How to Write a Career List

career-listHave you ever tried to run through a forest on a cloudy night? It’s nothing but pitch black and painful bruising. I have a scar above my left eye to prove it. All right, you caught me. I’m making that part up.

Did you imagine yourself running straight into a tree? That’s the first thing I imagined myself doing.

We often run through our career forest without lighting our own way.

A career list will help you run through a forest lit by Yankee stadium lights. It’s so bright that you can see every bug, stick and tree. By making your actions clear through measurable goals, you have a 99.99% chance of improving your life.

Chris Guillibreau of The Art of Non-Conformity wrote a post called “How to Write a Life List.” I wondered how this idea might be applied to work happiness.

What is a Career List?

Most of us set goals such as “be happy” or “earn more money,” but we leave out what matters most when trying to accomplish these goals – “the how.”

A career list helps you break down “the how” of a career.

When you break down your career into actionable chunks it makes any goal possible.

First you need to know what type of work makes you happy. This is tricky because most of the time we don’t really know what will make us happy. Check out Dan Gilbert’ss talk at TED. He explains that most of the time we are wrong about what will bring us joy. It’s why many of us don’t use our college degrees at our jobs.

What you need to do is keep taking action so you understand what type of work excites you. The more you try certain tasks, jobs and ideas, the better grasp you will have at building a career that will make you happy.

What Goes on Your Career List?

Your career list should be varied and you need to think big. I don’t want my career to be good. I want it to be great. So great that it scares me just thinking about my ideas.

My list looks like this…

Title: Improve my ability to deal with stressful projects.

Then comes the how:

  • When I feel stressed, first I need to focus on my breath and slow my thoughts down.
  • Next, I need to write down one part of the project I will focus on.
  • I will start taking slow action and build up steam.

Then comes the actionable list:

  • Make full time income from Work Happy Now.
    • Publish a series of eShorts
      • Create an affiliate program
      • Market my eShorts to other bloggers
    • Build Tele-seminars to help people from home
      • Find program to handle call load
      • Use existing material and build it into a course
    • Contact companies for my work happiness workshops and presentations
      • Cold Calls
      • Buy ads on Google as a test
      • Guest post to bring more awareness to my blog
      • Speak for free at local business meetings
  • Hire an employee to help with administrative work and treat them like gold.
    • First I need to make really good money then I can hire someone
  • Help companies improve their happiness all over the world.
    • Market my blog to the public
      • Find interviews with reporters, TV, online and radio
  • Write a best selling book.
    • Once I get the blog running smoothly, I will work on getting a book deal. Until then it must wait.
  • Make enough money to retire in 30 years, then keep working only when I feel like it.
    • Save money
    • Invest in low risk stocks
    • Increase Work Happy Now sales at 10% a year

This is just a basic model of what I’m trying to accomplish. I guarantee that it will change in less than a year, but at least I have a plan.

You need to know what will make you happy in your career and work toward it. That means taking small steps every day to get to that career of your dreams.

Actionable Steps

You probably know someone who wants to be an artist, writer, musician, painter. They talk about how cool it would be, but they don’t think about how to make it a reality. They dream a good dream, talk the good talk and that’s it.

Creating a career list will help you to make that dream career a reality. Let’s say you want a job that fits more with your strengths. This job may be in PR. You must create an action plan for each thing on your list if you really want to accomplish this goal.

It should look something like this:

PR career

  • Follow PR blogs
  • Borrow PR books from the library
  • Contact PR companies and ask them what they are looking for.
  • Improve writing skills
    • Practice writing Press Releases
    • Copy other people’s Press Releases
    • Take a night class
  • Go to a conference that is just for copywriting and/or public relations
  • Contact reporters to see what they are looking for when reading a press release

That’s just off the top of my head. You can see I’ve done a fair amount of research on PR. A good press release can reverberate through journalist’s circles.

When you continue to strengthen your talents then you will succeed. You can’t go into the gym and expect to be able to lift a lot of weight right away. If you really want a career in PR, then keep adding to your resume so it tells the story of where you are heading.

Why Write a Career List?

A career list makes you think about what you want to accomplish and how you will do it. It makes your dream career seem possible.

How does a person make a career list that doesn’t seem so daunting?

I asked a friend what she wanted to do with her career. She responded, “There are just too many things.”

She likes so many things, but she can’t narrow it down to just one. She is only 23 and almost anything seems possible.

Whether we are 23, 43, or 63, career choices can seem daunting. We need to create a list that will motivate us, not make us want to crawl underneath the covers.

I have a goal to make Work Happy Now a business by Fall 2009 and a full time gig by 2010. This goal seems crazy. A full-time blogger! It’s weird to think of it that way. I think of full time blogging as some far off dream, but in reality it’s not.

I’ve built up my subscriber base, talked/presented to companies about work happiness, connected with Uber-Bloggers, and written a ton of good articles. Each project has brought me closer to my dream.

I made this happen by taking on One Next Thing at a time. I focused on one thing, did it well and then started my next project. I am guilty of being ADD enhanced, but I’ve learned to keep coming back to the projects that will give me the most bang for my buck.

That’s exactly what I’ve done with this blog. I’ve developed myself into a work happiness expert because I love the concepts. That love and enthusiasm is felt by the people who read this blog and hire me to speak to their organization.

Making Your Career List Come Alive

You should make a Career List too. Take an hour or two to listen to what you want/need and start jotting down everything that comes to mind. When you are done, pick the most important ones and start to break them down into actionable chunks.

Once you have your list in little chunks, you can tackle any career goal.

You have a chance to change the world with small ripples. Start creating those small ripples right now, so that in two years you have more leverage, and in five years you have even more. Once you have leverage, you can pick and choose the work that makes you the happiest.

Will it be easy?


But that’s what a career list is all about: imagining a dream career (that means thinking so grand that it may scare you) and making it a reality.

If you are looking to take your career to the next level then check out the 10 Week eCourse we created to bring more clarity to your working life.


Creativity is all about looking at a problem from fresh angles until it clicks, and then running with it until your are out of breath. When I feel stuck, I visit Lateral Action to help me get my creative valve back open.

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Image courtesy of Swiv

17 thoughts on “How to Write a Career List”

  1. Hi Karl: The first step to achieving your dreams is knowing with certainty what those dreams are, and a career list is a great way to turn amorphous thoughts into specific goals from which you can derive clear action steps. Love this post.

  2. I found it important to think this way, I also found it defining getting a Career Assessement done. This gave me options I never thought of this opened a world of opportunity for me and I am sure others have had the same experience. Those people at TED sure know what their topics, they are very well respected through out.

  3. I absolutely must do this… I’ll be curious as to how specific I can get, since what I know right now is that I want to write for a living (and/or speak), I’d like it to be about joy & personal development, and I want to have SO MUCH FREAKIN’ FUN THAT I WOULDN’T CARE IF THEY PAID ME (but they would and they do).

    I’ll let you know where I land with this… Goals are good. Knowing how to reach them – even if baby steps are required – is even better.

  4. Hi Karl,
    You are clearly unstoppable! This is all really excellent advice. I really love it that you shared your career list. It’s a great example for the rest of us. I like your suggestion to break everything down into small actionable steps and do one thing at a time.

    Great work here! I’m looking forward to reading more!

  5. Karl, this post is money. I’m one of those people that is interested in too many things to find time for them all. I create lists and try to prioritize, but often times I get sucked into things that I don’t enjoy.

    I think that the biggest step we can take for making these dreams happen is to just say “damn the torpedoes” and go for it. No one can limit what you do unless you let them. Great inspiration.

  6. Beautiful write up. I like the depth and focus. I especially like that you lit it up with your own personal example. You’re on your path. Onward and upward.

  7. Writing a career list is a good idea. It organizes your task and unclogged our mind. The only next step to do is to stick to what you write. 🙂

  8. Hi Positively Present, go for it. Let me know what you put on it.

    Hi Marelisa, specific goals make dreams come true.

    Hi Megan, a career should be about fun and personal development. It’s these core concepts that make a person feel alive and excited to do work.

    Hi Lisa, a career assessment is a great idea. I would recommend the Strong Interest Inventory.

    Hi Jodi, small actionable chunks makes everything seem easier.

    Hi Nathan, having confidence in what we can achieve can a great motivator.

    Hi J.D., yes! To the stars.

    Hi Walter, sticking to it is the hard part, but at least you have a plan to track your development.

  9. Karl,
    This is so good! It’s easy to even have ideas, and then just keep them floating around in our brains (and hearts). Writing them down, though, gives all sorts of added credence to them. They all seem more real. I did something similar recently with a life coach I was working with (more along the line of a Life List). And it has been so good for me. I’m now seeing just how good it will be for me to do this same thing along the vein of a career list. I’m excited to do this!! What a great, great concept!

  10. Karl, it’s great to see someone else who loves lists as much as my co-author, Robin, and I do! Lists are an amazing way to take a daunting task, like succeeding in your career, and breaking it down into little action items. We like to call it, “mini-tasking.” Instead of trying to multi-task and take everything on at once, we like to slow down, think things through, and complete them one tiny step at a time. And it reminds us of a wonderful story we read in the New York Times Magazine that we recently blogged about on our site about a woman in rural Africa who used a checklist to make her wildest dreams a reality. (Here’s the link, if interested:

  11. Thanks for the useful info. Career lists are important. I like to make career lists because it really helps me keep my career on track and focused. I guess I have always been more a of list person, because without them I feel overwhelmed and lost. And, no body likes their career to feel lost! Thanks again, great work!

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