How To Choose The Right Career For You

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woman working on laptop

Given that our career is a defining factor in most people's lives, it's common to feel intense pressure and fear when trying to figure out how to choose a career path. You obviously want to make the best decision possible, thereby setting yourself up for a life filled with both professional satisfaction and financial success. If only you could find some peace, knowing for certain which choice is right for you.

You are savvy, smart and resourceful, so you will figure it out. With a little guidance, you will find a career path that engages your personal strengths, hopefully working in a field in which your job means more to you than just a paycheck.

Figuring it all out just takes a little inner exploration — and the simple guide below is a great place to start.

As author, educator and social activist Palmer J. Parker says in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, “Your vocation comes from a voice in here, calling you to be the special person you were born to be."

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But how many people do you know who do the bare minimum at work in order to earn a decent paycheck, even if it means doing so with an empty heart? If you want to live a meaningful life, choosing a career path that brings you fulfillment and satisfaction is absolutely critical.

Asking yourself the right questions and taking some strategic steps will help you determine which career is best suited to your education, interests, skills and authentic self.

Follow these steps to choose the right career path:

1. Ask yourself: What kills your joy at work?

Knowing what doesn't work for you is a good first step.

In my very first job out of high school, I was a door-to-door encyclopedia sales representative, a job I never put on my resume. Following a two-week training period, I lasted all of one whole day on the job. It was a complete mismatch for me.

My approach to searching for jobs had been looking for openings in areas I loved or knew well ... like encyclopedias. As a child, I spent hours each day reading and paging carefully through the 24 volumes of The World Book Encyclopedia that introduced me to the universe of knowledge.

But while reading it was my favorite way to learn, selling it to strangers did not generate joy for me. In fact, it was the opposite! I felt discouraged and tired. I learned that despite my interest in encyclopedias, what killed my joy in that career was being responsible for project details, having no freedom to decide for myself how to do the job, and interpersonal conflict.

Think back to your previous professional experiences and ask yourself what killed your joy there. You can then use these experiences to identify what will not work for you in the future.

2. Ask yourself: What fills you with joy at work?

Once you've identified what you didn't like in your past professional experiences, consider what it is you do like.

For example, my first job out of college involved creating partnership opportunities for a small medical center. I learned unexpectedly that I loved the early visioning process of projects — and that I have no business staying around beyond that stage. In other words, I excel at starting creative and exciting things, but not at managing them.

Consider your own past experience and ask yourself what it was that filled your tank with joy and energy on the job.

3. Determine what it is you value most.

Think about those things that are most important to you in life and why you feel that way about them. Hover your thoughts over each thought that arises until you gain new insights and perspectives on your core values.

Ask yourself the following questions to dig deeper when assessing your core values:

  • What do I want to change or abolish?
  • What do I want to establish? Who, if anyone, is already doing that?
  • Which companies or agencies reflect what matters to me most?
  • What is my preferred management style?
  • What is my ideal work environment?
  • Where do they work like that?
  • Who can I contact to discuss potential collaboration?

Add your own questions to this list as you hone in on what matters to you most in terms of finding the right job and career path.

4. Identify what it is you are most passionate about in life.

When writing his book, What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question, Po Bronson conducted in-depth interviews with more than 900 people. In doing so, he found that "many people have this notion or hope that their calling will come to them one day, as an epiphany and it’ll be clear."

Yet, for most of the people he talked to, he discovered that "very little was clear when they began their journey. It had to unravel, slowly, over time. Powerful epiphanies are actually very rare.”

Bronson says one of the reasons many of us don’t recognize our true passion is because it seems so natural to us.

This can cause you to overlook the fact that your destiny could actually involve doing something you love to do that also comes easily to you. When you focus on what you like to do naturally, your passions will surface and gradually bring to light a career path that reflects the very core of who you are.

5. Consider any obstacles you might encounter in pursuing your goals.

Be prepared to encounter voices that will try to discourage you and convince you to turn back — either internally or from others. That's why it's important to find allies and trusted companions who can offer support.

You will need the confidence to walk through the fear of being rejected or misunderstood in order to find that fulfilling career you’ve been looking for.

6. Make a list of potential jobs you might thrive in.

Looking back on the steps you've taken up to this point, which types of jobs or fields of interest do you believe would be the best match for your core values, passions and goals? Make a list of those you'd like to explore further.

7. Create or update your resume and identify any gaps in skills, education and/or training.

Look through the job descriptions for positions you might want to pursue based on the list of careers you are now most interested. Do you have the necessary training, skills, education and experience employers are looking for?

If so, make sure you resume accurately explains why you would make a great candidate. If not, do some thorough research to find out what it would take for you to become one and consider whether or not you're willing and able to put in the necessary additional time, effort, and )potentially) money to do so.

8. Start applying for positions.

As you go through the application and interview process, you will continue to learn about yourself, as well as about the fields you are interested in and whether or not they are really a good match for you.

Summary

Since you are smart and savvy, you already recognize that choosing a career is a lifelong journey. Asking yourself the questions above and taking the time to answer them honestly will help determine the shape of your future.

By doing so, you can uncover the career path that's best for you and feel confident that you're headed in the right direction.

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Walter W. Sawatzky is is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, where his studies focused on non-formal education. He is certified as a Master Transition Coach and as a practitioner of the StrengthsFinder 2.0, EQ in Action Profile and the High Performance Patterns process. Contact him through his website for support in creating a satisfying professional future.