Career Mental Model #2: Thinking about the “how” instead of the “what”

Early in my career I was fixated on the “what.” I set my goals on achieving the next thing. There was always another thing — the job title, the company, the institutions, promotion. I was achievement chasing.

However, in terms of maximizing long-term sanity and career success, achievement chasing will not help you get anywhere. Since there is always another thing, it is a fool’s mission to ever think the chase will end.

By shifting as early as possible in your career to thinking about the how such as how you like to work (with numbers? with people?), how you want to interact with people (is it collaborative, is it solo or a mix?) and even how you want to spend your time (in the office, traveling or even perhaps, with your family instead of working?).

We tend to avoid these deeper questions about work because we crave the external validation that comes along with achievement chasing. Other people place praise on us not because it is these things that make us happy, but it is actually easier for them to assess. It is quite hard unless you get to know someone really well to understand the “how” of their life. Instead, we look for big moments — that new job, promotion or acceptance into a school — to place praise on others.

What if we praised others instead:

“Congrats on shifting two hours a day to creative work!”

“I’m so proud of you for saying no to working with jerks as a freelancer”

“I’m impressed by how much more time you have been spending with your kids this year”

I’m not sure how to think about praising the “how” for others, but at least we can choose it as a new way of thinking about our career and path in life.

About Paul Millerd

Paul is a writer, creator, and curious human that is passionate about how people can reimagine their relationship with work to do things that matter. He published The Pathless Path in 2022.