Have you ever felt unhappy or unmotivated at work but struggled to understand exactly why? Maybe you’ve wanted to make a change in your career but have had a hard time figuring out what change that should be. Or maybe you have some ideas—you’d like to move on to a different company, change roles entirely, transition into another industry, or start your own business—but you’re worried you’ll make a “bad” decision. You might’ve even made changes before but ended up feeling just as antsy and unfulfilled, and you’re afraid of repeating the same cycle.
Muse career coach Alina Campos, founder of The Coaching Creative, encounters this all the time. “I started working a lot with clients on gaining clarity on changes that they wanted to make in their lives. Sometimes they would come to me and say, ‘I feel stuck,’ or, ‘I’m unhappy in my job,’” she says. “When people want to make a change or a shift in their life…it’s important to understand why.”
Related: Alina Campos spoke with Muse CEO Kathryn Minshew about how self-discovery work is an essential part of getting unstuck. Watch the full Instagram Live video here.
And she’s found that values are a great place to start. “When there’s this gap between values that are a high priority for us and reality, that’s what causes these feelings of disengagement and being unmotivated and unhappy.”
In order to make smarter, more informed decisions about your career, you need to collect data about yourself. For example, if you know that accountability, independence, and work-life balance are your most important values right now, that’s your foundation. You can start moving forward with those priorities in mind and you can evaluate your options based on how well they line up.
Campos has worked with a couple of freelancers who were itching to move into full-time roles, for example. Often, they’d chock it up to wanting stability, she says, but digging deeper into what their values were revealed there were more important factors, like craving “a sense of belonging and collaboration and being with a team and being part of something.”
Knowing what values were really driving their desire to work full-time for one company has helped these clients feel more confident in their decisions, persevere in the face of setbacks, and assess whether an opportunity was worth pursuing: “If they see that belonging and collaboration are really important to them and after having discussions with an organization learn that there wouldn’t be a lot of cross-functional collaboration and they would be expected to work independently, they’d have to analyze, ‘Am I really going to be happy in this role?’” she says.
To help her clients identify their top-priority values, Campos created a worksheet. It’s one in a series of four—the other three focus on strengths, passions, and preferences. If you’re feeling stuck and struggling to move forward, you could certainly book a coaching session with Campos and work through the full set with her. But you can also download her values worksheet and tackle it on your own to help kickstart your process.
Here are three quick tips to help you get the most out of the exercise:
- Take your time: Campos would sometimes do this exercise live with her clients. “Then I realized that people need to sit with these things,” she says. So don’t try to breeze through the worksheet in an hour and be done with it. Spend some time on it, then walk away and revisit it later. You’ll still be thinking about it, Campos explains, and other things will come up as you mull it over.
- Talk to someone about it: Just because you’re doing the exercise outside the context of a coaching session doesn’t mean you have to do it alone. “Find someone you can openly talk about this stuff with,” Campos says, whether it’s a trusted friend or a mentor. You can use them as a sounding board to help you question whether what you’ve written down truly reflects your most important values. Ask them: “Just by what you know of me, which values would you say are the highest priority to me? Do these make sense?”
- Come back to it: “This isn’t a one-time thing,” Campos says. Your values depend on what’s going on in your life and what’s happening around you, so they’ll shift and evolve over the course of your career. You can sit down with a fresh worksheet and go through a values discovery exercise anytime you’re feeling unsettled about where you are or unsure what your next step should be.
Change is hard, Campos says, but if you know what you’re aiming for and why you’re doing it, you’ll have the confidence and stamina to make it happen—and you’re much likelier to be happy when you finally get there.