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How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

Mentally strong people don’t let others determine their career paths. Instead, they take charge of their own lives and go where there want to go. I was lucky to realize that at the stage where I was making my own career decision, and I want to share my story with you.

I planned to become a medical doctor.

Back when I was in high school and through the first couple of years in college, I had a clear career goal. Why? Looking back at it, my career goal was a result of the encouragement and expectations from my family and friends.

My family emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 10, and we spent the next few years living in poverty. I remember my parents’ early jobs in America, my dad driving a bread delivery truck and my mom cleaning other people’s houses. We couldn’t afford nice things. I felt so ashamed in front of other kids for not being able to get that latest cool backpack or wear cool clothes – always on the margins, never fitting in. My parents encouraged me to become a medical doctor. They gave up successful professional careers when they moved to the US, and they worked long and hard to regain financial stability. It’s no wonder that they wanted me to have a career that guaranteed a high income, stability, and prestige.

My friends also encouraged me to go into medicine. This was especially so with my best friend in high school, who also wanted to become a medical doctor. He wanted to have a prestigious job and make lots of money, which sounded like a good goal to have and reinforced my parents’ advice. In addition, friendly competition was a big part of what my best friend and I did – whether arguing with each other about life questions or playing poker into the wee hours of the morning. Putting in long hours to ace the biochemistry exam and get a high score on the standardized test to get into medical school was just another way for us to show each other who was top dog. I still remember the thrill of finding out that I got the higher score on the standardized test. I had won!

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As you can see, it was very easy for me to go along with what my friends and family encouraged me to do.

I was in my last year of college, working through the complicated and expensive process of applying to medical schools, when I came across an essay question that stopped in me in my tracks:

“Why do you want to be a medical doctor?”

The question stopped me in my tracks. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? Well, it’s what everyone around me wanted me to do. It was what my family wanted me to do. It was what my friends encouraged me to do. It would mean getting a lot of money. It would be a very safe career. It would be prestigious. So it was the right thing for me to do. Wasn’t it?

Well, maybe it wasn’t.

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I realized that I never really stopped and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. My career is how I would spend much of my time every week for many, many years, but I never considered what kind of work I would actually want to do, not to mention whether I would want to do the work that’s involved in being a medical doctor. As a medical doctor, I would work long and sleepless hours, spend my time around the sick and dying, and hold people’s lives in my hands. Is that what I wanted to do?

There I was, sitting at the keyboard, staring at the blank Word document with that essay question at the top. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

My mind was racing, my thoughts were jumbled. What should I do? I decided to talk to someone I could trust, so I called my girlfriend to help me deal with my mini-life crisis. She was very supportive, as I thought she would be. She told me I shouldn’t do what others thought I should do, but think about what would make me happy. More important than making money, she said, is having a lifestyle you enjoy, and that lifestyle can be had for much less than I might think.

Her words provided a valuable outside perspective for me. By the end of our conversation, I realized that I had no interest in doing the job of a medical doctor. And that if I continued down the path I was on, I would be miserable in my career, doing it just for the money and prestige. I realized that I was on the medical school track because others I trusted – my parents and my friends – told me it was a good idea so many times that I believed it was true, regardless of whether it was actually a good thing for me to do.

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Why did this happen?

I later learned that I found myself in this situation in part because of a common thinking error which scientists call the mere-exposure effect. This term refer to our brain’s tendency to believe something is true and good just because we are familiar with it, regardless of whether that something is actually true and good.

Since I learned about the mere-exposure effect, I am much more suspicious of any beliefs I have that are frequently repeated by others around me, and go the extra mile to evaluate whether they are true and good for me. This means I can gain agency and intentionally take actions that help me toward my long-term goals.

So what happened next?

After my big realization about medical school and the conversation with my girlfriend, I took some time to think about my actual long-term goals. What did I – not someone else – want to do with my life? What kind of a career did I want to have? Where did I want to go?

I was always passionate about history. In grade school I got in trouble for reading history books under my desk when the teacher talked about math. As a teenager, I stayed up until 3am reading books about World War II. Even when I was on the medical school track in college I double-majored in history and biology, with history my love and joy. However, I never seriously considered going into history professionally. It’s not a field where one can make much money or have great job security.

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After considering my options and preferences, I decided that money and security mattered less than a profession that would be genuinely satisfying and meaningful. What’s the point of making a million bucks if I’m miserable doing it, I thought to myself. I chose a long-term goal that I thought would make me happy, as opposed to simply being in line with the expectations of my parents and friends. So I decided to become a history professor.

My decision led to some big challenges with those close to me. My parents were very upset to learn that I no longer wanted to go to medical school. They really tore into me, telling me I would never be well off or have job security. Also, it wasn’t easy to tell my friends that I decided to become a history professor instead of a medical doctor. My best friend even jokingly asked if I was willing to trade grades on the standardized medical school exam, since I wasn’t going to use my score. Not to mention how painful it was to accept that I wasted so much time and effort to prepare for medical school only to realize that it was not the right choice for me. I really I wish this was something I realized earlier, not in my last year of college.

3 steps to prevent this from happening to you:

If you want to avoid finding yourself in a situation like this, here are 3 steps you can take:

  1. Stop and think about your life purpose and your long-term goals. Write these down on a piece of paper.
  2. Now review your thoughts, and see whether you may be excessively influenced by messages you get from your family, friends, or the media. If so, pay special attention and make sure that these goals are also aligned with what you want for yourself. Answer the following question: if you did not have any of those influences, what would you put down for your own life purpose and long-term goals? Recognize that your life is yours, not theirs, and you should live whatever life you choose for yourself. This approach is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors such as the mere-exposure effect.
  3. Review your answers and revise them as needed every 3 months. Avoid being attached to your previous goals. Remember, you change throughout your life, and your goals and preferences change with you. Don’t be afraid to let go of the past, and welcome the current you with arms wide open.

Featured photo credit: Smiling via flickr.com

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on November 3, 2020

How to Mind Map to Visualize Ideas (With Mind Map Examples)

How to Mind Map to Visualize Ideas (With Mind Map Examples)

When you have a lot of ideas in your mind, you may create a text document, or take a sheet of paper and start writing in a linear fashion. However, this type of document quickly becomes overwhelming. It lacks in clarity and makes it hard for you to get a full picture at a glance and see what is missing. Instead, try looking at some mind map examples to learn how to mind map and visualize your thoughts.

Mind maps can help you zoom out and see the whole hierarchy and how everything is connected. You may see connections you were missing before and find new ways of brainstorming solutions.

Below, you’ll find more information on mind maps and see some mind map examples to inspire you next time you need to organize information.

What Is a Mind Map?

A mind map is a simple hierarchical radial diagram invented by Tony Buzan[1]. In other words, you organize your thoughts around a central idea. This technique is especially useful whenever you need to declutter your brain or develop an idea, a project (for example, a new product or service), a problem, a solution, etc. By capturing what you have in your head, you make space for other thoughts.

In this article, we are focusing on the basics: mind mapping using a pen and paper.

The objective of a mind map is to clearly visualize all your thoughts and ideas. Don’t complicate a mind map with too many colors or distractions. Use different colors only when they serve a purpose. Always keep a mind map simple and easy to follow.

How to mind map: Mind map example

    Image Credit: English Central

    By following the three next steps below, you will be able to create such mind maps easily and quickly.

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    3 Simple Steps to Create a Mind Map

    The three steps are:

    1. Set a central topic
    2. Add branches of related ideas
    3. Add sub-branches for more relevant ideas

    Let’s take a look at an example Verbal To Visual illustrates on the benefits of mind mapping.[2]

    Step 1 : Set a Central Topic

    Take a blank sheet of paper, write down the topic you’ve been thinking about: a problem, a decision to make, an idea to develop, or a project to clarify.

    Word it in a clear and concise manner. It can be a single word or even a central image.

    How to mind map: start with a central idea

      Step 2 : Add Branches of Related Ideas

      What is the first idea that comes to mind when you think of the subject for your mind map? Draw a line (straight or curved) from the central topic, and write down that idea.

        Step 3 : Add Sub-Branches for More Relevant Ideas

        Then, what does that idea make you think of? What is related to it? List it out nearby by connecting it with shorter lines or a line of a different color. Ensure that it remains organized.

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          You can always add images or other branches later, but that’s good for now.

          In our example, we could detail the sub-branch “Benefits” by listing those benefits in sub-branches of the branch “Benefits.” Unfortunately, we already reached the side of the sheet, so we’re out of space to do so. You could always draw a line to a white space on the page and list them there, but it’s awkward.

          Since we created this mind map on a regular letter-format sheet of paper, the quantity of information that fits in there is very limited. That is one of the main reasons why I recommend that you use software rather than pen and paper for most of the mind mapping that you do.

          Repeat Step 2 and Step 3

          Repeat steps 2 and 3 as many times as you need to flush out all of your ideas around the topic that you chose.

          Mind map example

            I added first-level (main) branches around the central topic mostly in a clockwise fashion, from top-right to top-left. That is how, by convention, a mind map is read.

            In the next section, we are covering the three strategies to building your maps.  

            Mind Map Examples to Illustrate Mind Mapping

            You can go about creating a mind map in various ways:

            • Branch by Branch: Adding whole branches (with all of their sub-branches), one by one.
            • Level by Level: Adding elements to the map, one level at a time. That means that firstly, you add elements around the central topic (main branches). Then, you add sub-branches to those main branches.
            • Free-Flow: Adding elements to your mind map as they come to you, in no particular order.

            Branch by Branch

            Start with the central topic, and add a first branch. Focus on that branch and detail it as much as you can by adding all the sub-branches that you can think of.

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              Then develop ideas branch by branch.

                One your ideas have filled the branches, the mind map is complete.

                Branch by branch mind map example

                  Level by Level

                  In this “Level by Level” strategy of mind map examples, you first add all the elements that you can think of around the central topic, one level deep only. Here, you add elements on level 1:

                    Then, go over each branch and add the immediate sub-branches (one level only). This is level 2:

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                      Do the same for the next level (level 3). You can have as many levels as you want in a mind map. In our example, we only have 3 levels. Now the map is complete:

                      Level by level mind map example

                        Free-Flow

                        Basically, a free flow strategy of mind mapping is to add main branches and sub-topics freely. There are no rules to restrict how ideas should flow in the mind map. The only thing to pay attention to is that you need to be careful about the level of the ideas you’re adding to the mind map — is it a main topic, or is it a subtopic?

                        Free flow mind map example

                          Try each strategy and combinations of strategies, and see what works best for you to help you start problem solving.

                          The Bottom Line

                          When you’re feeling stuck or when you’re just starting to think about a particular idea or project, take out a paper and start to brain dump your ideas and create a mind map using the mind map examples above. Mind mapping has the magic to clear your head and organize your thoughts.

                          If you can’t always have access to a paper and pen, don’t worry! Creating a mind map with software is very effective, and you get none of the drawbacks of pen and paper. You can also apply the above steps and strategies just the same when using a mind mapping tool on a phone and computer.

                          More Tools to Help You Organize Thoughts

                          Featured photo credit: Alvaro Reyes via unsplash.com

                          Reference

                          [1] Tony Buzan Group: Home
                          [2] Verbal to Visual: A Mind Mapping Approach To Your Sketchnotes

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