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The One-Page Career Cheat Sheet

The One-Page Career Cheat Sheet

Are you happy in your job?

This fun resource—a one-page, “career cheat sheet”—from Sarah K. Peck can help you think through the question in a structured way.

Sarah published this chart last month and has received a strong reaction. Here’s what she had to say about it:

I’ve spent time with a wide range of folks – people in start-ups, people in recently established businesses, people in small companies, and people in large companies. This question comes up a lot, yet you can’t seem to figure out whether or not to stay or go. Whether to try something new. If it’s possible to fix something that’s an existing problem.

The response I’m getting from 40- and 50- year olds is especially interesting. My parents’ generation really responded so well. My dad, for example, said: You know, I really didn’t love my job for a while, but after reviewing this sheet I realized how thankful and grateful I am for my job, and how much my job challenges me and intrigues me. Sure, I’m tired on a daily basis, but I’m not bored.

I love that a reflection sheet like this can actually help us remember how much we like what we already have. It’s not necessarily about finding out that you hate your job, but that you might find out that you like your job after all!

Also, it’s nice to have a rubric to bounce ideas off of. It’s hard to just answer the question “Should I quit?” because you don’t have any frame from which to guide the argument. It’s easier to have a list of questions to provoke you and help you think through what might be important or what matters to you.

I’m heading to Austin this weekend, and then out to see the world on my final big trip before I go on the road for book tour #2. Before leaving, I asked Sarah a few questions about the career cheat sheet.

Q. How did the cheat sheet come about?

On a particularly frustrating day about two years ago, I sat down and asked myself, “What, exactly, am I not liking about this current situation?” I ended up with a long list of things that I hated about my job, from the fact that I was sitting all day, to not having enough interaction with others, to not being challenged on the projects that I was working on. I struggle a lot with figuring out whether or I’m doing work that’s right for me and how to make the most of my current situation. There are a lot of times when I’m not content with what I’m doing, and I’m itching to figure out how to make it better.

Once I made this list, I realized that about half of the things on it were things I could fix myself within a relatively short time frame (from a day to a few weeks). I set a timer and went on a walk every two hours. I made a habit of talking to people. I asked for harder projects, even though it seemed counter-intuitive. I was honest with my boss. Turns out he didn’t want me to be bored and unhappy as much as I didn’t want to be bored and unhappy!

I shared the list with a few close friends and family, and ended up having several honest, open conversations—it turned out that they were struggling, too. One of my friends didn’t know whether or not to leave his job. We asked ourselves, “What is most important about staying–or leaving–your current job? What is it that you need to get from your job?”

I scratched out a diagram that I pinned up on my wall at home—the one that you see in the worksheet.

Today, when I’m going through particularly frustrating weeks, I can use this as a check-in to see if what I’m experiencing is endemic to the job, or more a current symptom of the specific project I’m working on. It helps me touch base with what’s most important about the work that I’m doing.

Q. How can people change if they are unhappy?

I think people need to take a lot more responsibility for their own happiness. I have a few quotes in my (infamous) notebooks to remind me of this. First, it’s okay to be happy. Second, happy takes a lot of work. People sometimes think that a state of happiness is something to be achieved, reached, or is somehow something that will be handed to them. I am guilty of this all the time! I have to remind myself, “Sarah, if today didn’t work out so well, you’re going to have to try something new tomorrow and see if you can get different results.” Most everyone I know that is successful or has a joy for living has done some serious work on themselves, on their relationships, on their jobs.

So what does this mean? Start asking the hard questions. Be specific. What is it that you don’t like? What would it take to change that aspect? Sometimes it’s really hard, and I get it. Some of us have to spend a few years working our asses off to pay off debts, or to dig ourselves out of a whole, or struggle to learn a new skill, or go through a process to change. None of this is easy.

But who said happy is easy. Those are two entirely different words. What’s worth doing is not always what’s the most appealing thing to do in the present, but it’s worth it. People need to be courageous and brave. It’s not easy to say what we’re thinking and feeling. It’s not easy to admit where we are struggling. But if you don’t take the effort and courage to change your situation, blaming your job or external factors won’t help.

I also think people need to be gracious and gentle and kind to themselves. Recognize that things change over time if you put in the work. Realize that today is not indicative of all days. Reward yourself for the small changes. When you go to work and say, “I’m going to take a long lunch break and go for a run, even though I’m worried what other people will think of me, I’m going to commit to myself and my happiness and do it anyways,” — be really joyful in the fact that you did it. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Sometimes, just by speaking up, you can surprise yourself. After running several times during the middle of the day, I had several colleagues come up to me and say “I really want to do that, too.” We’re now looking at building showers in our building so that more people can do this. And to think I was afraid of what people would think!

Q. Are you better suited as an employee or independent worker?

A. You know, I’m really excited that I can answer yes to that question. It’s an evolving answer, one that changes as my goals expand and grow. I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I’m really excited about what I’m doing, and how I’m doing it. I think the projects I’m working on are valuable and meaningful, and I’m learning a tremendous amount in a compressed time frame because I asked for more and more responsibility repeatedly and created several hard, challenging projects to tackle in the last year. Was I terrified? Absolutely. Did I have huge, momentous weeks of self-doubt and fear? Of course. Those moments weren’t necessarily my happiest, not by any stretch. But happiness isn’t an island that you arrive at, sipping margaritas indefinitely for the rest of your life. To me, it’s about building a set of skills, tools, relationships, projects and a body of work that you can grow over time Sort of like an investment–you have to build up the elements that make you happy over time. For me, I’ve learned that the rewards of engaging, challenging work and growth, and my loyal and committed relationships are what make me very happy.

In terms of work: I think one of my biggest challenges is that I am fiercely independent, and the idea of sitting at a desk and doing the same thing day in and day out sounds dreadful to me. I am lucky to have struck a balance and found a firm that is willing to entertain my way of doing things, and my need to run and move and roam in the world. I often slip out, run for two hours, return, and work late in the office in the evenings when I’m more settled. When I’m itching to move, telling me to sit at a desk is like asking a puppy not to play. I can’t do it.

My friend Shane says it well: “it’s really just a game. Learn how to play it.” Sometimes we take our current situation so seriously. I think we should be more playful about how we work. I like to test all of the boundaries of what is considered “normal” and see what I can get away with (Can I work on top of a mountain for 8 hours? Let’s try it!). Each time, I’m not trying to fit into someone’s ‘how” mode of operation; rather, I’m trying to accomplish an objective and do great work. Sometimes, I discover better ways of working, and end up doing even better work over time.

I don’t know what the future holds for my work life, and where my projects will take me. But I do know that I enjoy trying new things and figuring it out along the way.

***

My thanks to Sarah for sharing this fun resource and answering the questions. You can also download a big JPEG of the cheat sheet for your own use.

And here’s a question for you –>

Question: What do you like and dislike about your current job?

Feel free to share your answer with the rest of our group.

###

*Thanks for all the input on the tour for The $100 Startup! For those in Austin, I’ll be debuting the book at the SXSW Interactive Festival on Monday at 5:00pm. Drop by Convention Center Ballroom G if you’re around.

26 Comments

  • What a great worksheet! To answer your question: I love working for myself and helping people who feel stuck, or scared, or nervous. I love it when they land a job, or an interview, and I get to see their confidence return. I love it when they have a light bulb moment “Oh, I had no idea I was doing that!”

    Dislikes are just adjusting to the ebb and flow of self-employment. When I was working for an employer, they gave me deadlines, and I loved meeting them. Giving myself deadlines doesn’t produce the same adrenaline effect!

  • John Mw/D says:

    I failed. Every question showed I shouldn’t be in my current job.

    The only things I like about my job are the paycheck and benefits, and the predictability. I would trade them all for something I enjoyed.

  • Thanks for sharing this, Chris, and Sarah! My answers change depending on which job I’m reviewing. With my full-time job as a copywriter, I was pleased to see most of the answers were “yes.” However, there were a handful of ones where my answers were “not sure.” A big factor is that it is a stepping stone to greater goals and financial freedom.

    With my “side hustle” as a health coach it’s a big ball of “YES!” I love the challenges it forces me to move through and the growth I experience from doing so. And I love that it allows me to write a lot and meet new, fascinating people. My clients truly are amazing.

  • I love absolutely everything about my job (my startup company) except one glaring thing: I’m not making any money YET. But I will be soon. Then I will be in heaven.

  • I especially like the reality bite that ‘being happy takes work’ and we have to be responsible for our own ‘happiness’ however it is that we define it.
    When I contemplated the question on the worksheet which asked “Is this the best use of my skills and talents”, I was thrilled to be able to respond ‘YES’! (Note: I’m currently earning a paycheck of $0 while launching two start-ups simultaneously and applying for patents for both companies!) Couldn’t be poorer, or happier!

  • Thank you so much for your sharing.

    I love when real questions are asked about what is our truth. To me the two most important essentials for enriching our life are asking ourselves real questions and then listening inward beyond the noisy mind to the real depth of knowing within.

    Just over 7 months ago I quit my intense therapy job with Boulder County Public Health, Addictions Recovery program. I asked and listened inward to the call of my heart and the need to heal from all the secondary trauma of this work.

    Now I live on the Oregon Coast, fully recovered from that job. I am following my purpose and building a web based business to assist people in expanding their minds and opening their hearts. I feel that if we have more love and light in the world, it will be a better place. I think of my work as personal development for the planet.

    I know if we ask and listen, things will change in profound ways.

  • Bitsy Brooks says:

    Wow, talk about great timing for this article in my life. I answered NO to all but the last question. I guess that puts the answer right there in black and white for me. I knew I was unsatisfied but this really showed me how much.
    I took the job I have out of necessity, but it is not fulfilling at all. Time to make changes it looks like, but where to start? Baby steps..
    This chart was GREAT. Thanks Chris and Sarah!

  • Mat Trevors says:

    My career/life worksheet is a little simpler. :)

  • Suzannah says:

    Love love this! Sarah is a friend of mine and she never ceases to inspire. I am lucky enough to say that I love my work bc I get to help people find work that they love. Sarah hits the nail on the head that the answer is always evolving. We must always be paying attention. Noticing what fires us up, where we feel energized and where our energy is drained.

    Chris- thank you for the work you are doing, truly changing the way we think about our lives.

  • I liked a lot of the things Sarah said here; she’s definitely put a lot thought into this, and those are the kind of high quality people to surround yourself with. While I answered “Yes” to pretty much every question on her list, the issue I’m grappling with was not one of her questions. Going in a different direction from question 8 (“Is this the best use of my skills and talents?”), I am finding myself asking, “Is there a different cause where I feel I should be contributing my talents and energy to, where I would feel like I’m making a more meaningful contribution to the world?” So while my answer is also “Yes” to this question, it’s (unfortunately) asked in the converse, so “Yes” means I should be moving on, not staying. This is also a more heavily weighted question for me as well, so leaves me with a big decision to make.

  • Great post!

    I have a fairly new job as the accounts administrator for the Grand Bahama Humane Society. I think this is the first time I can honestly say that I really like my job and the people I work with. I know my efforts have made a big impact and the photo/writing services that I volunteer are appreciated. In fact, some of my photos are in The Freeport News today!

    The only thing I’m not satisfied with regarding this job? My paycheck, but I think that covers a lot of people. Prior to this position, I had the big paycheck as GM at a large condo complex. It literally made me sick. It was the most hostile place I’ve ever worked. So, being happy where I spend much of my time counts for a lot.

    The only other thing I’m not satisfied with is myself for not putting in as much effort into my photography and writing business as I think I should. But that’s up to me…

  • Maria says:

    I totally agree with Sarah’s approach on happiness. Happiness is NOT easy! It takes work to learn how to be happy, regardless of our circumstances. Learning how to be positive and defy the little things that stress us is something that takes work and practice.

    Thank you Chris and Sarah.

  • Erik Murphy says:

    I like this cheat sheet. These are the questions that I needed to ask myself but was unaware of until now. I recently started working through a staffing company as an independent contractor. I have been wanting to become self-employed, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind. At least this job is better than what I used to do and I get paid for my time.

    When I used the cheat sheet, I knew that this job is not the best use of my skills and talents. I have always had a job that just pays the bills and this is just the same thing. I want to be self-employed and get paid for doing something that is worthy of my time and talent. The pattern at every job I had was that I felt unhappy with what I was doing. I get paid, but I want to have something to show for it. I want a feeling of accomplishing something that matters to me.

    These are the questions that I need to reflect upon as I continue to create the work that I want to do. And this cheat sheet will help me to be honest with myself.
    I really like this chart. Thank you Chris and Sara.

  • Cat says:

    I agree with Sarah – happiness is something that comes from within and it takes effort to have a look at what is making us unhappy/depressed. Most people avoid looking inward to find the cause because they are afraid of what they might find.

    I love this saying “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change” Wayne Dyer.

    I work full time and am building the foundations of my own business; The job itself isn’t all that inspiring, however I love the people I work with, I get paid well, and it affords me the $$ to do what I need to do to put the foundations in place for what I want to do long term.

  • Jenny says:

    this is a great cheat sheet, and a great interview. I’ve been wrestling with these issues in my job for a while now, and expected to answer NO down the line – but I didn’t. In some ways that’s harder, because it doesn’t give me clear guidance to either stay or go, but the questions of “will this change?”, “is this non-negotiable?”, “how long will it take?” and “is there somewhere else with more YES response” provide the work I need to do to figure out my best path. I think the worksheet is so useful I’m going to introduce it to my staff as a tool to hopefully improve our workplace for everyone.

    I love Sarah’s take on happiness, and the responsibility we have to ourselves in finding and keeping it. Super motivating! thx :)

  • emma says:

    love this. thanks to you both for sharing it.

    perspective is such a godsend.

  • Southern Man says:

    I’m a PhD educator at a mid-sized liberal-arts college, and my answer to every question is a soft “no.” I am thankful every morning for my job. I’m quite good at it. But when I mentally clock out at the end of the day, my job doesn’t enter my thoughts until the next workday.

    I am not my job. What I earn at my job allows me to be who I am. I’m glad for that.

  • Robin says:

    Thanks to this cheat sheet, I can proudly report that I 100% love my job. Which makes me super psyched.

  • PK says:

    It terrifies me that I cannot imagine a single job anywhere in the world (which is why education and career counselling has failed time and time again) where I could answer “yes” to any/all of those questions…I have been, and will continue to be stuck in menial, mind-numbing, soul-sucking jobs for the rest of my life – if the stress doesn’t kill me first.

  • Marie says:

    That’s an inspiring work sheet. What sets my heart pumping faster, is the talk about happiness taking lots of work, determination, responsibility. I’ve found that’s one thing that doesn’t change. Sometimes I stop, thinking; “I’ve come so far, good for me, now I’m done.” That’s usually the prelude to another big happiness crossroads, where I have to think again, rock the boat and make changes in order to breathe the happiness air again. It always takes me by surprise. When I stop being cranky, I start enjoying it anew.

  • Rebecca says:

    Amazing resource, thanks for sharing!

    It’s more than slightly worrying that I answered no to every question. (Well, #6 could be a yes if I think about the children I teach rather than my colleagues.) Good job I’m already hatching my escape plan! :)

  • I really liked the cheat sheet…I am currently evaluating my current work situation and trying to figure out a way to change careers, or at the very least, modify what I am doing to allow for the amount of travel I like to do. I will definitely be sharing this with friends and coworkers!!!

  • Man Wall says:

    Being stuck in the wrong career or job really takes its toll on you. Most people are unhappy because of their work, whether in general or on a day-to-day basis. I think the most important thing is considering “How many more good days will I have doing this than bad days?” and “Do the good days sufficiently outweigh the bad?”

  • The fact that I had already asked myself these questions and deep down knew the answers all along shows that I’m a little way past this point! However, I’m still in the much-loathed office job that pays the bills… Difference is – now I’m plotting and planning my escape and having the best time doing it. Reading inspirational posts from minds that seem to be wired just like mine is all part of the fun, so thanks!

  • I have been in the computer field for 20+ years and I hate the fact I have moved up the “ladder” into a position where I no longer directly help the end user. To top it off, I have made it hard for me to give up that salary until some debt is paid off. So the one thing I really hate is feeling stuck some where because of “money”.

    I do have a chance to work towards change. I was laid off in January and while I look for a new job in computers, I am trying to build a non-profit. I don’t mind a lot of work, I just would like some guidance/direction as I move forward to reach my goal.

    So Chris, I will be emailing you a question.

    -john

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