Drowning in Career Options? What To Do When You Just Can’t Choose17 September 2019 / By Jayne Thompson Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on September 17, 2019
So you're bored at work and planning your next move. You've taken a personality test, read up on the type of careers that are perfectly aligned to work style, and made a list of all the different options. You may have spent a fair chunk of time researching those options, matching them up to your strengths, interests, passions and hobbies, and a few have really captured your interest. In fact, you're currently having a love affair with so many different career paths that you just can't pin down a single option to go after.
Sound familiar? Many people want to leave their jobs but feel trapped because they don't see any alternative. For other personalities, and we're largely talking about Intuitives and Perceivers here, the sheer number of options can make them feel like a wide-eyed kid in a candy store—with many exciting possibilities, how are you ever going to choose?
If you're having trouble figuring out what you want to do with your life, read on. Here are some strategies to help you nail down a career you'll love.
First, a reality check
It sounds pretty basic, but a quick review of the job market is an essential first step. As much as I'd love for everyone to be able to pursue their passion in life and be paid a living wage for it, the reality is different. Step into the trenches of Indeed.com, and you'll soon learn which careers are compatible with your salary, working environment and lifestyle expectations. I mean, it's really easy for a tongue-in-cheek conspiracy-loving INTJ like me to fall in love with the idea of becoming a ufologist—seriously, the truth is out there—but I won't find any paid positions in this field any time soon.
Now, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade. But balancing the thrill of an exciting new career option ("I could be a professional referee!") against the realities of the job market (ther are only 1,980 such jobs in the entire country and in some locations, the pay will scarcely cover the bills) can save you time, money and heartache. And narrow down your list of career options in a really good way.
Look for different aspects of a job that float your boat
Next up ask yourself, what is it about this particular career or opportunity that excites me? What do I find interesting? Why do I think I would be good at this? Be specific—do you like the research, data, writing, travel, outdoors work, prestige, freedom, helping others to do something extraordinary, teamwork, security?
Look at your answers to see if one option stands out. Then take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Are there any themes emerging about what you want from your next career? It might not be the specific job title that excites you as much as what you think that job represents. Once you've nailed down the activity you can't live without, it's easy to think laterally into the types of careers that will give you what you need. Your first thought may not be the right one!
For example, when I was weighing up my next career move after leaving the law, a few key themes emerged that were really critical to me: flexible work hours, learning opportunities, reaping the rewards of my labor, the potential for growth on my own terms. Most of these desires were reactionary—a response to the tight constraints of the corporate world or a list of what I definitely did not want to do with my life. Ultimately, my requirements boiled down to control, in the sense of not having petty corporate overlords telling me what to do with my day.
Now control is not a job title, and neither is freelancing. But I quickly saw that working for myself would be a great option for me. I initially had no great passion to write, so it didn't matter to me whether I became a freelance writer, a freelance lawyer or a freelance virtual assistant. The freelancing was the important theme, and as long as I was doing that everything would work out just fine.
Start testing things out
This comes as a shock to many, but switching careers does not have to be an all-or-nothing choice. It's actually possible to try a little bit of lots of things before you commit to a career path. The key word here is "try." Don't sit around waiting for an epiphany. You've got to test the waters and start putting plans into action to get clarity over your career decisions.
In other words, you need to get your hands dirty and test-drive some career options for real. Could you volunteer, start a side gig, shadow a friend who works a similar job to the one you're thinking about? If helping others to do something extraordinary is one of your key themes, could you start a CSR initiative for your current employer? Get as close as you can to the action so you can see how it lives up to expectations.
Once you start to explore your options, you can decide what to keep and discard from you list and—more importantly—feel a bit less miserable in your current position as you start to focus on work that makes you happy.
Is a portfolio an option?
If at this point there are still a hundred ideas buzzing around your head, then it might be worth considering a portfolio career, where you divide your time between two or more income-producing activities. A good friend of mine works three-and-a-half days a week as a lawyer (pays the bills and provides stability) and spends the rest of her time writing children's books, which truly is her passion project.
A portfolio career is not for everyone. Some people find it hard to juggle multiple interests without the whole thing becoming chaotic and stressful. Others find it really tough to hang onto a sense of identity when their job description is "a bit of this, a bit of that"—even in 2019 people still judge you based on your job title, and there's often a stigma attached to people who step outside the norm.
But if you can't figure out where your place is, because your heart belongs in several places, then a portfolio career could be an elegant solution. There's nothing wrong with having a career that defies logic, and you're certainly not alone in refusing to pick one thing. If you really, really want it all then more power to you. And Emilie Wapnick's Puttylike website is a really good place to find some answers.
Career decisions are never easy. But they're even harder when your mind is awash with possibilities and you have no idea how to choose. The main piece of advice is, don't panic. No career is set in stone and it is always better to have a myriad of ideas and options than to be stuck in a job you hate with no sense of how to get out.
Put some of the strategies in this article into practice and see what happens. At the very least, you'll narrow down your list of options. And keep in mind that your next decision does not have to define your entire career. There is no "final move," just a series of stepping stones that are right for you at the time, which eventually will lead to the dream opportunity.