One of the core concepts at The Worth Project is to know your worth, and then ask for it. But what does knowing your worth mean? To us it’s knowing what you love, what you want, and what you’re capable of. And then it’s going out and getting it. To help you get started, we’re creating a Know Your Worth series, which kicks off with knowing what you want. 

My first job out of college was a huge, eye opening experience. When I started, I wanted to make a great impression so I took on whatever was handed to me. Travel? Why not? Commuting 1.5 hours each way to a client? Sign me up. You need help with that? I will do anything.

I was willing to do whatever and my managers knew that.

But by the end of my first year, I was discouraged: I was tired, I didn’t love anything I was doing, and I felt a little lost in my career. On top of that, my review was pretty average. I was doing well, but certainly wasn’t a top performer.

I was at a loss for what else I could do to stand out so I decided to ask my manager for help. I expected her to rattle off a to-do list of things, but she just looked at me and asked, “Well what do you really want to do?”

I had nothing to say back to her and tried to come up with a few half-hearted, vague ideas. It was at that moment I realized I had been a passenger in my career, rather than the driver. As a result, she knew nothing about what interested me and what my goals were. And honestly, I didn’t really either.

Now that I run workshops on negotiation, I’m reminded of that experience almost daily. One of the questions that I get most often is “what should I ask for?”

“Should I ask for more money?”

“Should I ask for a promotion?”

“Should I ask for different projects?”

“Just tell me what to ask for and I’ll ask for it!”

I completely understand why people ask that most often. They want to ask for the “right” things. Unfortunately, no one can tell you what the right things for you to ask for are.

Your career path isn’t linear or rigid, and you have opportunities to proactively shape your career into more of what you want, and less of what you don’t. Before you can ask for anything, you first need to figure out what you really, really want (cue that Spice Girls song here).

Knowing what you want sounds easy, in theory. But if you’re having trouble zeroing in on what you want to ask for, use these questions as a guide:

What do you love?

Depending on the day, you may love everything or nothing about your job. Some days I love everything that I’m doing, and other days my to-do list is full of things I’ve been trying to avoid. If you’re having a hard time coming up with things that you love, consider these questions:

  • What part of your job flies by, because you’re having so much fun?
  • What do you wish you did more of?
  • If you could have any job, what job do you wish you had?

With my first job I realized that I loved public speaking, I was really interested in a certain type of client, and my favorite part of my days was setting up the project plan. Zeroing in on the very specific things that I loved helped me to identify the opportunities that I wanted to ask for more of.

What are your goals?

If your company has any sort of a career development process, you probably set annual goals. But for most of us, the goals we set there aren’t really reflective of the true goals that we have for ourselves. And in all of the time planning your formal career development, you may have lost sight of what your real goals are. It can be easy to forget that we are not our jobs. They don’t define us and shouldn’t be the sole decision of what our big goals in life are. To help yourself get clear on your goals, ask yourself:

To help yourself get clear on your true goals, ask yourself:

  • Do you have any personal goals? Do you want more time away from the office to enjoy a hobby or spend more time with your family? Do you need flexible work hours? Do you want to travel the world for a year while working remotely? Do you want to train for a marathon, triathlon, or take weekly dance classes?
  • Do you have any financial goals? Most people I know have savings goals and some sort of a budget. But do you have any financial goals when it comes to earning? Is there a certain income that you’re striving for?
  • Do you have any improvement goals? Do you want to learn a language, become a better public speaker, or improve your negotiating skills? These are important goals to have, even if they don’t relate to your current job.
  • What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG)? The idea of a BHAG is often used to help businesses shape their course, but they’re important for you to have in your life as well. What goal do you really hope to achieve someday, even though it might feel crazy right now? In other words, what would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

What could you ask for today?

Lastly, take a look at these goals and decide what you could ask for today that would get you doing more of what you love and get you closer to your goals. You shouldn’t come up with a plan to achieve all of these goals, but you do need to take small steps in the direction of what you want. What could you ask for today that gets you moving in the right direction?

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