To Find Fulfillment at Work, Ask Yourself This Important Question

Inside: Use this critical question to make great decisions for you and find fulfillment at work.

In 2012, I experienced career coaching for the first time as a new employee at Harvard Business School’s Career and Professional Development Office.

Seeing career coaching live was a light bulb moment for me. Oh my goodness, THIS is the stuff! This is where I’m supposed to be! By asking great questions and creating space for another person to make important connections and decisions, you are impacting one person’s life, but there are ripples that extend far beyond you. It’s magic!

The head of the Career Coaching program at Harvard Business School is Dr. Tim Butler, author of Getting Unstuck and The Four Elements and Senior Fellow at Harvard Business School. He has taught me coaching best practices, skills, and frameworks, but of the many, many things I’ve learned from Tim, it’s THIS question that always sticks with me the most.

“Who is in the room with you?”

What does this question mean?

When Tim asks the question “Who is in the room with you?” in career coaching, and when he explains it to us as coaches, he is making it clear that he understands that decision-making doesn’t happen in an empty room.

Often there are quite literally other people in the room, but there are always other people pulling up chairs in the room in your MIND as you decide between different options!

For example, let’s say you are making a decision about whether or not to accept a job offer. Whose opinions are you taking into account as you make the choice? You may be talking to your spouse about the paycheck or the hours of the role. Or you’re considering the positive or negative impact on your children if you make this change in your professional life.

But I’m willing to bet that these are not the only people in the room with you.

Perhaps your parents are in the room when you’re making the choice and they are risk averse. Shouldn’t you stay at a stable company? Or your parents would take great pride in the fact that you accepted a job offer with this prestigious company and you want to make them proud, even if that means you would be miserable.

Consciously or subconsciously, you may be considering the opinions of your colleagues or former classmates. What would they think if you left your current job? Would they think you are making a good choice?

Taking inventory of WHO is in the room can help you make sense of the thoughts and feelings surrounding this decision and decide who gets to STAY in the room.

fulfillment at work

Why do the voices in the room with you impact your fulfillment at work?

Fulfillment at work includes multiple factors and it will always look different for everyone. Because fulfilling work does not have one definition, we need to clearly define what it looks like to YOU so that you make decisions that line up instead of letting other people push you in a different direction.

Let’s break this down into what the different voices might be influencing you on. When working with clients in the Career Clarity Program, we consider five different categories when crafting their unique Career Criteria that guide their career decisions.

People, Day-to-Day, Motivators, Needs, and Future You.


“People” is all about who you are surrounding yourself with. Colleagues, managers, clients, customers. People make up a culture and to feel fulfillment at work, you will want to align yourself with people you enjoy interacting with on a regular basis.


“Day-to-day” is about the skills you are using at work. There can be a misalignment with a job and a lack of fulfillment when the skills you are being asked to use drain your energy instead of keeping you excited/interested/engaged/challenged in a good way.


“Motivators” is about finding what makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning. For some people that is money. For others, it is about alignment with a mission. And for others still, it could be control or autonomy. Fulfilling work is motivating work – but motivating means different things to different people.


“Needs” is about your responsibilities and obligations. We’re talking about money, benefits, schedule, childcare, etc. We all have needs and when those need are met we find more fulfillment at work.

Future You

“Future You” is about lining yourself up with your future goals. For example, do you want to be able to travel the world when you retire? Or in the next five years do you want to start your own business? When you’re making choices for right now, you’re going to feel more fulfilled if those choices help you get where you want to go.

Do you see how this works? What would happen if you made a career choice that lines up with your neighbor’s Career Sweet Spot and their definition of fulfillment at work? Their people, day-to-day, motivators, needs, and future goals are going to look different than yours so there could be a big miss here! You might be successful in their eyes, but not in yours. Yikes!

Who is in the room with YOU and who gets to stay?

Look around the room in your brain right now and take inventory. Who is there? Be honest with yourself too. If it’s a full room, note all of their names and the opinions they are sharing.

Now ask yourself, is anyone NOT in this room but they definitely should be? Let’s pull up a chair for them.

With this complete and honest list, it’s decision time. Whose voices do you want in the room and who do you need to politely escort out?

From my work with mid-career parents, I can tell you that partners and kids will most often get to keep their seats at the table. A trusted mentor may also be staying. However, a lot of other people get escorted out. Not because the client doesn’t respect or value these people, but because for THIS decision, their opinion should not be driving the decision making.

So for instance, your neighbor Janet down the street who just got a job at (Insert Major Brand Name Here) and gave you a not-so-subtle eye roll about your current company? Should she be in the room influencing your career choice?

Or does Risk-Averse Rita from your office, who thinks you would be nuts to leave this company, really get to weigh in?

Even well-meaning relatives, friends, or former managers who helped you along your career journey on one path may be in the room. But in this case, with this decision, you may need to politely ask them to leave so that you can assess what fulfillment means to YOU.

A well-curated room leads to more fulfillment at work

The nice part about this process of deciding who is in the room with you is that you aren’t actually kicking anyone out of a room with a parting gift or a door to the rear end! You can hear people out, but then no one is going to know who you let stay in the room because it’s your room and your head.

And with a clear head and clear criteria and clear questions to makes sure your criteria are met, you can’t go wrong. Fulfillment at work, here you come!

Need some more helping finding the right questions to ask yourself and others in your career? Check out the free training – How to Land a Fulfilling Job You Love Without Giving Up the Flexibility You Need.

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