A couple of days ago I sat down to write out the answer to what seemed like a simple question – what work do I want to do? A colleague had posed the question as she was seeking to help me expand the influence of my work.  How else could she help me if she didn’t know what I wanted to do?

As I mulled it over with lots of ideas floating around in my head, I began to realize that while I have a pretty good idea of the work I want to do, I have never put it into the specifics that are necessary for someone else to have a clear – no, vivid understanding of what I want to do.  The kind of understanding that is necessary to identify potential opportunities, share resources, and broker connections – basically stick your neck out for someone else.

With a Word doc open and titled ‘The Work I Want To Do’, I began to write – first came the conditions under which I want to work, then what I don’t want to do.  Next, the kinds of topics I’m interested in and the kinds of outcomes I want to achieve.  Then came the types of people I want to work with and ways to describe the nature of the work.  I was going on two pages of stuff but still hadn’t clearly articulated anything that would help my colleague help me.

Then it dawned on me, this was a really important exercise.  

I began to notice that my ability – or inability – to answer this question (and the many ancillary questions that surfaced) could be correlated with how I was feeling about my work.

In a nutshell, I’m suggesting that those of us who can easily and succinctly answer the very fundamental questions about the work they do are happier in their work and career.

Prior to working through my response, my thoughts were unorganized and vague – and I was feeling lethargic and ambivalent about my work as a result I think.

With some effort, I was able to nail down in one sentence what it is I want to do, and then offer a lot of supporting information describing the nature and conditions of my ideal work.  And yeah, I felt better.  It wasn’t a revelation and it didn’t change my life, but it felt good to calibrate my thinking and commit to something specific.  It felt good to get it out of my head and onto paper.  It felt good to reconnect with the meaning behind my work.

The real benefit though isn’t the short-term, micro boost you might get from an exercise like this – it’s the long-term career happiness that could come from being intentional about your work.  

Let’s assume you check-in every so often with yourself and the work you want to do – what’s the benefit of that?  You may become (more) aware of how your current work aligns (or doesn’t) with the work you want to do, you might better understand the trade-offs you’re making and why, you could be more attuned to the opportunities that exist around you – in short, you become an active participant in your career development, and thus presumably are more happy with your work as a result.

Here’s the list of questions I came up with that helped me get specific about the work I want to do – there are probably more I didn’t think of:  

What work do I want to do…?

Whom do I want to do it with…?

Whom do I want to do it for…?

Why do I want to do it…?

Where do I want to do it…?

How do I want to do it…?

Why would I not do it…?

What am I giving up to do it…?

What happens if I don’t do it…?

Who else would do it if I didn’t…?

What do I bring to it that no one else can…?

What would be lost if I didn’t do it…?

What would I regret having not done it…?

At first, try to keep your answers to a few words or at most, one sentence – the goal is to be as concise as possible.  You can go back later and fill in more detail (or if you’re like me, start with all the details and then summarize).  

If you get stuck or think you have it nailed, imagine communicating this to a complete stranger – would they be able to help you find the work you want to do as a result?

I think I still have some work to do, but here’s what I captured in response to the question – what work do I want to do?  

‘I want to improve how professionals experience their work.’

Download the free worksheet for this exercise.

Note:  If this exercise feels impossibly overwhelming, you’re probably thinking about your work too broadly (or you haven’t had enough opportunity to reflect on some of these ideas).  While it would be great to capture the ‘work I want to do for the rest of my life’, that’s not realistic for most of us (and notice that it isn’t the question that was asked).  Rather, we need to think in more immediate terms – ‘what work do I want to do right now’?  Careers are iterative, and so will be your ideas about the work you want to do.

Neill Beurskens is Founder of This Fearless Life and creates profound change for incredible people looking to get more out of their life and work.  To explore the possibilities of a life lived fearlessly visit www.thisfearlesslifecoaching.com