4 Questions to Ask When You're Not Sure You're On the Right Career Path
Ideally, everyone would get up, drive to work with a big grin on their faces, and feel just as fulfilled in the workplace as they do in the evenings and weekends. Sadly, that's not the reality for most of us. So many people are in jobs they don't hate exactly, but they don't love either because they haven't found the one big thing they want to do with their lives.
And the reason they haven't found the one big thing is because they didn't ask the right soul-searching questions before they chose their current career, and chose a direction they regret as a result.
This isn't anyone's fault. Rather, it's a consequence of when we're expected to make career decisions. Think about it: how many of us can truly say we know ourselves, or have enough life experiences, to make a suitable career decision in our teens or our twenties? How many of us were honestly aware of all the choices available to us when we chose our first job or college major? How many of us jumped on the first career track that someone recommended just to avoid being directionless?
If your career choices don't feel so good right now, then it's so imperative to spend some time and energy planning your next move. Here are four great questions to ask that hopefully will help you figure out your passions and re-route yourself to a career path you love.
1. What Makes for an Amazing Career?
We all show up at work to make money so we can pay the mortgage and put food on the table. That's a good reason to stick with your current job—or any job. But if you're looking for a job that excites you, then you must start by understanding what makes you excited to wake up every day. This is important, because a job from heaven for one person might be a job from hell for another. We're not all the same!
Now, this doesn't mean you should start listing job titles or six-figure salary aspirations. You should consider all facets of a job when thinking about your dream career. For instance, do you want a career ....
- Where you can excel at your work and be a master at what you do?
- Where you can solve complex problems?
- Where you can continually look for improvements?
- Where people and relationships matter?
- Where you can turn up, put the hours in, and go home at a reasonable time each day?
- Where you contribute and serve the needs of the planet?
- That provides regular changes and travel to new environments; not a routine?
- Where you can work from home?
- Where you dabble in lots of topics, instead of specializing in one skill (or vice versa)?
Be careful here, because the higher your expectations are, the greater the potential for disappointment. There are very few careers that will offer everything you could possibly wish for. Think more about the "right job." Which tasks are right for you? Which environment? Which people do you enjoy working with? For what money? What's non-negotiable about your list?
By naming these things in concrete terms, you create your own rating system. You can use this to measure your current career as well as the alternative career choices you may be weighing up.
2. What's My Own Skills Inventory?
The second question refers to your own contribution: What skills do you bring to the table? What can you do to ensure you feel good and happy to go to work?
I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel I have so many strings to my bow that I struggle to break them all down into actual skill sets that an employer could use. And other days, I feel like I have no useful skills at all! It's incredibly hard to be objective about your own talents and motivations. And it's so, so tempting to pretend you're something you're not in a vain attempt to fit yourself to a job that sounds cool but would be truly awful for you.
With this in mind, it's always worth taking a couple of personality tests to get clear on the things you are good at. And by good at, I mean your transferable skills—things that persuade an employer you're perfect for the job even if you do not necessarily have the experience.
Some tests are specifically geared towards career-planners and cover such areas as work style, communication style, learning preferences,conflict management, decision-making and what you need in your work environment to thrive. The following tests are worth a look:
TypeFinder® for Career Planning. Based around the Briggs and Myers 16-type personality system, the Typefinder for Career Planning drills down into those personality traits which have the most influence on your working style and points you toward your ideal career path. The test feeds back a list of real-world jobs that match your strength areas.
The Holland Code Career Test and Career Personality Profiler. These tests are based around the Holland Code, a personality system that's based on the theory that we all work best in environments that match our personality preferences. Most people are some combination of two or three of the six Holland interest areas: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising and Conventional. Someone with a strong Social code, for example, will thrive in a work environment that involves working with others, communicating and teaching people. These people often choose careers that involve helping or providing service to others.
If the first question was about figuring out what you love, this question is about figuring out what you are. The more you know about yourself, the easier it is to lock in on careers that will suit you. It also makes it much easier to figure out whether your current job is a good fit.
3. Do I Feel Like Myself, Or a Lesser Version of Myself?
We all wear masks to some degree at work, and that's fine. There's an etiquette associated with the professional world that requires us to behave in ways that would not necessarily be our preferred way of responding in other situations. But if you catch yourself constantly acting out of character, or suppressing your personality, then this is usually a dead giveaway that your current job is not a good fit.
However, before you leap into a new career, it's important to ask yourself whether the stress you're experiencing is job-specific or career-specific. Do the protocols and culture in this specific work environment limit your freedom to express who you are—in which case, you may just need to find a similar role in a new environment?
Or do the basic functions of the role leave you exhausted? Are you blowing off tasks that you really do not enjoy doing? Are you forever forcing yourself to be something you're not? Are going home mentally drained and feeling morally or emotionally bankrupt?
We all have tasks we don't enjoy doing, but these tell-tale signs of exhaustion indicate that the role itself is leaving you more stressed than you realize, that you're playing to your weaknesses and not to your strengths, and the career just isn't a sustainable fit.
4. How Much Pain Am I Prepared to Take?
Everyone wants an amazing, fulfilling career that makes a good living—but not everyone wants late nights in the office, stifling bureaucracy, long commutes and the pressure that comes with a high-performance position or organization. People want to be fulfilled without the sacrifice and that's okay. Sadly, it's also a pipe dream. Every career has its drawbacks. You have to be sure that you're willing to put up with them in exchange for the benefits.
The final question then, and one that you possibly have not considered before, is how much pain are you prepared to take for your perfect career? A huge part of finding the right career path is balancing the negative experiences with the positive ones. Figuring out what pain a career entails is critical so you can work out whether you can handle the demands and the sacrifices. In other words, don't make a career switch until you have met with people in the field to get the inside scoop, researched what education or attitude you'll need to advance, and removed the rose-tinted spectacles.
It's key to look at your career path in the context of the rest of your life—family, relationships, spirituality, hobbies, fitness, volunteering, community and whatever else you have going on that makes you a happy, healthy person. You know you're on the right career path when all these areas work holistically, each feeding and supporting the other, so you're doing what makes you the most comfortable across all areas of your life.