How Does Anyone Choose a Career?
Whether you are 15 or 50, choosing a career is hard! And now, with technology evolving on a daily basis, and artificial intelligence’s (AI) capabilities to conquer tasks, it’s possible that what you choose to pursue today may be non-existent in years to come. No one knows at the beginning what the end will be, which is why being adaptable is critical to one’s professional success. When it comes to choosing a career path, do everything in your power to explore what interests you and appears to be a viable route, while remaining open to possibility.
What if you have no idea of what interests you? What you are good at? Aim to figure it out with the same drive and vigor that you figured out any other monumental quandary in your life— ponder your options, reflect, and gather input and feedback from your trusted few. More often than not, we carve our career routes in a haphazard manner. We try one thing, which often leads to another thing, and eventually we discern what gets us excited, which leads us in the direction of what we really want to do. It’s similar to knowing you want to head somewhere east and getting in your car and merging onto the highway in that direction. Sometimes taking to the open road is the best way to begin your journey.
To know or Not to Know
Sure, there are people who know right from the get-go what they want to be and do with their lives. I wanted to be a veterinarian for most of my youth. I loved science. I loved animals. But then along the way, I became a voracious reader—thanks to my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Wolfson, who required students in her class to read two hours each night—and as a result of my passion for reading, I started to write. In fifth grade, I wrote a short story, “The Babysitter,” which became one of our school plays that year. A seed planted when I was 11 years old led to a love of reading and writing. I remained a closet writer for the rest of my adolescence, because who the heck else was sitting around writing poems in junior high school? Fast forward to almost a decade later and that seed planted led to my being an English major in college, which led to internships in publishing and magazines, which led to my first career: publishing. Everything was great, until a decade later, when I felt that there was more to my life and career.
The bottom line: it doesn’t matter whether you know your path early on or determine it later in life. And, it’s okay to change your course en route. There is no limit to how many different paths you pursue—as long as you don’t try to pursue every career choice in one year. Give each role/career time—it takes at least a year to figure out what is going on in any organization. Sometimes two years is more realistic to get a feel for a position or company. What matters most is knowing when it’s time for you to move on and start your next chapter. Staying in a career or a job when everything inside of you tells you it’s time to go can result in a slow and painful burnout.
The Right Questions
What if after years of job hopping you still don’t know what enthuses or invigorates you? Maybe it’s about asking yourself the right questions. Take some time to reflect—sometimes journaling helps. What do you like to talk about in your downtime? Is there an idea you wish to pursue? A problem you hope to tackle? Do you like to strategize or execute projects? Are you more of a leader or someone who excels in a team environment? Do you enjoy working with people all day or sitting behind a computer screen? Or a mix of both? If you could do anything, what would that be? The answers to your career conundrums may appear when you carve in some floating, meditative time.
And If All Else Fails?
Investment guru Warren Buffet has a great strategy for prioritizing career goals. He is known to have shared this advice with his airline pilot, Mike Flint, which may or may not be 100% accurate. Nonetheless, the advice works!
- Step one is to write down your top 25 career goals.
- Step two is to then circle your top five goals. The top five you circle belong in list A and the other twenty belong in list B.
- Step three is that the 20 you eliminated—list B—become your avoid-at-all-cost and beware of spending time on list.
The idea behind this is that you first need to succeed at your top five goals before you can even consider the other 20; in fact, your less important goals will drain you of time and energy. Focusing on your top five career goals may take you a whole lifetime. Most of us spend a lot of time on the other 20, which takes us off focus and away from our key goals. Sure, it’s okay to be interested in a lot of things, but if those interests are not critical to your specific and desired forward motion, they are distractions that pull you off track.
Getting Comfortable With The Great Big Unknown
Change is the only definite when it comes to our lives and careers. In between the change, we pursue interests and sometimes ideas. We pursue what we enjoy, and sometimes what will pay our bills. We are indiscriminate at worst, and at best, we are focused and driven. We become more skilled as we progress from classrooms to life experiences and on-the-job training and development. We pursue hunches and also tap into our intuition to help us figure out what makes us feel alive and invested.
Whenever you think to yourself that everyone else has their career figured out except for you, repeat this mantra: “no one has it all figured out” and “anyone who has it all figured out may not be open to what happens next.” Because if you are so sure of X, Y, or Z, are you even looking out at the horizon and all of the possibilities that are floating out there? Probably not. The most limited I have ever been in my life has revolved around my trying to stick, very carefully, to my plan. There is no real plan to living and cultivating your career other than showing up every day, being your best self, and staying flexible to the haphazard and amazing routes that life will toss your way. Enjoying the journey is what happens after you get on the road—so buckle up and hold on for the ride.