The Smart Lemming Rules of Life and Career Management: #2 Know What You Want

3d person, going to a fork of three roads

No pressure, but if you don’t know what, then how can you get to where you need to be?

I know what I want, but I know it’s not this

I always hear friends say, “I know what I want, but it sure isn’t this.” Most of the time, they’re talking about a job, career, or life stage that they’re at, which is causing them angst.

I usually reply with, “If you don’t know what you want, then how can the Universe (or God) know what to send you?” Sounds silly to some, but I’m a firm believer that ambiguity only causes more ambiguity, especially in matters of life and career.

Of course, this relies on rule #1 “Find your Own Spirituality and Practice It.” If you have your own spirituality, believing there is a reason for everything, then you’ll understand why you may not know where you’re supposed to be.

Perhaps you’re not supposed to know yet. The Universe (or God) is waiting for you to accumulate the right skills or resources for your next thing. Or maybe, you’re not experienced enough for what’s on the horizon.

Are you ready for your next thing?

In my experience, when I’ve been put on hold, it usually means the my next thing isn’t ready for me or I’m not ready for. It sometimes means that I’m in the process of changing, so the thing that I was supposed to do is no longer relevant and my next thing is getting ready for me again.

For example, after I graduated from my master’s degree in Healthcare Administration, all I knew was that I didn’t want to return to Alaska. I didn’t have a clue about what I wanted for a career. My experience was in Indian Healthcare. Having the MHA degree wasn’t enough. I didn’t have a network in the Puget Sound area or the work experience needed to get into healthcare in the Seattle area.

Luckily, one of my MHA professor’s took pity on me, hiring me to work for one of Senior Vice Presidents for one year. I mostly did random work, but the last project I worked on was a market assessment for my SVP’s region. I didn’t quite know what I was doing at first, but I knew I loved it.

This project changed the course of my healthcare career. After my year was up, I leveraged my experience based on the market assessment, combined with my MHA degree. I was lucky to get into my first healthcare technology company as a Product Marketing Manager. Again, I didn’t know exactly how to do the job, but it was my entry-level position into the career that would lead me to my dream job. The fog lifted and I was on my way for that stage of my career and life.

It was a scary time, especially being fresh out of graduate school. I didn’t have enough money to get by. I didn’t have the work experienced I needed. What I did have was faith that my next thing would find me, if I just paid attention to the little breadcrumbs leading me to that next job.

Action Items

If you don’t know what want, I recommend you assess where you are now and where you’ve been. Do you see any themes in your job history? What were the “fun” aspects of your jobs that you’d like to replicate or should pay attention to?

For me, my common themes were:

  • I created new programs or departments from scratch
  • I created new tools and templates while also creating repeatable processes for those programs or departments
  • I didn’t like to maintain an existing system
  • I didn’t like big companies, preferring smaller ones and startups
  • I tended to move on after I setup up the new function, so I could learn new skills or find a more challenging environment (please note, on two occasions, I was trying to avoid layoffs because of two recessions, so I jumped jobs)

Redefine your value proposition

After identifying the common themes in my job history, I defined my personal value proposition, which is based on creating something from nothing and creating order out of chaos.

After my assessment, I had strong differentiators for an interview process. I also had the criteria for my job searches. My career unfolded and the rest is history.

After going through this process, you’ll be surprised how opportunities will cross your path that you hadn’t noticed before. Or you may have to wait a little while, so the opportunity can get ready for you. When the time is right, it will present itself to you. Just have some faith and a lot of patience.


The Smart Lemming Rules of Life and Career Management series outlines my rules of personal and work success. After reflecting on my personal values, I made this list, realizing values are my rules of being or life management principles. Based on your experiences, I hope this list inspires you to identify your own rules. Here are the rules to my success that may help you over the course of your journey:


Level 1: Rules for Our Fundamental Nature

Level 2: Rules of Continuous Learning and Modeling

Level 3: Rules for the Actual Journey

Level 4: Rules of Adapting to Environment and Interacting with Others

Level 5: Rules of Humility

Level 6: Rule of Being

  • #21 Be compassionate.


  1. This rule reminds me to a short story about knowing what you want and how to get it:
    There was a rich man -the owner of a big fishing company- who went on holidays to a small town in the south. One day, the rich man saw a local fisherman who was sleeping in his tiny boat. Surprised by the scene, the rich man approached the local guy:
    – Why are you sleeping instead of fishing?
    – I already fished enough for today- he replied.
    – But the day is long. Why don´t you fish more today?
    – Why would I do that?
    – Because you could make more money. Then you could buy an engine for your boat, go to deeper water to keep fishing and make even more money. Maybe enough to buy more boats. You could be rich like me.

    The local fisherman looked at the rich man and asked:
    – What would I do then?
    – Then, you could sit and enjoy life!
    – And what do you think I am already doing, my friend? -replied the satisfied fisherman.

    It´s important to know what you want but also how to get it.

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