Finding your 'ideal' career
We have all been there. Working Monday through Friday week after week, year after year, periodically coming up for air to wonder… When will I find what I am meant to be doing with my life?
For some, this question has always been there in the back of their mind and they have learned to adjust by living life with a quiet dissatisfaction thinking that no one can really have it all. For others, this question may come at a time of crossroads in life and is a strong feeling that life is just too short to not have the life you want so it is time to make a change. In either situation, it is clear the desire to make a change is there, so what is getting in the way?
Quite often it comes down to the following statement:
"I have no idea what I want to do with my life."
If this is you, don’t worry the riddle can be solved. But before solving the riddle of your life, ask yourself if the above statement is really true. Be honest with yourself. Is it that you don’t know what you want in life or is it something else stopping you such as fear of failure, lack of confidence, feeling overwhelmed by all the steps it will take to get to what you want? In order to move forward you need to understand what is stopping you.
6 questions to get you to your ideal career
If you do find that not knowing what you want is preventing you from moving forward, here are some questions to ask yourself to provide some clarity. Your responses may change at different points in your life, so it is helpful to check in with yourself on these questions periodically.
1. What are my core values?
Identify what is important to you in life and make a list. When making the list focus on your entire life and not just what is important in a career. There is no wrong answer. Maybe you love to travel so freedom and adventure are important. Or maybe financial security is important so having a steady income will be high on your list. Take the time to understand yourself and what you need to be fulfilled.
2. What are my strengths?
It is important to understand what you are good at as it can lead to more fulfilment in your career and to greater success. You might think you know your strengths and if so, write them down. Once you have done so, ask a few friends and colleagues what they perceive to be your strengths. Often, we have strengths we don’t realise so it is helpful to get another perspective.
3. What are my skills?
This is what you have learned along the way, some may be natural skills you have acquired throughout your life while other skills you may have learned on the job. Think about both technical skills (e.g. budget planning or knowing programming languages) as well as soft skills such as being a strong negotiator or being a good presenter.
4. What lights me up?
This is a way to think about what activities you enjoy. You may find when you are writing you could go on for hours or perhaps you are in your element when you are organising tasks or events. If you are struggling to think about what you enjoy think of what you like talking about with friends or which activities you are doing when you lose track of time.
5. What are my must haves in a job?
Think of what you must have in your career in order to be fulfilled. This should align to your values but will be more specific to the actual job. For example, if learning is a value you may feel you need to work in an environment where you can learn and grow. It is important during this exercise to differentiate your “must haves” from your “nice to haves”.
6. What are my deal breakers in a job?
This is another way to look at your must haves by understanding what you absolutely cannot tolerate in a job. If it is essential for you to be home for your children at the same time each day, then having a job where you are required to work long hours or the hours are unpredictable could be a deal breaker.
Once you answer these questions it is time to play the role of career detective to identify careers that fit your strengths, skills and interests. Take a sheet of paper and create columns labelled values, strengths, skills, interests, must-haves and deal breakers where you include the answers to the questions above. List all the careers you can think of that best align to your list. This is where you do blue sky thinking (avoid practicalities at this point) to get all your ideas down. When you have exhausted all your ideas share your brainstorm with friends to get their ideas and perspectives.
Now it is time to take some action. This is when reality sets in for most people. You may have found that a career as a writer aligns to your values, strengths and interests but you find yourself wondering how to move forward. Before you move ahead with a plan make sure you don’t have conflicting values. For example, if you value creativity but financial security is higher up on the values list it would generally be a conflict for you to move to a career where the income is unstable. This is the time for you to understand what is most important to you and to decide how to proceed. In the writer example, maybe it could work if you become a part-time writer or if you are a writer in a corporate setting that pays a steady income.
You may find from the exercise that there are several career paths for you to have a fulfilling life. It is now time to start exploring the next steps. It can feel daunting at first, especially if you are making a complete career shift, but don’t let those feelings deter you. Start by taking small steps. Talk to people in the career (or careers) you aspire to and think of creative ways you can start moving into the career. For example, volunteering or doing part-time work are practical ways to test out a new career without the commitment of changing your career full time.
One last point. Your ideal career may not always represent your calling. That is okay. An ideal career is one that allows you to live your best life. Yes, it could be your dream job, but it could also be a job that you like enough and provides you with what is important in your life. That is why it is pertinent to understand your values. It all comes down to the choices you make for yourself. You are the key to making the change. You are empowered to take action. It is possible to have your ideal career, one step at a time.