Are You In The Right Job? Ask The $1 Million Question

Last Updated May 18, 2011 8:48 AM EDT

Every spring young graduates ponder what they'd like to do with their lives. The rest of us annoy them immensely with our advice. Perhaps, rather than waxing eloquently, we should use the occasion to look at our own careers and take stock.

How to do this? I like what I call the "million dollar question.”

It's based on a scenario that probably never happened, but try picturing this: You learn you'll be fired from your current job. The upside is that your severance is going to be fantastic: $1 million a year for the next 20 years! The catch is that you're going to have to sign a very broad non-compete agreement. You can't do the "stuff” of your job, on your own or for any other employer, during those 20 years.

How would you feel about that?

Some people would feel absolute joy. $1 million a year! It would be a chance to try something completely new and different without having to worry about money (unless your base expenses are incredibly high).

Others would feel very mixed. Yes, the money is nice. But you love your work. Being told you couldn't do it for 20 years would feel like being told you couldn't see a close friend for 20 years. Any joy at having the time and money to do other things would be tempered by that regret.

Which camp do you fall in? Either way, this scenario can be clarifying about your current job situation. If you'd be thrilled with the cash -- full stop -- maybe that's a sign you should look into work that would be more engaging and challenging. If you'd have mixed feelings, that's a sign that you're probably in the right line of work. Any annoyances you have with your career should be changed on the margins (negotiating for different hours, moving to shorten a commute) rather than rethinking the whole thing.

How would you answer the million dollar question?

Related:
Photo courtesy flickr user, purpleslog

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