enjoy the ride a bit more. It usually helps.

Another good excercise can be to think about how you would spend your time if you had already made all your dreams come true. You may just realize, that many of these things you can already do now, like doing a lot of fun stuff with the people that mean the most to you.

Let Me Know Where You Want to Go

I am very interested in hearing where you want to go with your career. First of all because it is always interesting to hear about other peoples plans. Second, because I might be able to dig up something interesting on the topic and write about it in this trail.

So, send me an email with a few details. It doesn't have to be your life story. Just 5-10 lines. You wouldn't be the first to do so. And you wouldn't be the first person I have helped get a job, or change career. You can find my email address on the about page.

Jakob Jenkov

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