Kicking the career bucket list: when good ideas go bad

mm Bill Pace

“The career bucket list has less to do with promotions and career advancement. It’s more about unique things you would like to try and experiences you would like to have in your career at least once before you retire.” – Huffington Post

I started out thinking that the concept of a career bucket list could be a useful one. After all, just like with other types of life choices, brainstorming career possibilities, understanding job options, and then making choices is fundamentally a healthy process, right?

I’m not so sure. A career is not a salad bar or a smorgasbord. If you search for “Career Bucket List” on the internet, you’ll find several sites with long lists of different career bucket list ideas. For example, this one provides a list of 204 options (Why 204? No idea.) that span a mind-boggling range.

Admittedly, these options are intended to serve as a starting point for narrowing your list down to a much smaller number (1? 2? 10?). But, as I think about my own career and where I want it to go next, starting with these long lists just isn’t very helpful. In truth, they make my head hurt. Choosing between the black olives and the tiny corn cobs on the salad bar is one thing. Choosing between “Be Time Magazine’s Person of the Year” (#7 on the attached list) and “Be a Ballet Dancer” (#8), is not a real choice. It’s more distracting than focusing.

Having said all that, your career IS all about making choices. And just like with drawing a straight line, to make a choice you need at least two different points. One point is whatever you are doing now. A second point (or third or fourth or fifth), is what you might like to do next. In brief, the process looks something like this:

  • Identify at least one career area that you might be interested in. If you can’t think of one, ask your friends what they think you should do next. More than one is great. Just don’t have a list of 204.
  • Do some research to find out more about that field. It’s amazing how much you can learn exploring the internet
  • For the career interest area, find people who know that field to talk with. Use family, friends, LinkedIn, Facebook, your church group, your book club or whatever to find people to talk to
  • If that particular career interest area seems like a good fit based upon a few discussions, talk with more people and ask more detailed questions
  • Rinse and repeat for other career interest areas until you’ve found the one or two that are right. Then (and only then), start looking for a job in that field (probably using some of the same people you already have spoken with).

Only one way to sort out the good ideas from the bad… just do it.

Bill Pace is Managing Director of ClearlyNext, a guided online career program that helps people of all backgrounds and incomes figure out what to do next. Read more >