These women turned their lives upside down to be what they wanted to be; their journeys weren't just bumpy, they were tumultuous and painful for themselves and their families.
That kind of pain, we came to see during our research, was avoided by a small number of women who, along the long road of their careers, never stopped asking themselves the five questions. And once they uncovered the answers, they had the courage to adjust accordingly, moving to another job or field. Some changes were small, others large—but they all moved the women toward the job they were meant to have. And that is how the journey goes.
Let's look at the questions in a bit more detail.
Does this job allow me to be with "my people"? I will never forget a happy firecracker of a woman we met in Florida who told us, "When I graduated from college, all I knew was I wanted a job—any job—where I could wear high heels and carry a briefcase! For a country girl like me, that meant you'd made something of yourself." She threw herself into nabbing a position as a junior analyst with a buttoned-down New York consulting firm. The "marriage" lasted exactly two years. "It was torture," she recalled. "No one laughed at what I laughed at. No one thought it was okay to argue now and then if you needed to get some issues on the table. No one even enjoyed the same kind of music or TV shows I did. I'm not saying it was a bad place; it just wasn't my kind of place."
This woman zigged and zagged through three more careers before she ultimately found success and fulfillment in the world of (believe it or not) aquarium administration. She wears a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops to work and hasn't owned a briefcase for 20 years. Most important, she says, "I love the folks I work with. We agree about what matters—I mean, we just see the world in the same way."
The facts are: No job or profession will ultimately be right if it requires you to work with people who don't share your sensibilities. If you are a brainy introvert, you should work with brainy introverts. If you are a boisterous extrovert, find a profession where that's embraced as the norm. You spend most of your life with your colleagues. You have to like them—and feel and act real around them—if you are going to be what you want when you grow up.
Does this job make me smarter? Some people gravitate toward certain professions simply because they are good at them. Women who excel in English in college become editors. Women who love children become teachers. Women who can crunch numbers with the best of them go to Wall Street. This feels very natural, and, to be blunt about it, companies love the deal, too. After all, they want nothing more than to hire a candidate who comes fully equipped for the job.
Now, doing what you're good at is not a bad thing, except that it can eventually lead you down a garden path to...utter boredom.
In our research, we found that the women who most successfully navigated themselves toward the right job in the right profession kept looking for work that required them to learn, stretch, and grow. In fact, the women who loved their jobs the most were those who told us that their work always seemed just a little bit challenging all the time.
Does this job open the door to future jobs? Until you have found your perfect job in your perfect profession, you can't stop thinking about next steps. This question requires you to coolly assess whether your current job—or one you are considering—is a launching pad for the next, better one.