23 October 2016Last updated

Features | People

Why you need a career bucket list

Want to stay sharp at work? Mike Peake meets a few Dubai-based entrepreneurs who tell you how to chalk up small victories that could make your working life more meaningful – and fun

Mike Peake
9 Sep 2016 | 12:00 am
  • Source:Shutterstock

They call it job-hopping, and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics it will be as normal to millennials as having eight kids was to your great-grandfather. Estimates now suggest that anyone born around the year 2000 will have around 20 different jobs in the course of their lifetime – meaning that people currently in the middle of their careers could easily find themselves dazzled by the blur of incoming/outgoing young professionals and their shiny new suits.

Just how long will it be before you start to feel… ancient?

Millennials are a different breed from the rest of us; like flies, they see things coming from a mile off and simply change gear when they need to react. Tech doesn’t phase them, relationships are as virtual as they are physical, and careers are something to be breezed through in whatever fashion serves them best.

But you don’t have to subscribe to the job-hopping ethos for your professional life to stay rewarding – the answer is to start thinking about the small victories that could make your working life more meaningful, too. Think not promotions and pay rises (experts say they’re often less motivating than you think): it’s more like ‘the chance to work overseas’ or ‘being able to develop my skills as a speaker.’ Small stuff. Personal things. 
A career bucket list, if you will.

‘When I was younger, my goal was to be a millionaire by 30,’ says entrepreneur Richard Upshall, who runs a number of businesses in the UAE including an oilfield services company and a record label. ‘Once I’d achieved that, which I did when I was 28, I’d also wanted to get a convertible Porsche, so I got one of those as well. Today, though, the things that I’d like to achieve tend to be based around other people.’
Specifically, Richard says that the rewards he gets now mostly come from helping others achieve success of their own – whether that’s launching a pop star’s career or making someone who works for him wealthy enough that they no longer have to worry about money.

But more personal career moments are on Richard’s bucket list, too, and they’re mostly fun, punch-the-air moments – like being able to introduce one of his acts to a sold-out crowd at London’s Wembley Stadium. ‘I actually just ticked one off my list last week,’ he says, ‘and that was to be a VIP at the red carpet premiere of a movie. I have lots of little goals littered throughout my businesses now.’

Your own bucket list will vary according to where you are in your career and what makes you tick. To get you on the right track, here’s some tips to get started…

First, think about the last time you felt good about being praised at work. What had you done? Did you enjoy it? Could you do more in this field to reap more rewards?

Next, ask yourself about things you did at work that motivated you above and beyond the norm. Maybe it was beating a deadline, or being told you could present a new idea to the team if you put together a good proposal. Explore that and define what you enjoy.
Look around the office. What roles do other people play that you’d like to have a piece of? It could be serious stuff like ‘designated company spokesperson when talking to the media’ or it could be something as fluffy as ‘the guy who always seems to find a cool venue for the Eid party.’

Think about the business and your industry as a whole. Do you have offices in other countries that you’d like to work in? Do you have different departments that you’d like to understand a little better? Are there new roles that you could create for yourself that you’d enjoy and would serve the company well?

Finally, spend some time thinking about professional things you might want to do away from your day job. Using your skills to sell a product or service online, perhaps, or possibly venturing into a new field in your spare time.

Paul Stewart-Smith, COO of Dubai-based Propertyfinder Group, smiles when he thinks back to the early career bucket list items he seemed so desperate to tick off. ‘Things like having my first set of business cards, which were obviously handed out mainly to family and friends,’ he says. A better one, perhaps, was his first business-class trip. ‘No matter what, that first trip when you turn left and not right on the plane is seen as success.’

Nowadays, just like Richard, career success for Paul has taken on a wider meaning. ‘I like the exciting pace here,’ he says. ‘You are constantly challenged both individually and professionally, and each workday brings something new. That should be on everyone’s professional bucket list.’
A good career bucket list should feature a number of big and small items that all feed back into your sense of progress and achievement. Dr Iain Henderson from the Edinburgh Business School speaks regularly at its Dubai campus and believes that people have an innate need to achieve self-actualisation – realising your own potential. ‘It can be the exercise of particular skills or knowledge, such that you feel a real pride in your work and professional accomplishments,’ he says. ‘And unlike other needs such as security, money or esteem, self-actualisation is always motivating.’

He suggests that a career bucket list might, therefore, feature a series of goals that first achieve security of employment, then better career prospects so that money is no longer a major issue and, finally, the opportunity to achieve self-actualisation by displaying mastery of your chosen vocation. All of which suggests that you’re never too far down the career path to keep working on your bucket list. Senior managers, often under the impression that the most appropriate course of action in the workplace is to avoid rocking the boat, need goals as much as the rest of us.

‘I think it’s about stretching their responsibility,’ says Tony Moss, founder of Your World Healthcare, a global recruitment company with offices in London, Sydney, Dublin and Dubai. ‘There may be areas that senior managers have not thought about getting involved with. My commercial director hadn’t done much on the legal and contracts side, but as he’s very much a details person I felt that if he were to understand that and work in that area it would be very beneficial. And he really relished that challenge and grasped it with both hands.’

Dr Henderson suggests that a properly stimulated senior manager could turn out to be an asset to everyone. ‘They could seek to exercise professional mastery, perhaps through a personal project that would lend prestige to the organisation,’ he says.
As well as nurturing their own career bucket lists, it is important, of course, that senior managers should foster an environment where those of their employees are respected, too. Why? Because a motivated workforce is a happy and productive one.

‘We do our best to support our team in achieving their goals, which could be anything from changing career direction, training and development, launching a new product, right through to opening an office in a new market,’ says Jon Richards, CEO of UAE-based finance comparison company compareit4me. ‘We get more motivated and better-qualified staff as a result, not to mention the fact that we get excited about seeing ambitious staff coming to us with new ideas.’

It really isn’t all about showering employees with trinkets and money. ‘Goals are very important and they really do need to be subjective,’ says Richard Upshall. ‘I watch a lot of employers making mistakes in providing incentives for people that are monetary-based but missing so many other aspects of it.’

For Tony Moss, a very special bucket list entry was ticked off when he was able to take offices in London’s iconic Broadgate Tower. ‘When we set up our London office, Broadgate was still being built,’ he says. ‘I remember thinking, “Wouldn’t it be great to be in there one day?” And now we are. That was a defining moment.’

There’s one other huge bonus. Ticking items off your directory of professional goals helps give you a gold-plated CV. The act of pushing yourself towards little achievements, all faithfully recorded on your résumé, demonstrates motivation and passion – and your ever-evolving CV will glitter all the more because of it.

All of which equates to more opportunities to progress – meaning that there’s something of a self-fulfilling nature about a good career bucket list.

‘There is no question that in today’s world you can’t leave it to your company to manage your career,’ says Dr Iain Henderson. ‘The job market for successful professionals is a free market, not a welfare state. You need to set and achieve goals that build your CV and make it attractive outside your present organisation.’

His colleague Shirin Jarrar, a senior teaching fellow at Edinburgh Business School’s Dubai campus, agrees: ‘Successful professionals are the ones who can break away from the herd,’ she says. ‘They are able to demonstrate their uniqueness, clarity of thinking and focus – and what is more of an exhibit of these qualities than a well-defined set of goals?’

10 career bucket list ideas

1 Write a business column in a local magazine.


2 Work in one of your company’s overseas offices.


3 Be invited to speak on a pet project in front of the team.


4 Be named on a newspaper’s ‘most influential’ list.


5 File a patent for something you’d like to exploit within your industry.


6 Complete a course, paid for by the company, on something outside your normal remit.


7 Lead a social or sports team comprised of your colleagues.


8 Take your business knowledge to the local community on a voluntary basis.


9 Start your own online enterprise as a side project.


10 Become a consultant in your area of expertise in your free time.

Mike Peake

Mike Peake