A new approach to your BIG question
"What career is right for me?" is THE central question behind most of the work I do with my clients. And I really want to help you answer it!
Here’s the thing...this question is a BIG one, and there isn’t an easy answer. There’s no magic formula for career bliss that you just haven’t discovered yet.
Accepting this reality is hard for us. We're used to quick answers: Hey Google, "will a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier fit through the Panama Canal?" Hey Google, "how can I help my child get ready for bed faster?" These questions yield answers that are pretty straight-forward and easy to find. I know because these are a few of my recent Google searches!
But try Googling "What career is right for me?" and you're not going to get a satisfying result. No direct answer - "Be a pilot!" "Be a sports agent!"
This is because figuring out your career is not a "tame problem," one that can be solved by taking data and plugging it into a specific algorithm to get the answer. In fact, your career is what design theorists Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber called a "wicked problem" (fun-sounding, right?!) They didn't mean it's an evil or bad problem, instead that it's tricky, messy, and complicated. There's no algorithm to solve it.
But don't worry, I'm not going to tell you how hard it is to answer your biggest question "What career is right for me?" and then leave you to suffer!
The list of do's & don'ts below will help you approach this question in a new, more productive way. Disclaimer: the do's & don'ts won't tell you which careers are a good fit for you. Sorry. BUT! They will get you closer to figuring this out for yourself!
Do's & Don'ts
for answering "What career is right for me?"
*DO approach your career like dating
I'm not sure if this dating analogy makes the process of finding a career you love more or less appealing - I guess it depends on your dating history. Regardless, there are a lot of parallels. If/when you decide you want to find a partner to share your life with, you start asking “Who will my person be?” and “How will I find them?” There's no online quiz that's going give you the answer, no Google search that will point you in the direction of the "right" person, no algorithm that generates a list of possible matches. It's entirely up to you. Most people don't end up with the first person they date. You get more than one chance to figure it out. You have to go through a process of "trying out" different people. You go on dates, you break up, you try someone new. You fall in love, you fall out of love. You have fun, you get your heart broken. Through all these ups and downs, you start figuring out what you like and don't like in another person. Just like finding a great life partner, finding a career that's right for you is not easy. It takes time. You have to try out your ideas. The good news is that all the time and energy you invest in doing it is worth it. Work that makes you happy and fulfilled is worth the journey required to find it.
*DON'T put pressure on yourself to figure it all out now
First of all, it is OK if you haven't figured out your career yet. You might be saying, "I'm 40 and I still don't know what to do with my life!" This is normal. Keep in mind that your career is not something that you should have figured out by a certain time (I don't care how old you are), and it's not something you figure out just once. Remember the whole "wicked problem" idea from above? It's also defined as a problem that changes and evolves over time. Hey, you change and evolve over time too! What you wanted at 20 is probably not what you want now. Throughout the years, you've gathered information and experiences that influence your career, and this will continue to happen. Meaning, you just need to figure out your next step, nothing more. For more on figuring out your career one chapter at a time, check out my blog post "No need to figure out your entire career right now."
*DO tweak the question
There’s an inherent issue with the question “What career is right for me?” in the first place. The question implies that there is one perfect career for you, and that you must find it. Like a needle in a haystack. That’s a lot of pressure! Just as I do not believe in "soulmates" (that there's one right person for you in the world), I do not believe that there is only one job or occupation that could make you happy. There are many. A better question to ask is "What careerS ARE right for me?"
*DON'T rely on assessments alone
Don’t get me wrong, I love assessments and quizzes that help me better understand myself. Every time I take one, I get a tidbit or nugget of knowledge that heightens my self-awareness and gives me a new perspective on how I show up in the world. Assessments help me understand why certain work is hard or easy for me, why I enjoy certain tasks and responsibilities, and which strengths I want to use more often to feel fulfilled in my work. They are important clues on your path to finding work that’s right for you. But assessments and quizzes are not the be all end all to finding careers that are right for you. They generate careers for you based on an algorithm that could never capture everything about you. They treat figuring out your career as a "tame problem," and as we now know (see my intro above), it's not a tame problem at all. It's a wicked little bugger!
*DO ask yourself more specific questions
"What career is right for me?" is a totally overwhelming question. It's too big and open. It doesn't give you anything specific to think about, yet there's so much riding on it, so you tumble into an irreversible mind spin. Try using more specific questions to help you break down the BIG question into something answerable. For example:
Does the career allow me to explore my interests or learn something I’m excited about?
Would I enjoy the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities?
What careers could contribute to the kind of life I want to live (salary, work vs free time, etc…)?
You may not know all the answers to these questions, and that's ok! Finding out the answers is a combination of online research, talking to people who know more, and getting help from a career coach like me!
*DON'T expect to find the "perfect" career
You're not looking for perfection here. Your search will never end if you are. Even the best job will be great some days and not others.
*DO consider the "heart factor"
Your head is probably working overtime to help you figure out what work is going to make you happy. Thank you, brain! But don't forget to tap into what you're feeling, and pay attention to what your heart is offering up.
When a career feels right, it's not always something you can explain or line up with your career requirements. It's an alchemy of factors, a push or pull toward something, and you may not always understand it. Something bypasses your brain and speaks directly to your heart. Just like when you're dating! Checking off your list of criteria for a partner doesn't always mean you have a good match. There has to be chemistry. You know the feeling! You can't explain that spark, it doesn't make sense, but it feels GOOD!
Where to start?!
There's probably something that's resonating with you from what I've written here. Are you obsessed with finding the perfect career? Have you taken every assessment out there and still don't have any idea what good work looks like for you? Are you having trouble listening to what your heart wants?
Reflect on your reactions to what you've read, and then talk to someone else (a friend, a career coach, a mentor) about it! They'll have a different perspective on it, and that may be exactly what you need.
Take my online quiz "What's Your Career Planning Type."Based on your type, it will give you guidance on how to explore career options that might be right for you.
I'd love to hear what you think! What's working for you as you seek out careers that are right for you? Where do you get into trouble? Share with me and others in the comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.