What Is Your Career Sentence?
December 27, 2016

What Is Your Career Sentence?

by Brian de Haaff

What do you want out of your career? Think beyond job titles and salary. Focus on the overarching vision for your professional life — the work that is going to make you happy and fulfilled. Now, describe that vision in just a few words. Not so easy, right?

This is a topic that recently came up on Roadmap.com, an online community for product management professionals. Dozens answered the question, “How would you describe what you do in one sentence?” Here are a few notable replies:

“I manage value.”

“I solve business problems with technology.”

“I bridge innovation with execution.”

As I read through all the answers, it struck me that these sentences cover off a whole lot more than a job. The answers are actually career sentences — thoughtfully chosen to establish focus and boundaries, steering the actions of the people behind the words.

A career sentence is the mantra that guides your decisions and actions. And it can be a motivator as you navigate the ups and downs on that journey to sustainable happiness.

We can all benefit from this kind of guidance. My answer to the question? “Pursue achievement.” Yes, this is aspirational and wide-sweeping. But I can tell you that that is what motivates me and I am unhappy when I do not have the opportunity to accomplish something meaningful. I do not always get it right, but I do my best. And my best depends on others being their best too. It is a team effort.

Many career sentences (mine especially) tend to be short and simple. But that does not necessarily mean they are easy to develop. And in fact, I would argue that the shorter they are, the harder they are to draft.

To help guide your thought process, here are four steps to creating your own career sentence:

Start big
Think deeply about the big picture. What do you want your career to look like? What legacy do you want to leave behind? Consider the next few years — then 10 years, 20 years, and beyond. Write down what that vision looks like.

Capture goals
With your vision in mind, create a list of career goals — as many as you want. But do not get too attached. Free yourself from self-censoring and write down every single one that comes to mind. Next, you will need to pare down.

Zero in
If you are an ambitious person, you likely made a long list of goals. But this exercise is zeroing in on what is most important. The point is to focus on what really matters to get where you want to be and eliminate what does not fit in. It does not matter if you are left with five goals or just one.

Bring it together
Looking at those remaining goals, do you see a common theme? What is the red thread that ties them all together? Describe it in a few words. It probably is not exceptionally specific. For example, if your goals include youth mentorship and physical fitness, your sentence may be something like: “Help children build character through sports.”

Now comes the really tough part — putting your sentence into action. There is no point in having an inspiring mantra if you do not back it up with a lot of hard work.

Effort and persistence are the keys to reaching sustainable happiness in work and in life. So, use your sentence to keep you focused and on track. But know that it is just a guide and that it will likely change over time. Your answers may evolve every few years. It is up to you to put in the effort to make your words a reality.

Do you have a career sentence?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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