31 October 2012

If you're unhappy with your current job or career and are planning a career break to get away from the daily grind, chances are you've had the following question fired at you: "What do you want to do when you get back?"

A valid question, but for a lot of people this questions is just too confusing and even daunting. You may hope to find the answer while you’re away, but then again – you’re going away to unwind and experience something different, so it’ll be nice not to think about this question at all during your trip. Chances are this very valid question keeps you up at night or even paralyses you, because you simply don’t know the answer.

If you recognise yourself in this, then "what do you want to do when you get back?" may not be the right question for you. There are other, more subtle and effective ways to figure this out.

Here are some things you can do before, during or after your career break:

Write a list of all the things you dislike about work.

Is it the way your boss manages you, the environment, the location, the culture, the hours, your colleagues, your actual tasks and responsibilities? Make it as specific as possible: what is it exactly that you dislike about it? Next… ask yourself what you'd like instead. For example: you dislike working in a formal, dull, corporate environment. Instead, you'd like to work in a more creative and funky environment (maybe something like a converted warehouse?), with lots of colours and breakout places. Oh and instead of a suit you’d actually prefer to wear jeans to work.

Go through your list of dislikes and write down what you'd want instead.

Once you’ve done the above and have written down things you’d like instead, try to identify commonalities – overarching 'themes' if you like.

What you're trying to do is understand your values. Values are the things that you find important in any given situation and these (subconsciously) drive you. Values are things like: adventure, authenticity, contribution, creativity, flexibility, freedom, fun, helpfulness, independence, influence, intelligence, recognition, status and so on.

So, if – for example – you’ve identified creativity as one of your values and you're currently find yourself working in a risk averse and process controlled environment, there’s a clash in what you find important and what you do on a daily basis. This will inevitably feed its way through to how you feel and how happy you are with your job. The goal is to get a job (or career) that fits with the things you find important.

Start experimenting with small things you think you may like.

If you have a particular interest, such as nutrition, journalism or storytelling, you could enrol in a course to learn more about it or even get qualified. You could also start a blog to share your knowledge. Or, if you've always thought of starting your own business, attend a start-up workshop. It doesn't really matter if you're not yet sure what product or service you'd be selling – just going to a workshop and surrounding yourself with like-minded people will help you to focus on something else, something new, which will stimulate your brain to come up with ideas.

Ideally, you'd want to combine these three tips because you’ll get the best results if you combine thinking with taking action.

These tips should give you a whole lot more clarity than trying to find an answer to the potentially paralysing question "what do you want to do when you want to get back?" So, next time someone pops this question – don't break a sweat. Instead, smile and simply say that you may not know what it is yet, but you've got a plan how to work it out. And that in the meantime, you’re going to have an amazing time away.

This post was written by Iris Louwerens, the founder of Dig Mondays. She helps people to get a career they'll love to bits by making that journey towards a fulfilling, fun and interesting career manageable and easier. You can follow her @irislouwerens.