As a career coach, my work is all about examining people's lives and careers and making sense of the seeming randomness. I always start by asking clients to complete my Career Path Self-Assessment survey, which leads them to deeply examine their early selves, their previous jobs, and a variety of other important information. From this array of data, I can quickly uncover core life themes, roadblocks, unique skills and talents, and lost passions. I put this all together to help folks move away from work they dislike, towards more fulfilling and successful professional directions.
While it's very helpful to have a great career coach, the reality is that you can do this on your own. I've found after years of coaching that there are five core steps everyone can take to identify a more rewarding and exciting career that aligns with who they really are.
Why should you take these steps? Because you have the right to love what you do and do what you love. Everyone likes to say that loving your work is a pipedream - but it is not. Enjoying your career and feeling there's deep meaning and purpose in it is not just for a select, fortunate few. It's for anyone who believes in him/herself and takes the right kind of action.
Below are the top five most effective steps to take to figure yourself out and get on track to a more fulfilling career path:
1) Reconnect With the Early You
Go back and review your teens and early adult years. Everything you are today was nurtured from seeds planted then. What did you absolutely love to do, and what came easily and naturally? How did you stand out? What made people remember you and praise you? What skills, talents and activities helped define your identity then? For example, in my young life, I loved to: perform and sing (I was an actress and singer in high school), write, read, and study new ideas (I was an English major), understand human behavior (I loved psychology), help others, (friends always came to me with their problems), and challenge the status quo (I was a rebel at heart). That's the foundation of who I am, and in my best career (the one I have now), I utilize each and every one of these skills or traits daily.
2) Move Away From What You Hate
In every job there are aspects of your work you don't like. But in careers that are wrong for you, you're doing a LOT of what you hate. Just because you're good at something (like P&L forecasts, perhaps, or presenting annual budgets to a board, or analyzing meaningless statistics), doesn't mean you should be doing this work. Identify the types of projects, tasks, and activities you hate, and then explore new directions that won't demand doing work that isn't you.
3) Recognize Your Unique Values
You can't have a fulfilling career if you aren't able to express your intrinsic values or your standards of integrity openly. Take the time to uncover out what you deeply value (check out my book Breakdown Breakthrough, Chapter 11 - Using Real Talents in life and Work - for first steps in identifying your values). Your top values could be intellectual curiosity, helping others, innovating, taking chaos and turning into order, bringing beauty in the world - there is a long list of values for you to explore. Find new career directions or jobs that will allow you to openly express your values and your non-negotiable ways of being. If you can't honor your values in your current career, it's only a matter of time before you come to hate it.
4) Reinvent Your Money Relationship
People are paralyzed most in their careers over one thing - money. Thousands of professionals remain in miserable and damaging careers because of money. After people reinvent their careers (myself included), they realize that their slavery to the almighty dollar was their undoing. Critically examine your relationship with money. Are you relying on money, income or bank account as a self-esteem generator? Do you believe you must earn a certain dollar figure to have a happy life? Are you a slave to your own lifestyle, complete with your enormous house and garage full of cars and toys, or even where you live? The happiest career folks I know have totally reconfigured their relationship with money, and are all the better and more empowered for it.
5) Try It On
The reality of career change is that you can't discover a better career by sitting at your computer researching jobs online, or simply agonizing about it. You must identify new directions that are potentially right for you and your life, and then "try them on" for size. You can explore and try on a new professional identity in many ways, including: 1) immersing yourself in new a course or class, 2) volunteering, 3) interning, 4) consulting, 5) gaining new credentials, 6) shadowing professionals in the desired field. The list goes on and on. The key thing is to take action to help you personally experience the identity of this new career. Only then will you know if it's for you.
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A great new career won't just fall in your lap - you must do a good deal of inner and outer work to create a new path for yourself. It might take years (as it did in my case). You might be 50 or more by the time you do it, but hey - you'll be 50 someday anyway, right? Why not arrive at midlife with a fulfilling, successful and purposeful worklife? It's a far more joyful way to go.