5 Tips to Help You Determine the Right Career Path
Making career decisions is a very exciting, and at times very difficult task. Sometimes, as when you’re buying a house, you’re looking for everything on your “must have” list, but you’re often making compromises with respect to the “would love to have” list: financial considerations, flexibility, location, benefits, upward mobility, and room for professional development are among the top variables people consider when analyzing a job offer. All those variables assume you actually know what kind of work you want to do. But what if you can’t fill lout the part about “would love to have” because you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up?
We are often pushed into careers without really contemplating whether it fits with who we are: your parents want you to be a doctor so you go to med school; you want financial stability so you go to law school; you know that software engineers are in high demand so you study computer science. There are a million more examples of people making important decisions about their career path without really thinking about what makes them happy. Studies show that the average person spends 90,000 hours of their lifetime working and that 80% of people are dissatisfied with their jobs. That’s a lot of time spent being unhappy.
So how do you increase the chances of being happy in your career? Do some research…on yourself!
1. Think About a Few Times in your Life when You Were Happiest. Consider the commonalities among those experiences. Were you with a big group of people? Were you on stage? If so, a job that requires you to be isolated in your office all day is unlikely to make you tick. On the contrary, if your favorite times were spent in solitude in the woods or reading a great book, a job that requires you to be in meetings all the time or in constant collaboration with teammates is likely to leave you extremely drained.
2. Collect some Data. Interview a handful of friends and coworkers to get their opinions on your strengths and weaknesses, and what jobs they think you’d love doing. Make sure your interviewees understand that you want their honest opinion, and be ready for the feedback! Pay particularly close attention to the comments offered by multiple people. If your close friends and coworkers all note the same things, they are likely pretty spot-on!
3. Make a List. Scribble down all the careers you’ve contemplated or even daydreamed about. Compare that list to the characteristics of what make you happy from #1, and to the responses your friends gave from #2. Think being a teacher is up your alley? Call a friend or acquaintance who is a teacher and pick his/her brain. Try to figure out if your assumptions about what it’s like to be a teacher are accurate. Do the same thing with a few more possible career choices.
4. Seek out Some Help. It’s easy to make a list of all the things we should be doing, but taking charge of these tasks on your own can be daunting and stressful. So find a career coach to help guide you and hold you accountable. A coach can help you shine the spotlight on the things you love to do most. And if it’s the right match, a coach can be a meaningful source of support as you navigate the tricky waters of uncertainty in search of your dream job.
5. Trust Yourself. If your gut is telling you a job is not for you, listen! Don’t let others decide what you should do with those 90,000 hours of your life. It’s your life, and it’s the only one you’ve got. Take control of it, and do what makes you happy!
Case Study and Success Story: How Cat Found her Career Path
Here’s an example of how doing some research on yourself can play out. Meet Cat. Cat is smart, thoughtful and driven. Like most of us, she believes in working hard, but also having time to spend with her family and friends.
Cat graduated from college and was quickly hired into a social media marketing position at a big company. She enjoyed the work and interacting with her colleagues, but within time grew tired of it. She accepted a new position, also doing social media marketing, at a company with a more tangible product. The novelty of the new position and new colleagues boosted her spirits for a while, but she knew there was something more she wanted in a career, yet didn’t know what. Sound familiar?
Cat decided to do some research on herself, and walked through each of the steps above. She realized that her happiest times were spent being creative and artistic, and with having more solitude than she had in her open floor plan office. After connecting more with the things that make her happy, Cat interviewed some friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Among them was a woman who reminded her of how she used to love creating, dissecting, and interpreting logos – yes that’s right, logos!
Cat gathered up all of the information from the interviews and realized the intersection between her values (the things that make her happy) and graphic design was undeniable. To test this result, she joined a group coaching series focused on career issues. She also talked to multiple people in the graphic design community.
She continued to feel it was a great path for her, and so researched opportunities for graduate programs focused on graphic design. She found a program that seemed to fit her perfectly — and then came the toughest step of all: trusting her gut. But looking back on all the research she had done, she was able to move forward towards her new career goal with focus, clarity, and perhaps most importantly, excitement!16