Many life coaches say that the secret to success is to look for a career, not a job. In other words, think long-term. Ideally, every position you accept will sharpen your skills and expand your network, so that your market value increases with each passing year.
However, this is easier said than done. ‘I don’t know what to do with my life!’ you moan. Or you’re doing too many things and are confused by the options in front of them. These questions may help you sort through the confusion. Maybe it will help you decide what you want (or at least be clear about what you don’t want.
1. What are your strengths?
What are you good at? You can list talents (like writing or cooking) but don’t stop there. Are you organized? Is it easy for you to establish rapport with other people? Do you work well under pressure? If you don’t know how to start answering this question, try to recall he times in your life when you felt most confident or ‘in your element.’ Maybe it was the summer you volunteered for your community fund raiser. What did you enjoy most about that? What made you very effective at that role?
2. What are your values?
There’s a difference between being successful and being happy. Many people spend many years building a particular career and then become miserable because their work (and what is demanded from them) conflicts with their personal value system.
For example, if you’ve always wanted a family and dream of being a hands-on parent, you’d probably want to direct your career path so you can take a job with flexible hours. That can mean choosing an industry that allows telecommuting, or building your resume so you can become sought-after consultant.
3. What do you like to do?
You know what they say: if you love your job, you’ll never work a day in your life. Admittedly, this question can only be answered by experience. Many fresh graduates will have to go through jobs they hate, and sometimes they find the job they love purely by chance. However, you can ‘fast-track’ this process by trying as many new things as you can. Even if you’re (temporarily) stuck in the company-from-hell, volunteer for projects and grab opportunities to train in other departments.
4. What experience do you have, and what experience do you need?
Maybe you know what you want but don’t have the qualifications to get that dream job. The secret is to ‘fill the gap.’ Look at job sites to know what skills and experience are required for your desired position. Look for jobs that will develop those aspects. Take an on-line course. Read industry books. Don’t walk away and say, ‘I don’t have what it takes.’ Roll up your sleeves and say, ‘I’ll do what it takes.’
5. What does your employer really expect?
The worst thing you can possible do is to idealize a career or a position. For example, many people think that the movie industry is glamorous and exciting—then get the shock of their lives when they learn about the long hours on the set, the very specialized and very technical skills required from the crew, and the fact that 99% of the Hollywood industry are underpaid and never have job stability.
Try to find people who actually work in the industry you desire, or hold the ‘dream job’ you’ll be spending a good portion of your life pursuing. Ask them what their typical day is like, and the kind of jobs they had to go through to get there. Are you willing to go through that? Is the reality worth it?
6. What’s your personality?
Skills can only bring you so far. You also need to have certain qualities to thrive in a particular work environment. For example, if you want to join the advertising industry, you do need to be able to work well under pressure. If you want to be an entrepreneur, you have to be a self-motivator and be comfortable with taking risks.
7. What are your limitations?
Life isn’t perfect. You may want to be a doctor, but your family may not be able to afford medical school. You may want to be a theater actor, but you have four kids and a mortgage to pay. We’re not saying that you should feel trapped by circumstances—if something really means a lot to you, go ahead and try—but at least be aware of reality, and the sacrifices you may have to make along the way. If you think, ‘No, this isn’t going to work,’ don’t resign yourself to a miserable, unfulfilled life. Are there other careers that resemble the one you first wanted? For example, you may not be able to be a doctor, but there are many ways you can help people ‘heal’: as a counselor, a teacher, an emergency technician, or even an acupuncturist!