What Do You Want?

The Questions That Shaped My Career Path

In memory of a great leader and coach Doug Cantley.

It sounds like a cliché, yet the increasing pace of our lives makes us constantly busy. We rarely stop and think, let alone think about things we want. We are facing multiple questions from families, bosses, subordinates, business partners, circumstances, society. Those questions are incredibly important and often require urgent answers. All that makes us neglect other questions—about our own needs and wants. Actually, many of us consider that it is an unaffordable luxury to pursue our professional dreams. Instead, we stay in the lane, being practical and following the path that is convenient, the path that everybody expects us to follow.

I am not an exception. I lived a busy corporate life and for many years neglected to stop and deep dive into things that mattered the most for me in my professional success. Not surprisingly, I will always be thankful to people, events, and questions which helped me start listening to my heart and change my life around.

The question that forever changed my career path was a simple one. I remember this day as it was yesterday as if were no twelve long years between now and then…

I am in the modern meeting room at the new office of the Fortune 100 company. It smells fresh, it looks bright and colorful. It is so colorful that the moment you step in, you don’t need a cup of coffee to stay awake, even on a gloomy day. Through the glass partition, I see people moving around the open space, chatting. I am extremely exhausted after the office relocation project which took more than a year to complete, and yet I am very satisfied. This is another accomplishment to be proud of. I am known in the Company for getting things done, and this project is yet another success, confirming that my team is a “star” of our global business 😊

Europe, Middle East, and Africa Operations Director Doug is listening to me. The focus of our discussion is on people development. I am very well prepared. I have spent plenty of time with my team while working on this project and brought our career discussions beyond usual 1:1 conversations. I know what makes my team members happy, what they like and want to do, what pushes them beyond their comfort zones.

Discussing my team’s career aspirations with Doug is very inspiring. He, like nobody else, understands how important it is for people to work towards their personal ambitions and dreams while contributing to the Company’s goals and success.

I feel so energized after getting Doug’s approval to my suggestions! I smile thankfully and start collecting my staff. But something in his eyes tells me the conversation is not over.

  • What about Anna, he asks. You told me about each and every member of your team, but you—WHAT DOES ANNA WANT?

I am taken by surprise. The question seems very logical, and yet I am looking around, feeling like a student who is caught by the teacher. It is not like me not to know the answer—I am always prepared, I indeed did my homework!! Well, I did for my team, and not for myself. I am lost, I have no answer. Not at that point in time.

It’s a very unusual situation for “an excellent pupil”. Deeply in my heart I know why it happened. I was always in the race to prove to society, family, friends that I can. I think I have always been that way. My master’s degree with honors, my move to the capital city during the financial crisis, my prestigious Country role on the Fortune 100 Clients Accounts, my office desk overlooking the shopping mall plaza, the private school for my son,  and other attributes of success  all prove that I am an achiever! Unfortunately, in my case it also mean working 24/7 and, more importantly, not being able to answer the question what do I truly, really, sincerely, genuinely want…

I sign and turn my head towards Doug ready to admit that I don’t know. My heart sinks but I see only kindness, support and encouragement in his eyes.

That was the first day of my new journey that continues to this day. Every journey has a story, and Doug knew mine. He didn’t judge me for not knowing. He simply tells me it was time, time to think, time to start looking for an answer.

The power of this questionWHAT DO YOU WANTcan alter the direction of your life, your relationships, and your career, as it was in my case.

It’s ok not knowing what we want when we hear this question for the first time. It is an adventure, it is a work in progress to discover and rediscover what we want and what matters to us. Once we embrace the greatness of this question and the power of unknowing, our life will never be the same.  The question empowers us to be truly honest with ourselves, with our employers, and business partners. It makes us dare to dream, change our lives, and aim for goals that seem impossible.

WHAT DO YOU WANT did its magic for me, too.

I commenced my “what do I want muscles” training. I asked myself about things that made me happy, things that I cared about, things that motivated me and made me feel accomplished. I also asked myself about things that I certainly did not want. It suddenly became so clear to me, that I did not want to become complacent – especially because I loved learning and needed challenges to grow. Through constant reflection, I’ve done the inventory of my values, my dreams, and, finally, my wants. The tiny voice of wants was getting stronger and stronger, and soon I confessed to myself that what I wanted was a new challenge. My job became too comfortable, I settled into it, but my inner learner and achiever wanted more than waiting for the next promotion or completing the next office relocation project. 

1.5 years later I made a significant career move which was a perfect match to my values, my strengths, and my career aspirations. The move opened enormous opportunities for my professional growth. I managed service model transformation for another Fortune 100 client in Europe, Middle East, and Africa, then moved to a global role supporting service improvement for one more Fortune 100 company.

And then, 10 years after this life transforming conversation with Doug, I realized that I wanted to be a full time coach helping people discover what do they want.

Needless to say, the question WHAT DO YOU WANT has significantly shaped my career, and is now helping my clients to take important decision—both professional and personal. 

When is the last time you asked yourself what do you really want and what matters in your  career? Do you remember a conversation which made a significant impact on you? A person who listened to you with curiosity and asked questions which shaped your career path?

If you feel ready to explore what your life-changing questions are—let me know. 

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