How to Decide On a Career
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Considering that statistics currently show the average American as changing careers five to seven times over the span of their working life, it’s not a stretch to say that the days of committing to one clear-cut career path have long since passed us. This is largely because, as a nation of workers, we have greater access to a greater number of job options than ever before. It’s also because we’re increasingly becoming tormented by indecision.
As psychologists study the effect this bounty of options has on us, what they’re commonly arriving at is this: that having an overload of options often paralyzes people, keeping them from making any choice at all. On the flip side, too many options can also push people into choosing something that’s actually against their best interest. The issue at the root of both this indecision and impulsivity, of course, is fear of making the wrong decision — that what we didn’t choose will, in fact, prove better.
Are you beginning to see any parallels between the issues discussed above and your own struggle to choose a career path? You’re not alone. Here are 7 steps that can help guide you through the process of this at-times overwhelming life decision.
1. Before you go any further, you must do some soul searching. Begin by asking yourself — what do you really like to do?
We all want to enjoy our careers, right? Certainly, having passion for what you do is the No. 1 prerequisite for job contentment. So — what excites and energizes you? Write it down. Start your brainstorm broadly; don’t simply write down interests that you already know easily translate to jobs. The goal here is to thoroughly examine everything that brings you joy. You never know what seemingly random side hobby has the potential to turn into something more. In fact...
2. Do you already have any hobbies that could potentially become a career? Write those down, too.
If you’re taking the time to make a particular hobby a regular part of your life, chances are that’s because it brings you joy. Is there a potential this hobby could be turned into something lucrative? If you really enjoy hosting and cooking for large groups of family and friends, for instance, there’s a chance your cooking hobby could become a successful catering venture. Try not to overlook any hobby, no matter how big or small, as you brainstorm.
As an example, the entrepreneur Kim Lavine began making microwavable pillows as gifts for her children's’ teachers, but when her husband lost his job, she began to wonder whether this seemingly innocuous pastime had the potential to make money. She started selling pillows out of her truck, and then from mall kiosks in her Michigan hometown. Within four years, Lavine’s pillows were in Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy’s, and Bed Bath & Beyond, and the business begun at her kitchen table had generated more than $1 million, an experience she describes in her book, “Mommy Millionaire.”
Are you creative and enjoy crafting? Perhaps try your hand at turning this hobby into a side gig first to see how you like it. Etsy accounts are easy to make, and regardless of whether you stick to turning this hobby into a career, you’ll definitely be learning valuable and marketable skills regardless!
3. Now that you’ve given some thought to what you already enjoy doing, tack onto your brainstorm a list of your greatest strengths and skills.
Is there any correlation between what you enjoy and what you’re good at? Does that intersection lend itself to a certain career?
Too often, we focus on improving our weaknesses when it comes to how we see ourselves professionally, when what we maybe should be doing is simply highlighting and capitalizing upon our strengths. After all, we’re never going to be great at everything, and devoting all our time and energy to working on our weaknesses and none of it to building upon our unique strengths will get you nowhere.
Having difficulty ascertaining what your strengths are? An amazing resource for this is the book “Now, Discover Your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham and Gallup International Research & Education Center Chair Donald O. Clifton. The product of a 25-year, multimillion-dollar effort to identify the most common human strengths, the book is basically one gigantic personality and career quiz. Your test result will consist of a combination of the 34 different strength “themes” Gallup identified, like Achiever, Strategic, and Empathy. After you complete the quiz, the book breaks down what specific careers those with your unique strength combination are best suited to. Easy peasy!
While you’re at it, read up on your Myers-Briggs personality type, too. This is another great personality test that can help you when it comes to choosing the career option that fits your strengths best.
4. One last soul-searching question for you — what are your values?
The career that will make you happiest is likely one that fits the GPV formula, or Gifts + Passions + Values. What personal tenets and needs are you absolutely not willing to sacrifice? As an example, if work-life balance is of paramount importance to you, you might want to think twice before pursuing a career in an industry with relatively rigid time requirements, where opportunity for balance can be hard to come by (think accounting or medicine).
5. Having trouble getting this all out on paper? It sounds a little eccentric, but you may also want to try asking yourself these same questions while vlogging.
The benefits of vlogging — or video blogging — in helping expedite the decision-making process (and even improving mental health!) have been widely written about. So, what’s the fuss about? We’re all for journaling and making lists, but sometimes having to actually vocalize your thoughts and feelings can produce clearer and more revelatory results. You needn’t put any of it on the internet — in fact, in the interest of professionalism and ensuring authenticity while you vlog, we’d encourage you not to! It may sound a little out there, but when it comes to making a major life decision, something you’ve just got to say what you needed to hear.
6. Vlogging not for you? That’s cool, we get it. How about meeting with a career counselor instead?
A career coach or counselor could be just the ticket in helping you pinpoint your dream job. The popularity of these professional coaches has been soaring in recent years, and we can certainly see why. Think of them in a similar way to the pros of hiring a personal trainer. Do you absolutely need a personal trainer? Most likely not. But are you more likely to achieve your goals if you hire one? You sure are! A career counselor will help you identify your most ideal vision of yourself in your dream career, then work with you to set and stick to goals in your day-to-day life to help you achieve that vision. For anyone struggling to choose a field to commit to, having a motivator like this around can create a major impact.
7. Finally, network and get a feel for what life in a certain career actually looks like.
The benefit of introducing yourself to new people on professional sites like LinkedIn is two-fold here — you get to add to your network in a meaningful way, especially if you’re considering a career change and will need new contacts, and you get the authentic perspective of those within your industry of interest. (Just make sure your profile is up to date first!) Since it’s by no means a formal interview, these kinds of informational interviews are more likely to yield honest answers to your questions.
Nervous that no one will want to talk to you? Don’t be. The majority of people love talking about themselves and their careers, especially if doing so means they get to give advice and prove their authority. They’ll be flattered you reached out — and you’ll be grateful to get a truer understanding of what a certain career path looks like than the Internet alone can offer.
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