We have the glorious problem of nearly limitless career options, and the means to search job openings in Hawaii while sitting in Norway. But the down side is a bewildering tangle of career paths. How can we know we’re on the right one?
Take a deep breath and ask yourself these clarifying questions.
Am I Questioning My Career, or Just My Job?
If you’re wondering if you’re on the right career path, remember that a career isn’t a job, and a job isn’t a career. Careers are lifelong journeys which build on our education, experience, and strengths. Jobs are the ways in which we pursue our careers.
Frustration with a particular job doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the wrong career. To avoid confusing the two, ask yourself how you spend a typical day at work. If most days you’re dreading walking through the door, think about why.
Is it that you don’t get along with the people around you? Do you disagree with the company’s values and how it is run? Do you go completely unheard by your supervisors? If most of the answers are yes, you’re not happy with your job.
On the other hand, do you dread undertaking most daily tasks outlined in the job description? Are your supervisor’s projected outcomes a mismatch for your strengths and skills? Are you struggling to grasp the basic concepts of what you’re expected to do? A lot of yesses here indicate the need for a serious look at your career path.
Is There Something Else Going on in My Life?
Personal issues such as a family illness or a troubled marriage can invade every other aspect of our days. Perhaps you’re questioning your career path because you’re experiencing upheaval elsewhere. If all else seems out of kilter, it may not be the best time to derail what could be your optimal career track. It’s always a good idea to talk to a competent mental health professional or perhaps a mentor in your career to help you work through these issues.
The International Labor Organization has cited a study which states that employees are more prone to burn out at their current job if they are experiencing stress in their personal lives. So if you’re suddenly questioning life at work, examine life at home as part of the process.
Are My Skills Being Utilized?
Evaluating your career path could be as simple as asking if you’re being paid to contribute by using your strengths. Applying your talents at work is not only useful to your employer, it helps you to feel more engaged, less stressed, and more committed to your work.
A Gallup poll states that most Americans use their strengths at work less than six hours a day. Is your present career path using them even less? Are you in the right industry, or is a lateral move to a similar but more efficient application of your talents worth the trouble of a job hunt. Changing the path sooner rather than later means that you will have spent more time sharpening your talents, building up networking contacts, and building experience than if you had stayed put.
Asking yourself what subjects you were best at in school (no, recess and lunch don’t count), which tasks give you the most satisfaction, and what you enjoy the most are good starting points for finding out whether or not your current career path is encouraging growth or crushing your mojo. In the event you were a math whiz who could out-logic your older siblings and you find yourself on a track which values abstract thinking without a ton of planning, it’s a good idea to re-evaluate.
Is My Current Career Path a Good Fit for My Personality?
Personality traits are different from talents. When someone mentions “personality traits” or “personality types,” that’s referring to how your background, strengths, internal preferences, predilections, and brain wiring approach both daily and abstract situations. Zeroing in on your personality type can help confirm that you’re on the right career path.
For example, a person who shows that he or she is most fulfilled by working solo and with non-concrete concepts is probably not going to be very happy with a lifetime of work as a financial advisor. Conversely, people who are is happiest dealing in logic and large power structures are going to be miserable floral designers.
Theories about how personalities are formed and express themselves are abundant. For the most part, the more factors a personality survey takes into consideration, the more accurate it may be. If your personality is a mystery to you, there are a wealth of surveys to turn to; it may be a good idea to try several so that you have a composite of results to consider. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that we’re all individuals, and no one is going to fit perfectly in any personality descriptor.
A popular personality sorter is the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. The MBTI uses a series of preference questions to determine how one fits into 16 different personality types. These categories are denoted by letter groupings, and take into account mental functions and preferences. Some companies even administer this test to job candidates and new employees to determine how and if they will fit with the company. Paying attention to how you process information and demands can help you confirm your career path.
Am I Seeking My Ideal Career Path?
It’s easy to conflate complete happiness with a fulfilling work life. However, between online shopping, instant music downloads, and delivery from every restaurant under the sun, we’re becoming rapidly immune to the downfalls of instant gratification. It can easily seep into the workplace. Ask yourself if you’re seeking a career which meets all your needs, not just most.
It takes time to build a career—for the roots to reach down and your branches to spread out. Finding the right balance between reasonable expectations and self-knowledge are key in discerning the right career path.