Originally authored by Mary Warriner at Mary Warriner Blog
How on Earth do I design my career? It’s much easier than you think, but it does require you to do some thinking and be honest with yourself.
In high school, you were led to believe that selecting a career was easy. You may have taken an aptitude test or talked with the guidance counselor about which subjects you enjoyed most. If you’re anything like me, you may have read an article about how much money certain professions get paid or how there’s a lack of girls going into Science and Math fields.
Here’s how I selected what I wanted to do when I grew up: I was good at math and I liked it. I knew that I didn’t want to be a mathematician so I looked up other fields that used math. The one that stood out was Pharmacist. Did I mention that I didn’t really care for my science classes? I also didn’t bother to research all of the courses required to complete the Pharmacy degree.
I struggled for two years, determined to be a Pharmacist, struggling with classes. I finally admitted to myself that I was not going to be a Pharmacist. I excelled in my Social Science and Liberal Arts classes and was so much happier when I switched majors. This realization got me to graduation but not my ideal career. I fell into a job because I volunteered at a Community Center. They offered me an FT job with benefits. I stayed and was offered another FT position but I wasn’t really excited about the job and I certainly wasn’t making a ton of money working for a non-profit.
One day, I sat down and thought about the parts of the job that I really enjoyed and the things I didn’t. This led me to graduate school. From there a part-time job, a few temp jobs, a contract role and then finally a full-time job.
Each change helped me discover something about myself. You can do what I did and change jobs to try out something new or try these steps BEFORE switching roles.
1) LIFE AND CAREER REFLECTION:
Write down all of the things you want out of your career. This list is completely your’s and can have as many or as few items as you’d like. But be honest. If you want to be in charge, complete autonomy and an expense account – write it down. If you just want a job where someone tells you what to do all day and you clock out and go home at the end of the day – write it down. There is no wrong answer, it’s what you want.
Now, write out a list of everything you want in your life. This includes tangible and intangible items. Family, cars, vacations, how you want your life to feel, how you want to spend your weekends. Write it all down.
When you finish both lists, compare them and see if there are any conflicts. Let me give you an example: On your Career list, you indicated that you want to be responsible for overseas operations and travel 75% of the time. On your Life list, you wrote that you want to be home every night to tuck your kids into bed. Do you see the conflict?
2) RECORD YOUR DAY (OR WEEK):
Keep a log or print out your daily calendar and as you go through the day, note how you are feeling after each item on your calendar.
- Breakfast meeting – energized lots of ideas.
- Staff meeting – drained too much chit-chat.
At the end of the day, or maybe you do this for a full week, evaluate the log and see if anything surprises you. Dig a little deeper on those items. If you were surprised that the staff meeting drained you, think back to what occurred. You didn’t like that the meeting was derailed by chit-chat when they are normally efficient and productive.
Just make a note of the surprises and the activities that really energized you. Do this periodically, maybe monthly or quarterly. Review all of the sheets to see what activities you should do more of and which you should see about eliminating from your schedule.
3) THREE PATHS EXERCISE:
Imagine that you are standing at the entrance to a forest. There are three paths you could take, each leads you to a different career. I want you to write down what each career path looks like. This is VERY important: write down how you feel as you describe what you see along that path. Do you feel excited and motivated? Do you feel bored? Are you nervous?
Now, writing down the first two paths will probably be fairly easy for you. Most likely you’ll write a version of what you’re doing now and the second will be what you’ve been thinking of doing. For the third path, really push yourself. What would you do if money were no object? If your families opinions didn’t matter to you? Here’s your opportunity to design a new career for yourself. Know that there are no limits to any of these paths. Just write down what comes to you!
4) TRY SOMETHING NEW: WITHOUT QUITTING YOUR JOB
So you’ve discovered that you would like to be more involved with Children. Volunteer at a Youth Center or join the Board of an organization.
Maybe you would like to do more of something in your current job: Offer to partner with another department to do that thing.
You think you’d like to switch industries completely? You’re currently an Engineer and you want to be a Teacher. Set up meetings with Teachers and inquire about their typical day. How did they find their job? Are there openings where they work now? What else do you want to know about being a teacher?
5) DESIGN YOUR DREAM JOB:
You may now have an idea of what you want your dream job to look like, but the perfect job description for you probably doesn’t exist. It’s only in your mind because it’s completely unique to you. However, if you combine the first four steps, you can create the perfect job.
Talk to people about what type of job you’re imagining. Find a job close to your ideal and continue to evaluate what you love about the job and things you don’t. Volunteer to take on projects to do more of what you love. Talk to your manager about the tasks you want to take on, and what you love doing. Continue to explore different paths and switch paths as needed. Before you know it, you’ve created the career you’ve been dreaming about.
6) DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP:
This is the most important step, so don’t skip it! If you realize that you don’t love the job you’re in or you aren’t enjoying that Board you volunteered for, it’s okay! Just admit that this isn’t the path for you and move on. You don’t have to stress out and worry about it, just let it go. It’s all alright!
Every move we make is a step in our journey. Don’t wait for perfection; take action now. This life is yours and you can create your dream career. Learn to be the designer of your own destiny and you’ll realize that the journey matters more than the destination.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to hear from you.
Leave a comment below and tell me what steps you’ve taken to design your own career.
This exercise was adapted from the book: Designing Your Life by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans.