As another year rumbles to a close, you may be starting to wonder, "Hey, am I in the right career?" On the surface, it sounds like a dumb question. If you don't like what you're doing, you don't like what you're selling, or you can't get behind your company's mission, then it should be obvious that you're in the wrong job.
For most of us though, career satisfaction isn't black and white. We dislike the work but love the people. We jump out of bed each morning, but sometimes feel like we're drowning. Some days we're having a blast; other days we're bored to tears. And if we're not careful, then we allow the minor irritations to become much bigger than they really are and we jump ship prematurely. We throw away a promising career because we can't sort out what's not working from the stuff that is.
So how do you know if you're on the right track careerwise? Here are four counterintuitive signs that show you're actually in the right career, even if it doesn't feel that way.
#1: Other People Love the Job
Look around. Is this a career that others aspire to? Are other people happy, advancing, making money? Do other people love the job? If so, then maybe the problem isn't the career. Maybe the problem is you.
We're so used to hearing that a career must be exactly the right fit for our personality type because that's where the path to happiness lies. Yet personality tests are notoriously unhelpful when it comes to picking which career will fit you – that's you, not every other INFP or ESTJ out there. For sure, a well-designed test can help you to identify your strengths, weaknesses and motivations. It can provide a list of careers that match those attributes, so your research has a good place to start. Knowing these things can help you make a conscious decision in your career choice.
But that's as far as it goes. An ENFJ might have all the right personal qualities to have a great career in social work, for example, but if she finds the politics frustrating and hates having to hold people accountable to a set of unsympathetic compliance rules, then the career could be a really poor fit. Not all ENFJs are the same!
The first thing then, is to establish whether it's you or whether it's the career that's the problem. Are you taking things too personally? Are you seeing every minor failure as a slight on your abilities or competence? Are you expecting great things to happen overnight? Are you always itching to do something else, even when you haven't made an effort to make the job as fulfilling for you as it could be? Some people make the mistake of blaming the job when the problem is really themselves.
#2: You're Making Sacrifices
Are you giving up personal time, family time, recreational spending, dates, parties, everything for the sake of your career? Why are you doing that exactly? There's a difference between making sacrifices because the job was misrepresented to you and you'll be fired if you don't stay late, and making sacrifices because the time is flying by and you're working on something important. The first is futile. The second shows that you're invested. There must be something right about your career if you're prepared to work instead of binge-watching Netflix.
It's so tempting with careers to believe that we all have "one true calling" and that finding our vocation will set us up for life. But people are complicated: lots of things get us fired up and interested. If a career hits none of your personal passion triggers then yes, it's probably a bust. But if it's working for you on some level, enough that you're prepared to make sacrifices for it, then does it matter if the career doesn't land slap-dab in the middle of your life's Venn diagram?
Sometimes, it helps to consider the things that leave you feeling satisfied than the other interests you may be missing out on due to your career. If you like marketing, and you're good at it, and you're making a living at it, stay in marketing. Priorities change, and unless you passionately dislike something, it's unlikely that a 360-degree career change will provide everything you need over the span of your lifetime any more than your current career will.
#3: You Have Imposter Syndrome
Let's not sugar coat imposter syndrome – it feels like crap. Every time you're asked to step up, you get anxiety like the worst type of stage fright. You constantly feel like you're in over your head, not waving, but drowning. And despite the obvious success, you just will not be able to accept that you're worthy of all this achievement. No one is immune from imposter syndrome. Even the wonderful Maya Angelou once said in an interview, "I have written eleven books, but each time I think, 'uh oh, they're going to find out now. I've run a game on everybody, and they're going to find me out!'"
But is imposter syndrome really the bad thing that experts make it out to be? Is it truly a hot mess of self-esteem issues that will hold you back from achieving your full potential? The counterintuitive answer is no. Imposter syndrome could, in fact, be the key to staying motivated and doing incredibly well in your career. Consider the following:
Imposters downplay their accomplishments – but that means they must have something to brag about in the first place! Keep a log of your wins to remind yourself how well you are doing in this career. Use it as a reality check whenever you get the "grass is greener" feeling.
Imposters say "no" a lot – but is it because you're trying to stay on task and have a firm grasp on the projects that will grow you? Saying "no" leaves space and energy to say "yes" when it matters.
Imposters set themselves too high a goal – if you're setting ambitious goals, it means you refusing to limit yourself. If you're struggling, it means you are trying to achieve something. You're motivated to achieve more in this career and that's worth protecting.
#4: You Want Your Boss's Job
If you're not sure about your job but your boss's-boss's gig is making you green with envy, that's a sure sign that you're on the right track. It's means you can visualize yourself at the top of the professional tree in this industry, and you're looking for upward growth. People in the wrong job tend to look on the opposite direction: towards the nearest exit.
The challenge is not in letting your current menial status drag you down. If you're getting mad because you're not rising fast enough, or (horror of horrors) your boss has less experience than you, it can lead you to abandon a career that might have been good for you. A lot of people have abandoned their careers prematurely because of all the external noise – the expectations, the shoulds, the "your sister's a manager so how come you haven't been promoted yet?" – when really, they're in a good place. Or rather, they would be, if they only stopped running before they could walk.
Even if you determine that your boss's job is a good fit for you, it doesn't mean that you're a good fit for it – at least not yet. Take a step back for a moment. Is your ambition working against you? What was your last performance review like? Is your personality getting in the way? EXTJs, for example, are motivated by power. INTJs are motivated by competency. ENTPs want to make change happen and ESFPs want to be in the spotlight; of course these types desire their boss's job! And they're all going to get mighty frustrated by the schmoozing and political maneuvering it takes to get there.
Wanting more authority now is not a reason to throw your career under a bus. With enough patience, time and planning, your boss's job could one day be yours for the taking. But it won't if you throw away the opportunity away because you're a legend in your own mind.
Getting the niggly feeling that a career may not be for you is not a negative thing. It's a good thing, because it forces you to assess what you have and what you may be missing. Career satisfaction isn't as clear cut as we'd like it to be, though. There really aren't that many people who wake up happy each day, unconditionally singing their company's praises.
Most times, you have to cut through the noise to figure out if you're investing your time and talents wisely. You get to choose what you do in this life, and you owe it to yourself to choose consciously rather than jump ship prematurely. Try applying these counterintuitive signs to your career path – then take a step in the right direction!