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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

Apologies to Your Retirement Countdown, But Your Career Shouldn't Have an Expiration Date

Most of the time we imagine that work is something we do, until we finally don’t have to do it anymore. We count down the days until we’ve saved up enough money that we can just quit. In fact, we throw people retirement parties to celebrate the fact they no longer have to go into an office every day.

But what if work was something that actually gives you purpose? What if it was something you didn’t look forward to ending. Before you look at me with total confusion, do this: Remember the last time you were doing something interesting and you lost track of time. Or, you finished a task and felt really satisfied. How good did that feel?

Well, that’s what I’m talking about when I talk about purpose! That sense of satisfaction and that comes with creativity, focus, completion, and a job well done. It feels good, doesn’t it?

Too often, we equate the word “job” with the word “purpose.” And then we find ourselves tired, burnt out, lost, bored, stuck, and a million other words that are no fun. If you’ve felt this way, you definitely aren’t alone.

Here’s the thing you have to keep in mind: A job is just a job. Your passion and your real purpose, however, is based on who you are, not what you do. And who you are evolves, grows, and changes over time.

Now, this next bit’s really important:

Allow me to go on a tangent for a second, with this question: Do you still wear the same clothes you did when you were 15?

My guess is that the answer is a strong “No!” (with maybe a silent “hell” before the word no). My point here is that as you get older, your style changes as you learn, grow and change yourself. Your passion grows with you.

So why do we have this mentality that we should work in the same field until retirement? Why do we expect something that made us happy (or kept us engaged) at age 25 to have the same interest at 35? 43? 67?

You are an interesting person, so it makes sense that you’d be interested in different types of work over the course of your career. What if instead of focusing on that big retirement party at some distant point in the future, you started focusing on how to make your work meaningful to you today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life?

Sure, it won’t look the same at each stage. But what if it could feel the same? Satisfying, meaningful, fulfilling, interesting, engaging.

Sounds great, right? Well you can get started on that journey with one simple step: Keep a success journal.

A success journal is a daily record of what you enjoyed doing that day. It can be written down, spoken into your phone, or typed up on your computer. It should take you between two to five minutes to note down anything that you enjoyed doing—just make sure to capture stuff from work and from home.

Do that for at least two weeks. Then, at the end of two weeks, take a close look at it and notice what made you the happiest—at work and in your personal life.

When I was a miserable consultant I kept a record of what I liked doing and I noticed a theme: I really liked work that involved helping people with their careers. I truly enjoyed mentoring meetings, staff trainings, and yes, even performance reviews. All of it.

I hadn’t ever thought about it before, but it was a eureka moment that led me to realize that I can change jobs and move between fields—as long as I’m helping people advance their careers, I’ll be happy. Currently, I’m in the career coach stage of this journey. I don’t know exactly where I’ll be in five, 10, or 30 years. But I do know that the prospect of helping people find career success excites me, and that I don’t ever want to put an end date on that. I don’t want to retire from doing the thing I love.

So, take two minutes today and start thinking not about your job now, or even the next one—but instead about what makes you happy, what you’d never want to give up no matter how old you get. Your answer to that means you don’t have to countdown to the last day of your job, but instead you get to look forward to every day, here and now.

Want more help to find meaningful work you love? Grab this awesome free workbook on the 6 simple steps to finding work you love right here.

Photo of happy worker courtesy of Vesna Andjic/Getty Images.