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5 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Career

5 Questions You Must Ask Yourself Before Choosing a Career

“You can do anything you put your mind to.” If you grew up in the late 80s or 90s, this is something you heard often either at home or on TV. And that’s a good thing—much better, at least, than the, “Get the highest paying job possible and count the days down to retirement” school of thought.

When your many years of education are behind you and it’s time to actually pick what that “anything” is, both pieces of advice can be paralyzing (and depressing). For some, finding the right career is simply a matter of browsing through job ads. For many others, the process takes a lot of exploration, self-reflection, and a willingness to redirect when necessary.

Whether you’re fresh out of college or a decade down the road, it’s important to embrace the process full-on. These 5 crucial questions are a great place to start.

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1. What am I good at?

Knowing what you’re good at—as in, really knowing—can be more complicated than it at first seems. Essentially, this breaks down into:
What you’re passionate about. Don’t confuse this with a bigger, more vague dream. Instead, do an inventory of pursuits both big and small that get you all fired up and have you losing track of time. Rather than, “becoming a rock star,” look for specific skills like, “learning new instruments,” “writing songs,” “talking about art” and, “interacting with a crowd.” This will help you not only pursue your bigger dreams, but also identify traits that can apply to jobs that are less of a reach.
Tasks you do easily. Sure, it might not be your life’s dream to lead a group of people, but if you find yourself naturally stepping into leadership positions, you might just be management or classroom bound. The same goes for those well-structured emails you type out rapidly, or your ability to sketch out a design in seconds flat. While placing easy tasks at the center of your career course won’t do you much good (feeling like your career is challenging and provides room for growth is crucial for satisfaction), skills that come easily to you can form the basis of greater things.
What other people say you do well. Most of us are shockingly poor judges of our own strengths and weaknesses, whether due to overconfidence or complete lack thereof. The younger you are, the truer this is likely to be, as you simply haven’t had the breadth of experience to show you just where you thrive. Asking peers, parents, teachers, colleagues and mentors to articulate your skills, either in a list, a resume, or a recommendation letter, can unearth strengths and interests you didn’t even know you had, or shed new light on talents you may be taking for granted.

2. What locations am I comfortable living in?

This one isn’t nearly as superficial as it sounds. Chances are, you’re going to be sticking with your chosen career for a while, and that means heading where the jobs are. For some jobs, like freelance writing, designing, and well, just about anything that can be done over the internet, it really doesn’t matter whether you work from Miami or Timbuktu  But if you choose magazine publishing, chances are you’ll wind up in New York. Entertainment industry? LA. Oil? Houston. Farming? The countryside.
As such, it’s worth considering what you need from the place you live, such as:
Amenities and Homes: Living in an 800-square foot apartment in Manhattan provides a much different experience than a 2,000 foot home in the suburbs. Determine what amenities are important to you both inside and outside of your living space.
Culture and Lifestyle: Do you enjoy living in a city with a constant stream of art openings, concerts, readings, tastings and other events, or do you prefer a slower lifestyle? Do you mind living in a place where the majority of people have different life values and political beliefs, or are you okay mixing it up? Culture and lifestyle inform who we are every day.
Access to Nature: Will Central Park suit your fancy, or do you prefer the nearby lakes, mountains and streams of a place like Seattle? Or would you rather call a mountain “neighbor” on your Montana ranch? While you may need to make compromises, it’s important not to choose a career that will keep you far away from the things that rejuvenate you and give you meaning.

3. How much control do I need over my own time?

Some people love the structure of a corporate job; other people hate it. For the former, this is simply a question to check off and move on. For the latter, it’s important to examine each potential career path with questions like:
• How much travel will there be?
• How much teamwork and meetings will be required?
• Are there opportunities to work from home either full or part-time?
• How flexible is the vacation policy?
• How strict are the hours? Will there be a lot of overtime?
• Are there opportunities at companies in this industry to do things like Google’s 20 percent time?
In some cases, the answers to these questions will be obvious. A congressional aide, for example, will have far less control over her time than a woman who runs a business out of her own home. But in many cases, these are things that can only be discovered as you go. What’s more, greater control is sometimes easier to find as you rise in the ranks, so it’s always best to keep an eye on future potential.

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4. Am I more introverted or extroverted?

Introverts and extroverts bring different sets of skills to the table. Extroverts will be miserable in a role that requires a lot of introverted skills, while introverts will similarly struggle when forced into an extrovert’s shoes. A few things to consider in any given role:
• Amount of public speaking
• Pace and amount of deadlines and communication
• Amount of teamwork and collaboration with colleagues
• Degree of stimulation in the work environment
• Amount of off-work socializing required
For a deeper look at this topic, we highly suggest reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking or watching her eye-opening TED talk.

5. How much money do I really need?

For some people, million dollar dreams need to be million dollar realities before they’re satisfied. Other people are much more comfortable at lower income levels, just as long as certain needs are fulfilled. Artists, for example, might be okay scraping by as long as they can do what they love, while non-profit workers can make do with less as long as they feel they’re giving back.

Consider how important it is to you to:
• Own your own home
• Consistently put away for longer term financial goals, like your retirement or a future child’s college fund
• Go on X number of vacations each year
• Be able to buy whatever you want, whenever you want

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The overall idea here is to pick a lifestyle, not a job title. Keep in mind that this, too, will change as you grow into your career and potentially have a family. For the best results, set monetary goals in increments of 5 years, and check these goals against your chosen path.

The Takeaway

In today’s market more than ever, a career is an evolving thing, with many professionals holding multiple titles within their lifetime. It’s really not about going all for passion, or all for money. It’s about balancing your wants and needs with your goals, talents and skills, and rerouting wherever needed.

For more on this subject, we suggest taking a read through this extensive career guide from Rasmussen College, and taking a spin through the data visualization below.

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what career is right for me

    Click image to open interactive version (via Rasmussen College).

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    5 Powerful Ideas on How to Be Productive at Work

    5 Powerful Ideas on How to Be Productive at Work

    Not being able to stay productive at work is a problem that everyone runs into at some point; no matter how much you like your job, there are certain factors that prevent you from staying at maximum proficiency throughout the whole day.

    A lack of productive focus at work can lead to extra stress on yourself, missed deadlines, passed opportunities, raise denial, demotion and even termination.

    So, if you are someone who has trouble with your productivity, here are five effective tips on how to be productive at work:

    1. Take breaks

    First and foremost, it’s important for you to take regular breaks. Trying to work throughout the whole day will tire your brain, which will then cause you to doze off and think about something else.

    If you keep working your brain, it will fill up and get jumbled with information—sort of like a computer hard drive. Taking a break would be like resetting your computer so that it can start afresh, or de-fragmenting the data so that all the information is in order.

    This is a great thing because it allows you to solve problems you were unable to solve previously, by seeing it differently; if you are able to organize your thoughts properly, you will be able to take in new information more easily.

    There have even been studies about methods of saving time and staying proficient, and taking breaks is one of the leading factors.

    According to Christine Hohlbaum, the author of The Power of Slow: 101 Ways to Save Time in Our 24/7 World, eating lunch away from your work area every day will greatly increase your productivity. Eating in your work area will give you the illusion that you are working, but whether you like it or not, your brain will begin to wander and think of something else and then you will be working tirelessly with no progress.

    It’s important to take breaks before and during work too: if you come to work in a rush because you woke up late, your mind will not be mentally prepared for the day ahead, and you will spend the first 10 to 15 minutes trying to get organized and composed before you can actually start working.

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    Instead, you should try to wake up 20 minutes earlier than the time it would take you to “just get” to work. Take that time to stare off into space and not worry about anything.

    If you do this, your brain will be empty and ready for all the challenges it has coming for the next few hours.

    If your employer only allows a set amount of breaks during the workday, that doesn’t mean you can’t just get up and walk around for a quick break every now and then.

    Even if it’s only 5 minutes, it will refresh your brain and you will gain renewed energy to do your job.

    Learn more about The Importance of Scheduling Downtime.

    2. Pace yourself and balance your workload

    One problem that most people run into is that they underestimate the amount of work they have to do, and end up doing 50% of the work in the last 20% of the time they have to do it. This is due to an issue of balancing one’s workload.

    When you receive a project, or are doing a job you normally do, take some time to really plan out your work schedule.

    Consider how much time it took you to do this last time; determine how you can break the project into smaller parts and which can only be accomplished on certain days, and whether anything might come up that could interfere with your plan.

    All of these questions are important for starting on a project, and when answered, they will help you stay productive throughout each day.

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    For example, if you needed to design a project to map out the amount of aid offered in various regions after Hurricane Sandy, you can break it up as follows:

    You will need to know what organizations are offering help to begin with, how much aid those organizations gave or plan to give, which regions were hit by Sandy, and which regions suffered the greatest losses.

    You start this project on a Thursday and know you have until Tuesday to gather this information.

    In order to stay productive, you need to plan out your work week—now you know you can find out which organizations are involved in helping the Hurricane Sandy Victims any day since that information is online, but gathering information on the organizations may require you to call them.

    Since phone calls can only be done during week days, you have to plan on gathering all of that information before the weekend comes.

    That is just one example of a situation in which pre-planning your project will help you stay productive; had you researched the affected regions first, you would not have received the info on the organizations until the weekend, and may have missed your chance to call them.

    That, in turn, would have wasted time you could have spent working on this project to finish it.

    Knowing what you need to do, when you can do it, and how long it will take you, is important in balancing your workload and being more productive and efficient.

    3. Put your work first

    This is an issue that usually occurs with young people who are new to the workforce: they’re often tempted with offers to go out at midday, and then come back lost in thought and unfocused on their work-related tasks.

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    While it is important to take breaks, your breaks should consist of you clearing your mind, not loading it up with other less important information—like sports.

    However, that is not the only situation where you need to worry about putting your work first before all else.

    In a work environment, the senior employees will oftentimes push some of their menial tasks onto the newer employees. If you fall into that category, you need to know that their work is not your work, so if you have tasks that need to be done, you need to do it first.

    If you are a new employee, you must learn to say no to other people even when it means you may not be in their good graces anymore. You can help others out once your work is done, but you are paid to do your own work, not anyone else’s.

    4. Don’t open your browser unless you need them

    In this day and age, everyone is constantly monitoring their social network. This is a major pain point for companies, which is why many don’t allow employees to access their social networks on company workstations.

    When you are at work, disconnect the internet from your phone and keep your browsers closed so you’re not tempted to log onto your social media accounts or browse any sites that are not work-related.

    If you keep your browsers closed and phone tucked away, only to be used in an emergency, you will find yourself being a more productive employee right away. 

    5. Try to be happy and optimistic

    If you always have a negative outlook on life, you will be more distracted and less motivated to get work done, so it’s important for you to start your day off right.

    This can be done by having a good breakfast or by taking time in the morning to watch one of your favorite TV shows before work.

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    If you are happy, you will find yourself able to work much more productively as your mind won’t wander into worrying about something else.

    Also, if you stay optimistic and keep telling yourself that you can do whatever you set your mind to, the tasks will seem much less daunting and will go by much more quickly.

    Take a look at more effective ways to stay positive at work:

    15 Ways To Stay Positive At Work

    Happiness and optimism are the keys to being a productive and happy employee.

    All in all, heed the five tips above and you will find yourself being one of the most productive people at your company.

    While you do not need to master them all, each and every one of them will help you become a better and more efficient employee.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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