The goal of my work is to get people inspired to dream big about their careers, and to help them follow the step-by-step path to landing their dream job.

But I must confess that the biggest mind-shift most of my clients experience while working with me or participating in my Land Your Dream Job course is this:

We achieve happiness in our careers not when we ‘get it all’, but rather when we recognize what’s most important to us, and optimize for that.

Every day I speak with professionals eager to find happiness at work. And I ask everyone the same first question: “What does happiness at work mean to you; what does it look like?”

If you’re like most people, your response goes something like this:

Happiness at work means I’m excited to walk into the office every morning.
It means I’m passionate about my work and I’m doing something meaningful.
It means I’m working with good people who support and respect me.
It means I have opportunities to grow and advance in my career.
It means I have time and energy for life outside of work.
It means I’m making enough money to comfortably live the life I want to live.

At a high level, we all want the same things. We want to feel valued, valuable, secure and fulfilled.

Unfortunately, too many of us believe that there is a dream job out there where we will get all of these things all of the time.

But there are very few jobs out there that score a 10 / 10 on all of these factors, all of the time (significant growth, fast advancement, fun culture, stimulating job, flowing finances, high impact, low stress, AND work-life balance every single day? Sign me up too!).

The reality is, all jobs require trade-offs.

So here’s the follow up question I ask my clients:

Which parts of the picture are most important to you right now?

In other words, what are your values?

The simple act of shifting from “I want it all!” to “What I most want is…” can help you see that oftentimes you’re much closer to happiness than you think, and what it will take to get there.

Let me tell you James’ story

James recently participated in my LYDJ course, and he blew me away.

He’s a single dad who had gone back to school to finish his Bachelor’s degree after spending 10 years in retail management. And he was struggling to get hired in his new specialty, data analytics.

Four weeks into the course, James received a job offer for $45,000 to work at a data analytics company -- an offer many of his friends told him to turn down because they thought he could earn more elsewhere. But James happily accepted the offer (after negotiating a slight bump in salary).

He amazed me with his reasoning.

He said, “I’m ecstatic. What I care about most right now is gaining professional experience, and ending my job search so I can start earning for my daughter and me. And this job offers the flexibility and hours I need to be a present dad. It’s more than I could have asked for.”

James knew his values -- he knew what was most important to him at this moment in his life.

This made James’ decision an easy one. One he’s likely to be happy with today and into the future. Until his values shift (they always do!) -- at which point in time, he’ll ask himself what’s changed, and what he can do to prioritize what’s most important to him, in this job or elsewhere.

Define what happiness means to you

It only takes a few minutes to clarify your values and ask yourself, “Which parts of the picture are most important to me right now?" "Which would I sacrifice for others?”

It’s possible that you’re like many of the job seekers I speak to, and after defining your values you say, “Wait a second! What I care about most in my life right now is X and Y. And I have both of those today… Maybe I’m in a better place than I thought!”

Or it’s possible you’ve been prioritizing the wrong parts of your career picture, and it’s time to take steps in the direction of your most important values. That could mean having a conversation with your manager about changes you need to make, or starting down the road to finding a new, more values-aligned job.

But by going through this exercise, I promise you’ll gain tremendous clarity about which changes (if any) you need, or what you want to optimize for in your next job search.

Wherever you’re coming from, find your answer to “What I care about most in my life right now is…” If happiness at work is what you seek, prioritize and appreciate that answer above all else.