How to Do What You Love: The Career Fulfillment Framework

“So, what do you do?”

It’s usually the first question we ask a stranger. And why not? These days, so much of our time and identity is wrapped up in our work.

When that work doesn’t fulfill us, it can be painful.

Most of us struggle at some point or another to build a career where we will thrive. We want a job that not only provides financial comfort, but also fits our personality. Easier said than done, right?

Today I’m going to give you a three-part framework for doing just that. It's called the Career Fulfillment Framework.

But first, I want to address something...

On "Doing What You Love"

When it comes to phrases like "do what you love and the money will come", I'm a little bit torn.

One one hand, they encourage some people to make big positive changes in their lives.

On the other hand, "Follow your passion" is toxic advice for most people.

Why? Three reasons:

  1. Passion is not enough. Unless you are looking for a hobby, passion is only one piece of the puzzle. You also need to be good at the thing, and you need to have the opportunity to make money from it.
  2. Passion is paralyzing. You can't do what you love if you don't know what you love ahead of time. Most of us get caught up on this step, become frustrated, and never move forward.
  3. Passion is cultivated. Even if you think you know what you love to do, it will probably change once you start doing it. That's because passion is cultivated.

Yes, we ultimately want you to be passionate about what you're doing. But in the same way that you shouldn't try to find your life's purpose, don't expect to follow your passion.

It's waiting for you to lead the way.

When I started this blog, I wasn't passionate about writing (at all). But I knew it would be a good way to reach people with my message. Overtime, I fell in love with writing.

Even Steve Job's, who told everyone to follow their passion, didn't take his own advice.

Sometimes you have to stop struggling to do what you love and find a way to love what you do.

On that note, let's dive into the Career Fulfillment Framework.

Part 1: Strengths

The first ingredient we need for a fulfilling career is strength.

I define a strength as a natural talent that has been trained and developed into a useable skill.

When we grow up, we’re often told that the way to develop is to focus on our weaknesses. This is an awful strategy because it's an uphill battle the whole time. Successful people don't fight their weaknesses; they train their strengths.

Strengths can be trained by mentors, experiences, and education. Overtime they become powerful. They also become something that you really enjoy using.

As an example, my top three strengths are perseverance, perspective, and bravery. I use them as a guide when I'm making decisions about what to do or how to do it.

On the other hand, I’m terrible at being prudent, so I try not to put myself in situations where prudence is required.

Part 2: Opportunities

When we are looking to change or improve our career in some way, it’s essential to look at the high-value opportunities.

High-value opportunities are jobs, roles, or business models where you can create a very large amount of value in a very short amount of time.

Most high-value opportunities are related to problem solving. This is one reason that we pay managers more than administrators. Most administrators do tasks, while most managers solve problems.

Of course, this isn’t always true. Sometimes the system is just screwed up. But often the people at the bottom actually have to work harder in order to provide the same amount of value.

High-value, problem solving opportunities don’t just make more money. They're also more fun (usually) than task work.  And honestly, if you are only doing task work, you are replaceable.

Someone has to do those tasks, but it doesn’t have to be you. Look for opportunities to solve problems instead.

In my business, the top three high-value tasks are writing, coaching, and marketing/networking. I can't really outsource these because they are at the core of what I provide.

Low-value activities for me are things like sorting email, scheduling, or posting to social media. They don't get a great return on investment; sometimes they actually get a negative return on investment.

Part 3: The Overlap

In the diagram below, you'll see that we want to apply our top strengths to our highest leverage career opportunities. That’s where the magic happens. This is true whether you are an employee or business owner.

If we want to really achieve long term career success and fulfillment, we must live in the little overlap point between our natural strengths and our highest value opportunities. Focus only on strengths, and you can't provide as much value. Focus only on value, and you can't develop as much expertise.

When we become frustrated, it’s usually because we have gone outside of that power zone. Sometimes we’ve even gone outside of the chart entirely.

This is also true of our lives outside of work.

Examples of high-value opportunities in life are meditation, exercise, or spending time with positive people. Applying your strengths to those activities will yield the best results.

For example, if bravery is one of your strengths, you might be more fulfilled by rock climbing than by running on the treadmill. You'll definitely be more fulfilled than if you were to just sit on the couch.

When we consistently work on things with high lifetime and high dollar value, we wake up a few years later with a career and personal life that we are passionate about.

Again: We don’t start out following our passion, we cultivate it by building expertise in a valuable area.

Combine your signature strengths with the right job opportunity and you will be more fulfilled.

Putting It Into Practice

I want you to go ahead and make a two-columned list now. I'll wait.

On one side, list your top five strengths. I recommend taking the VIA Strengths Test if you haven't already.

On the other, list five high value opportunities that you are interested in pursuing. They might be available in your current job or you may have to look elsewhere. Either way, they should excite you.

Now, compare both lists. What are your highest leverage opportunities? Can you combine parts of the list more easily than others? We all have lots of strengths and opportunities, but there are probably only two or three things you should really be focusing on.

Prioritize these high leverage opportunities. If you can, set aside the first few hours of your work day for these things. Look for jobs or business models that allow you to operate at the intersection.

Make those things what you "do".

Following the Career Fulfillment Framework will lead not only to more job satisfaction but also to more promotions, job offers, and business growth.

So next time someone asks, “what do you do?”, now you’ll now what to say.

(Photo credit: nik gaffney via cc)