Career Motivations, Goals and Priorities

Career Priorities: How to Determine What Motivates You

It’s important to recognize that our actions in life consist of a series of priorities. With almost every action, every day, we prioritize. Some priority setting is intentional and makes total sense. Some are subconscious and go on almost in the background. For example, when you take a slightly longer way home from your office because you know that cell reception is better, you’re prioritizing your current call over your need to get home that bit faster.


Prioritization comes into play in a big way in our careers. This is a recurring theme among my clients—the weighing of priorities against each other and the mapping of those priorities to personal values. So, for instance, I have a client who simply will not work for a tobacco company. To him, it’s the single most important priority in his job search. The value to which that decision map is that his work must align with his personal life philosophy. Fair enough, and pretty easy to work with.

Another client told me that under no circumstance would he be willing to commute more than 30 minutes. He called it a work/life balance issue and said that he wasn’t going to fall into the rat-race trap he’d seen devour others. I probed him a bit by setting up a hypothetical. Job A was “the perfect job,” and it was a 15-minute drive from his apartment.  It paid $85,000 per year. Job B was a good, but not perfect, job, but it was close to an hour away with no traffic. Job B paid $1,000,000 per year. He smiled and laughed and said, “Of course, I’d take Job B for a million dollars, but that’s an absurd comparison.” But, is it? Don’t we sometimes need to take things to their almost illogical extremes to get to the essence of the issue?


Truly understanding your priorities as you approach a career change or assess your current career can help you immeasurably in reaching a decision. Understanding what is most important might come intuitively, but then again, it might not.

Here are a few tips to help you set and understand your career-related priorities:

  • When you are thinking about your priorities, take things to their extreme and see if you still feel the same way. The commute example above is the perfect expression of this.
  • When you are prioritizing one way of proceeding over another, ask yourself why. Examine how your choice aligns with your life philosophy. Suppose you choose to work on an office development project in Silver Spring instead of on a project related to the Purple Line train. Why did you make that decision? Were you concerned about which project would be better for your career? Or, did you base it on the possibility of controversy surrounding the Purple Line? Or, was it related to the project manager? Understanding what motivated you to make the decision you did will go a long way toward helping inform future decision-making.
  • Trust your instincts and understand how they match your values. Remember when you were taking the SATs or, for those of you who are even older, the Iowa tests? Or any other assessment tests? The rule of thumb is to go with your first instinct because, more often than not, it’s right. That might be because of knowledge you’ve acquired over the years or just good old-fashioned intuition. Once you’ve followed your instincts, take a few minutes to examine how the decision lines up with your life philosophy.

While there’s no reason to over-think the process of prioritizing, it’s valuable to understand what drives and motivates you.




Leave a Reply