As a Ph.D. licensed clinical psychologist and certified professional coach, one of the favorite services I provide in my practice is career coaching. Some clients come to me because their job is no longer a fit for them, and common phrases I hear are “I can’t stand one more day of corporate” or some variation of “this job is sucking the life out of me.” Reasons for staying in the job are often due to stability, financial gain, and many times, fear of the unknown. There’s something to the saying, “The devil you know is better than the one you don’t,” so people sometimes stay in unsatisfying jobs, relationships, etc. due to the belief that “it could always be worse.” That is surviving, rather than thriving, and my goal is for people to thrive in every aspect of their life.
Some clients who see me already know exactly what they want, which ranges from starting their own business to getting into real estate. I’d estimate those clients are about 40% of my clientele. More often than not, I hear some variation of “Help, I’m [insert age] and I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up.” They know they want to do something different, but aren’t sure what exactly that is. Some fell into jobs based on opportunity, parental or familial expectations, or preconceived notions rather than identifying what they wanted to do with their life. They operated more from a “should” versus “want” mindset.
In terms of our generation, we’re very fortunate that we have more freedom to explore what we want versus the survival mode of generations past. As I’ve worked with people from ages 20 through 70, I can say with certainty that it’s never too late to find your dream job. However, most people carry fears and blocks of what they think is possible for them, and part of coaching is to explore and challenge these limiting beliefs. One of my favorite quotes is courtesy of Henry Ford:
“Whether you think that you can or think that you cannot,
you are right.”
So many of our challenges in life are mental, rather than physical, and it’s so rewarding to see people move out of their comfort zones by changing how they think, and then experience personal growth. Coaching in these cases starts with clarifying the individuals’ strengths and passions. I often use a combination of personality and career inventory assessments with clients, as they help to identify potential ideal jobs based on a combination of personality traits (e.g. introvert versus extrovert), and job skills and interests. However, even if you’re not working with a career coach, there are still steps you can take to help you clarify your next career move. I recommend starting with what you’re passionate about, but what if you’re not sure where your passion lies?
Finding your Passion
Here are a few ways to unlock your potential dream job or career. Take a pen or pencil and answer the following questions honestly. This is important, rather than doing it by computer or tablet, as handwriting has been shown to activate different parts of the brain than typing. There are no right or wrong answers, so write as much as you like, and in any form you like (bullet points, sentences, phrases, etc.)
1. What are your hobbies? When do you feel so involved in something that you lose track of time? 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 a secondary gain. Some potential responses might be: when I’m gardening, skiing, rock climbing, reading, woodworking, playing with my children, or fixing a car. You get the idea but feel free to brainstorm here – you will probably come up with more than one answer, which is great.
I’ll share my own personal story here too: I write sci-fi and fantasy novels for fun. When I started several years ago, it was purely for the love of doing it and I had no idea anything would come of it. Fast forward several years, and I have several published sci-fi novels through a New York publisher and am a regular speaker at Comic Con. My novel writing is different now, because it’s part of my business, which I love, but turning a hobby into a business isn’t for everyone.
2. What skills do you have that you feel set you apart from others? This could be having an amazing aptitude with numbers or being someone who easily makes new friends. If this question is hard for you, think about the last time you got a compliment. Has someone told you that you’re an outside the box thinker, creative, 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 involving numbers.
3. Write down your ideal work day. Don’t focus on what the actual job involves (seriously). First, just close your eyes and visualize what your perfect day would look like, and most importantly, feel like. What type of co-workers do you have (motivated, excited, creative, etc.)? What is the relationship of your boss like (or are you the boss?) If you prefer autonomy and don’t like to be micro-managed, then visualize a supportive and accessible boss who encourages your independence. What does the environment look like (bright open space, cubicles, office with door, outside, frequent traveling to different cities, etc.)
When you feel really happy like it almost feels real to you (and you’re smiling), then you’ve succeeded and have tricked your brain, so now you can open your eyes. Jot down everything you loved about this visualization. I’ll do another post soon about the power of visualization exercises and research about how they impact the brain. One powerful exercise I do as a follow-up with my clients is to examine how close or how far this ideal day is from their current work experience.
4. When you surf the internet, read books, or browse magazines, what are you drawn toward? Do you love going to travel sites, or do you prefer reading current news or the latest thriller, romance, or military novel? Clarifying your interests helps you to identify your passions.
5. What would you be doing right now if money were 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 that honeymoon period of sitting on the couch playing PS4 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?
Now, go back through all of your responses and read them again. Highlight or circle 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. Hopefully, this has given you some food for thought in your journey toward a new career.
Next time, I will go over some of the incredible power of visualization exercises in your career (whether you want to change careers or simply move to the next level in your current career).
Until then…:) Kristi