You know a movie quote is worth adding to a Post-It note when it is equal parts inspiring and terrifying. Recently, I was reminded of my nostalgia and remembered a quote from one of my favorite films: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
Before Bueller (35-year-old spoiler alert!) ditches school with his friends to wander through Chicago, Illinois, he drops this gem:
"Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it."
As a child, I found this quote to be motivational—a call to practice ‘carpe diem.’
Now, it makes me pause.
Bueller is right: life does move pretty fast. And that's the scary part, especially when discussing careers.
Being on Autopilot
How many of us started adulthood with lofty career or business goals? Take a moment to stop and think if your reality reflects your dreams. I spoke to a friend recently about their career and family life, and the word they used was "robotic." Everything feels so…routine. So much so that they don’t know where the time has gone.
Be it "robotic" or "autopilot," that feeling can extend to work, family, and even hobbies (or lack thereof). Often, the monotony can even lead to overall dissatisfaction with our lives.
Many of us live in a go-go-go culture. We pride ourselves on checking off our to-do lists at all costs. Yet this approach doesn’t offer the opportunity to sit down and take stock of our current lifestyle. Because those moments are scarce, revising or even revisiting our original career and life aspirations rarely happens.
Unfortunately, many of us feel disengaged in our work. For my data people, Gallup even confirms this each year with an updated disengagement study.
It's evident that many of us, including myself, don't feel we're living out our purpose. Founders CEO Kristi DePaul shared a story with me that really hit home about how a career of purpose can feel, no matter the task at hand:
Back in 1962, former President John F. Kennedy visited the NASA Space Center, where he came across a janitor cleaning the hallway. He introduced himself and asked the man what he was doing. He probably wasn’t expecting this brilliant response:
"Well, Mr. President," the janitor said, "I'm helping put a man on the moon."
He believed that his work was contributing to a larger purpose. What if we woke up each day feeling that much purpose at our day jobs or as an entrepreneur?
Perhaps the bigger question is: What can you do if you don't feel this way about your current work situation?
I've been a freelance writer since 2016. It was a career choice that I always wanted to make. I craved the flexibility and option to select projects that allow me to flex my creativity. Yet, freelancing comes with its own sets of issues, including repetition. So even a seemingly fluid and unpredictable work style can become robotic.
The gift of intentionality (How I knew it was time to become intentional)
How did I know it was time to make a change? I knew a shift was needed when I began experiencing a prolonged lack of enthusiasm about my professional and personal routines.
One example I bet you can relate to: When returning from vacation, I typically am ready to jump back into work. This last time, though, I dreaded it because each day was starting to feel like another famous film: Groundhog Day.
Then, a major realization: I wasn't being intentional about my life. I didn't have a mission statement for my career. But if I truly wanted my work and personal life to improve, I knew I had to make a conscious effort. This is where my journey to intentionality started.
It's so tempting to feel locked into your lifestyle. For some of us, jumping to another job or diving into entrepreneurship may feel impossible because we think we’ll disrupt our household's stability. For me, the fear has boiled down to one fact: change and I are not best friends.
As Dr. Jade L. Ranger expressed, it's easy to grow comfortable in the space you're in, even if it's not what’s best for you. So, I had to face my fears, acknowledge that things would change, and recognize that overcoming that fear would put me in a better position.
What about you? How will you know if it’s time to make the shift? The answer will look different for everyone. But you can kickstart that internal conversation with questions like these:
Do I feel fulfilled in the work I do?
Are there at least 3 things I look forward to each workday?
Have I felt disengaged for a long time?
Do I have the power to bring my current role closer to my ‘dream job’?
What are my beliefs about my professional abilities and expertise?
Asking yourself these questions will guide you to the right next step. For instance, you may find you're only dissatisfied with a temporary hurdle at your job, like a new project you'll complete in the next few months.
Sometimes we can feel a change is needed through a symptom like burnout. In the LinkedIn post below, Melanie Kalmanson, a commercial litigation attorney, described how burnout led to reassessing and acting on her passions.
In my case, the slump had gone on since January 2022, so I knew the feeling was deeper than a specific project or task.
Much like HR pro Elliott Pomposelli conveyed in his eloquent post, I had to start getting comfortable steering my own ship. How to Reroute
In most cases, rerouting is always an option. I realized I wasn't stuck, and here's the good news: you aren't, either. It can be so easy in today's world to feel as if you have no recourse if you aren't happy with your career.
But you can always switch up your situation. There is always another role, project, or business idea to pursue.
If you're nervous about what to do, don't feel bad. I am, too! The best way to pull through the fear, though, is by laying out a plan. Here’s how you can get intentional about your time and purpose and determine your next steps:
Create a Vision Board
What are your career must-haves? What don’t you want in your professional journey?
Vision boards can help you consider and decide on your preferences. You can add images of things that are important to you. Creating a vision board for a remote role? Add a photo of someone working comfortably at home, or in an exotic location.
For me, I selected images tied to project management and workplace flexibility because I knew I wanted those elements in my next career move.
Assembling collages isn’t your thing? A simple list will suffice. The goal: identify what's important to you so you’ll already know what you want when seeking your next job or fleshing out your business idea.
Still, you may want to go the image route, as there is evidence to its success. A TD Bank study of entrepreneurs found that one in five used a vision board, and a whopping 76% of respondents said their business is where they currently envisioned it. Seeing what you want can make it more real and enhance your motivation.
Find a Mentor
In the Harvard Business Review article What Great Mentorship Looks Like in a Hybrid Workplace, mentorship was described as an activity that "helps individuals connect their deeper human motivations and values to their careers, and aligning these two will pay dividends to employers and employees alike."
The right mentor can help you create a blueprint for your career, and thankfully, today, mentorship isn't one-size-fits-all, which is a great thing!
Yes, you can do the traditional one-on-one meeting with a seasoned colleague who has taken you under their wing. But that isn't the only way to connect with a mentor. You could follow and interact with a well-known professional in your field on Twitter or connect with a peer on LinkedIn.
Don’t have anyone in your immediate circle? Considering other social platforms like Instagram and TikTok can further expand your professional network and connect you with people you otherwise may not meet in person. You're no longer limited by location or industry. Change Your Perspective and Embrace Growth
Sometimes, we fixate on what we lack or how limited our resources are. This is known as a scarcity mindset. Scarcity is tricky because it forces you to operate under the notion that your situation, resources, and talents are forever fixed and in short supply.
Embracing intentionality requires a growth mindset, which means that you view situations as ones that can grow or change for the better. Dr. Carol Dweck, psychologist, and Lewis and Virginia Eaton, Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, coined the phrase and, through research, found that individuals who work under a growth mindset “put more energy into learning,” leading them to achieve more.
Let's take a look at how your mindset might alter your thinking and actions:
Scarcity mindset 🕳
Growth mindset 🌱
"The economy looks to be heading into a downturn. I need to stay put since jobs likely won’t be available."
"Yes, the economy can dip. However, there will always be other opportunities. I can learn a new skill or increase my network to find them."
"It'll be hard to find a job making as much as I do now. I don't want to have to start over."
"I can use a new job offer to negotiate for a higher salary, or embrace a new experience that can propel my career forward."
"Most new businesses fail. So it’s probably wise to drop that idea."
"The stats actually show that almost one in five businesses fail in their first year. With solid business research and a plan, though, I can be one of the four that make it."
Of course, it's important to acknowledge the reality of your situation. Yet it's equally crucial to realize that you have the tools to change it. A growth-based mindset can help you regain your power in your career process. Research has shown that growth mindsets can go hand-in-hand with innovative behavior in the workplace. Just think what impact it’ll have on your approach to intentionality!
Set Incremental Goals
Changing your career and personal life can be daunting stuff. For that reason, it helps to start small.
I knew I wanted to explore other aspects of content marketing, specifically content project management. So I decided to dedicate at least 60 minutes each week to learning and development in this area. This could be in the form of reading a book or participating in a short training session.
Your overarching objective could be to pursue a promotion at work or build on a business idea. An incremental approach for the former could take the form of you having more frequent one-on-one’s with your manager to discuss progress toward promotion.
The latter could involve doing one thing each week to move your business forward, like researching business licenses, studying your desired market or speaking to other entrepreneurs for their insights.
Technology can remove the guesswork. If you want to expand your skill set, some universities are using AI to help people identify gaps in their learning and create customized learning and development programs to stay competitive. Whether you use the latest tech or simply sketch out a plan, the goal is to envision where you want to go and the small steps that’ll get you there.