Sometimes I wish I could call someone and ask ‘what should I do with my life’? Wouldn’t it be great to have someone else tell you, if you do A, B, and C, you will feel happy, fulfilled and everything will work out? Wouldn’t it be great to have certainty related to your future, professionally and personally? Let’s be honest, I would be rich if I could be that person for others! What a gift that would be. Unfortunately, I have not figured how to precisely answer those questions for myself, much less for other people. I have, though, identified a few key questions that I think are worth asking yourself if you are interested in finding a career that feels less like a job and more like a passion.
- What does your ideal day look like? Your ideal week? In answering this question, think about whether or not you like to have your time structured or be more autonomous. Do you like to work alone or with people? Do you perform better if you leave your house? While you might not always get to choose your ideal day as part of your job, you can certainly seek out pieces of your ideal day in different roles that you consider.
- Before you retire, what do you want to be known for professionally and personally? What is your professional reputation right now? Do you want to change, expand or vary it? Sometimes thinking ahead and visualizing yourself at the end of your career can help to put your values, goals and objectives into perspective. Looking back on the bigger picture of your professional life can often refocus you on what is important to you and help you pass over things that aren’t.
- What do you most enjoy learning about? Thinking about? Talking about? Do you prefer to learn in a classroom environment or from a textbook? What topics do you love talking about? While not every person who loves race cars can, or should, work in the racing industry, reflecting on what it is about race cars that you love and trying to surround yourself with others who have similar passions can help to make you feel more engaged and excited about your own professional life.
- What emotion or sensation do you associate with success: Happiness? Excitement? Pride? Stress-free? Your answer to this question may determine what type of work you seek out and how often you hope to change your work. If you are someone who likes to be excited and constantly stimulated, you will likely benefit from a fast-paced, diverse job. If you consider your ideal job to be stress-free, then you will likely want a constant, low-intensity work environment. Departments and companies change, so while a job might have started as a good match for you, over time, it might become something else. It is important to continually check-in with yourself about how your work environment is affecting your emotions.
- What are you willing to give up? Continuing with the question above, if you are someone who seeks out fast-paced work environments, then you will likely give up a degree of control in your schedule and place of work. If you are someone who prefers to be in charge of your schedule and be an autonomous worker, then you will likely give up opportunities that exist in larger corporations because they are typically more bureaucratic. A person once told me: it is not comparing the pros that lead to a decision for someone, but rather comparing the cons. I thought that this was great advice, because in the end, whether you are an optimist or a pessimist, it is the cost of a decision to which a person pays the most attention to and remembers the longest.
Answers to these questions are not simple and often take time to work through. In truth, over the course of my career, my answers to these questions have changed. I do not think that they are stagnant or simple. Answers to these questions will not tell you what title or position you should seek out. However, they will help you to identify what role might be most likely to lead to a feeling of professional fulfillment. I recommend reviewing these questions on a yearly basis or when you feel a transition is coming. Reflecting on where you have been, where you are and where you hope to go in your professional path always behooves you and helps you to make informed decisions.
Rebecca Glavin joins the Center for Career Development after having spent a number of years running her own practice, Glavin Counseling, as a clinician in Charlotte. She has an organizational psychology background and previously worked in leadership development consulting. Rebecca holds a BA in Psychology from Middlebury College, a Masters in Business Administration from UNC Charlotte, and a Masters in Social Work from Boston University.