5 Mindful Questions to Help You Determine Your Ideal Career

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

The difference between a job and a career

While a job is something that one does solely for the money involved, a career involves a chosen occupation which often has room for progression in that specific field. Delivering pizzas for extra pocket money would be an example of a job, while teaching or medicine are possible career paths. If you work a typical 40-hours per week, that is 2,080 hours each year that you are spending at work, and a career often spans decades of a person’s life. Decades. That is a lot of hours devoted to one’s career and why it is so important to make sure you are doing what you love. The goal should be that you wake up excited by what you get to do each day—that you are thriving, not just surviving. While it’s never too late to figure out what you want to be when you grow up, the sooner you’re able to identify your ideal career, the more time you’ll have being happy and energized at work.

Here are 5 mindful questions to help determine your ideal career:

#1: What are your values?

In general, people are happiest when what they do in life matches their values. Examples of values can be things such as family, relationships, health, nature, travel, honesty, financial freedom, spirituality, success, and knowledge. There are many other values as well, but the key is that your day is spent in line with at least some of your core values. For instance, if two of your core values were social justice and equality, you would likely be miserable in a job on Wall Street, but might thrive in a non-profit setting.

There’s no right or wrong regarding values; just be honest in what yours are. If you aren’t sure what your top values are, the fastest way to figure it out is to ask yourself this question: where do you spend your 1) free time and your 2) money? People with family as their top value tend to spend their time and money on family activities, or someone who values the outdoors might go hiking or biking every weekend. List your values and then determine if your current career lines up with any of your top ones.

#2: When are you in the flow where you lose track of time?

The goal of mindfulness is to live as much as possible in the present moment, which is where all of the good stuff in life happens. When you are so absorbed in something that you lose track of time, you are fully immersed in the present. For many people, this state of flow occurs when they are involved in a favorite hobby. The definition of a hobby is: an activity done regularly in one’s leisure time for pleasure. It’s something done due to the love of doing it, rather than for a secondary gain such as money. Some potential responses could be: when you’re gardening, taking photos, building model cars, skiing, rock climbing, jewelry-making, writing, woodworking, or playing with your children. You get the idea. When answering this question, you will probably come up with more than one answer, which is great so think of all incidents where you lose track of time.

A fun extension of this question is: as a child, what did you want to be when you grew up? No matter how far-fetched the answer might be, it often highlights what excited you as a child, and we often lose touch with that inner child as we grow. When you identify when you are most in the flow, keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that your answer means you should make that hobby a career. Some people worry that making something they love into a job will cause them to lose their passion for it, whereas others would be thrilled to get to do their hobby full-time. The key is just to tap into those things that excite you, because you can use that passion to determine what is missing from your current career.

#3: What skills do you have that are unique?

Everyone has a combination of strengths, personality traits, and life experiences that make them unique. When you identify the things that make you stand out, you can better explore how to use those strengths. This could be having an amazing aptitude with numbers, whipping up an amazing meal without a recipe, or being someone who easily makes new friends.

If this question is hard for you, think about the last time you received a compliment. Has someone told you that you’re great at solving puzzles, a great cook or that they admire your homemade curtains? Did someone ask you where you got that awesome table or bookcase only to find out that you made it? NOTE: Don’t discount a skill based on not liking an aspect of it. For instance, if you are great with numbers, but didn’t enjoy being an accountant, it doesn’t mean there isn’t another great fit for you, such as data analysis or forecast modeling.

#4: What does your ideal work day look like?

You can try a fun visualization exercise before answering this one. Try closing your eyes and visualize what an ideal day at work would look like, and more importantly, feel like, for you. Don’t focus on what the actual job involves. What type of co-workers do you have in this ideal job, e.g. motivated, collaborative, creative, or independent? Or do you not picture co-workers at all, and see yourself working mostly alone? What is the management style of your dream boss, such as detail-oriented or more unstructured but supportive? Or are you the boss or business owner? What does the environment look like, e.g. bright open space, private office with door, your own house, or frequent traveling to different cities or countries?

When you feel excited and happy in the visualization, like it almost seems real, then you’ve succeeded in tricking your brain, so now you can open your eyes. Jot down everything you experienced in this visualization. Notice how close or far this ideal work day is from your current work experience. Also, keep in mind, that your ideal work day may look very different than your friends or family’s version, and that’s okay—own your vision and don’t let peer pressure talk you out of it.

#5: What would you be doing right now if money was no object?

What would you be doing if money did not matter at all to you? Even if your first inclination is to say “nothing,” think past the initial period of lounging on the couch playing video games or binge-watching Game of Thrones. People thrive when they feel they are living up to their full potential. Would you start your own charitable foundation? Your own business? Would you travel the world and experience new cultures? Move closer to family or loved ones?  Hint: Answering this question also helps you identify your true values in life.

Begin the Journey Toward Your New Career

Your new career starts now.

Too often people stay stuck in careers that aren’t satisfying to them, many times to fears or limiting beliefs about what they think is possible for them. So many of our challenges in life are mental, rather than physical, so use these questions as a starting point. Read through all your responses and notice any common themes, words, or ideas. These repetitions give clues as to potential career ideas. Keep in mind that there is usually not one perfect job out there for you, just like there’s not one perfect partner, so you’re just opening yourself up to possibilities at this point. Use your answers as food for thought in your journey toward a new career, and take the first step today. Did you notice any similarities in your responses to these questions? Did any of your answers surprise you? What step will you take next?

Kristi Helvig, Ph.D., C.P.C., is a licensed clinical psychologist and certified professional life and career coach who works with clients all over the world via Skype, or locally in her Denver office. Contact Dr. Kristi to set up a free coaching consultation at drhelvig (at) yahoo.com.