How to Figure Out What to Do with Your Working Life over the Next 5 Years

Can’t there just be fewer cool things in the world?

All this choice is killing me, man!

A challenge I see with people I talk to, including myself over the last decade, is commitment.

We live in a ‘here today, gone tomorrow’ world. A world of unparalleled variety and choice. A world that champions ‘escape’ and comfort and the avoidance of pain, boredom, and struggle.

We jump from one interest to another without putting the required time and energy into one thing for traction to emerge.

Who can blame us? There are so many things that we could get involved with. Aren’t we supposed to try different things and experiment and soak up the colour and variety the world has to offer?

Yes. It’s something I recommend everyone do, particularly in the early stages of their careers, or after they’ve spent a considerable time committing to something and need to figure out what they could do next.

And don’t we all have a ‘calling’? A special thing we were all put on this Earth to do, and won’t finding that calling require us to try loads of things until something clicks?

Maybe… but let us for a moment think as logically as we can…

*I refer to a significant project, or area of focus such as painting, coding, writing a book or teaching children, as a ‘node.’

Does it make sense that the more we busy ourselves with a wider variety of career nodes*, and the less time we spend on each node, the less intensity, and energy we devote to each node, the less likely we are to see results in each node?

Will we make a greater impact spreading ourselves thinly across many skills, projects, specialisms, areas of expertise and vocations, or will we make more of a dent if we become exceptionally valuable, going deeper into one or two things?

Does it make sense that because we are all multi-faceted human beings with complex and varied life experiences, there are innumerable things we could do with our lives?

Wouldn’t this mean that there can’t possibly be one calling that is just right for us, and that because of this complexity we must exert control in this chaos by…

…simply deciding to commit to something?

• Even if it means going through the discomfort of saying no to lots and lots of other things and continuing to do this for a long time.

• Even if the thing we commit to for a good chunk of our lives isn’t always enjoyable.

Commitment. Staying with something. Going deep. These are the only things that lead to results in one’s career. Such an approach is lacking today.

Let’s not forget the wise words of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”

Based on thinking objectively like this, let’s ask ourselves a few more questions to figure out a realistic and suitable career trajectory for you over the next decade or more…

What are 10–30 things I would love (and have loved) to spend my days doing?

Make a list of ten to thirty ‘nodes.’

Of these, which have the most potential to fulfill me over the longer term?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which matches my values the most?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which has the most potential to make the most money after three years?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which matches my strengths and innate talents the most?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which would fill me with pride more than the others?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which has the potential for providing me with the most flexibility and freedom?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Of the full list, which do I have the strongest grounding/experience/training in already?

Add a checkmark next to the ones that apply in this category.

Based on the above results, make a new list of five of the ones that show the most potential, possess the most meaning to you, and could be the most lucrative.

You may need to make some sacrifices in choosing. Here’s the big commitment:

Of this list of five, what one thing* will I devote at least 70% of my work/career time to every day for at least the next five years?

*Note this can be separate to — or a part of — existing employed work.

Great. You’ve now figured out your 70% thing. The cool thing about this is that you can still spend the remaining 30% of work time doing other stuff, so you never need to worry that you are missing out.

In my case, I’ve committed to spending 30% of my working day on my Red Lemon Club blog and business, and 70% researching, reading and writing fiction (standby for my first novel).

Depending on how you spend your 30%, the other good news is that even activities spent in the smaller ratio have the potential to bring excellent results, especially if you use that time efficiently. Like, for example, using that time writing blog posts on the side.

If your extra activities exceed 30% of your time, you will need to reduce, so that you can channel the necessary focus towards your main thing.

Perhaps you chose to be a novelist (and all the admin and marketing associated with it) as your 70% thing, but you paint and do day trading in your remaining 30% of the ‘working’ day. Great.

Beyond this, you might choose to go even deeper — even more niche. This can only help you stand out and grow your value in this area, and I strongly recommend it.

If after a while you need to rearrange the structure, and you’ve made allowances for the fact that your interest and passion in something specific often take time to be nurtured, you can always move around your ratios after a period, so that you spend 70%+ of your time on something else.

Now all you need to do is ensure you stay with your commitment, structure your day accordingly, and give it the duration and effort it needs to make a roaring success of it.

Originally published on Medium.

Alex Mathers
Alex Mathers


Alex Mathers is a writer and illustrator from London, based in Bangkok. He enjoys exploring ideas that help us be more confident and creative. His book: 'Joining the Dots: The A-Z Handbook for Making a Success of Your Creative Skills' is available for free, for a limited time.

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