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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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    Last Updated on September 20, 2018

    How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

    How to Be Happy at Work and Find Fulfillment in Your Career

    If you’re going to spend 1/3 of our life at work, you should enjoy it, right?

    Trust me, I know that’s easier said than done. Difficult coworkers, less-than-desirable tasks, or even just being in the wrong position can all lead to a lack of enjoyment and fulfillment in your work.

    But what if I told you it doesn’t have to be this way? Or better yet, if you struggle with all of the above (and then some), what if I told you that enjoying your work and finding fulfillment regardless of those obstacles is possible?

    Don’t believe me? I don’t blame you because I was there too. Before implementing the tips below, I struggled to get through each day, much less find real fulfillment, in the office. Now, even after the toughest days on the job, I still come away with feelings of pride, accomplishment, and fulfillment. The best news is, so can you.

    If you’re ready to make those hours count and find happiness and fulfillment in the office, then read on to find out how to be happy at work and find fulfillment in your career:

    1. Discover the root(s) of the problem

    For this first step, we’ll need to think back to 8th-grade physics (humor me). We all know Newton’s 3rd law, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When you think about it, the same can be said outside of physics, and we see this law play out in our daily lives, day after day.

    Simply put, all the issues we deal with in the office (and life in general) affect us in a noticeable way.

    If you’re appreciated at work, like the work you do and receive frequent praise, promotions, or raises, then this will probably have an altogether positive effect on your life in the office.

    But what if we reverse this? What if you feel under appreciated, get passed up for promotions, or get denied raises? This is sure to affect the way you feel at work on a negative level.

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    So, before you can implement the steps of feeling happy and fulfilled at work, we first have to discover the reasons why you don’t feel that way already.

    Think about it, write a list, or make a mental note. Run through all the reasons you’re dissatisfied in the office, and don’t hold back. Knowing the exact obstacles you’re facing will make overcoming them that much easier.

    In fact, as a side-challenge to this article, I recommend picking the top three reasons contributing to your dissatisfaction at work and using the following tips to tackle them.

    2. Practice gratitude for an instant uplift

    Did you know the simple act of feeling grateful can increase your happiness and make you more fulfilled at work?[1]

    Well, it’s true, and it’s scientifically proven.

    Dr. Lisa Firestone notes that practicing gratitude “reminds us of what we lacked in the past.” Meaning, it serves as both a boost to happiness and a bit of a wake-up call that things have been or could be, much worse.

    Trying to conjure up feelings of gratitude can seem almost impossible when your work situation seems bleak, but hear me out: There are incredibly easy ways to get started and it doesn’t involve trying to “force” yourself to feel grateful about things that stress you out.

    For an instant pick-me-up, try this:

    Find a loose piece of paper, a blank sticky note, or anything you can write on, be it physical or digital. List just three things that you are absolutely without-a-doubt thankful for in your life.

    Now here’s the trick: Don’t just list what you’re grateful for, you have to list why you’re grateful for them, too.

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    For example, simply saying “I’m grateful for my kids” will probably make you feel good, sure, but what if we could amplify the warm, fuzzy feeling into real, lasting motivation?

    Instead, write the reason you’re so thankful for your children. Is it because they make you laugh and forget about other stressors? Or maybe they help to remind you of why you go to work every day in the first place?

    Whatever your reasons may be, jot them down and keep your list somewhere you can see it while you work. A quick glance at your gratitude list throughout the day can provide powerful, positive motivation to keep going.

    Bonus:

    If you can find just three things to be thankful for that specifically relate to your job, and list why those things make you grateful, your list can also help you find fulfillment in your work itself which can give you an even bigger boost of positivity throughout the day.

    3. Take meaningful time for yourself

    We all know creating a strong work-life balance can be crucial to feeling satisfied in our jobs, but rarely do we ever address how we’re spending our time outside of work.

    Many of us survive a 9-hour work day and commute home only to find ourselves busy with our personal to-do lists, running a household, and taking care of a child (or 2 or 3, and so on).

    If you spend all your time working, whether in the office or within your household, you’re going to feel drained at some point. This is why setting meaningful time for yourself every day is highly important.

    Look, I get it: I don’t know anyone in the working world who can shun all responsibility for a 3-movie marathon or happy hour with friends whenever they feel like it. But finding time for yourself, be it just 30 minutes to an hour, can really make a difference in how you feel at work.

    This works because you’ll have time to actually relax and let the day’s stress melt away while you enjoy something just for you. The to-do lists and stressors will still be there after you’re refreshed and ready to tackle them.

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    No time for me-time? Try this:

    If you have a busy household, you’ll need to capitalize on a block of time you know will be completely uninterrupted. The easiest way to do this: try waking up 30 minutes to an hour earlier than usual (or push bedtime back an hour if you’re a night owl, like me) and take time to do something you enjoy.

    This could be reading with a cup of tea, catching up on Facebook, spending time on a passion project—anything! As long as it’s meaningful to you, it works!

    Bonus:

    Starting your day with meaningful time for yourself can set you up to have a positive mood that lasts well into office hours, and having your me-time in the evening can give you something positive to look forward to during the day.

    4. Get productive and feel accomplished

    Don’t you just love the feeling of checking the last item off of a hefty to-do list? That’s because self-motivation can be a huge driver of positivity and success.

    When we accomplish something, no matter how small, it makes us feel good, plain and simple. Applying this tactic to your daily work can be the motivator you need to find fulfillment during the daily office grind.

    While there are tons of steps to get more done at work, I’ll share my personal favorite: Prioritizing.

    Now, many people handle prioritizing differently. Some like to tackle the little tasks first so they can spend focused time on the big to-dos. Others like to knock out the big items first and get to the smaller ones when they can.

    No matter which camp you’re in, you may be missing one crucial step: Time management.

    So how’s this work? When you factor in the amount of time your priorities will take, it can transform your productivity ten-fold.

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    Say you have three top priorities for the day. You might jump into the smaller ones or the bigger ones depending on your preferred method, and then find yourself out of time and bringing work home with you at the end of the day.

    This is prevented when you factor in time. Knowing how long each item will take, or deliberately setting specific blocks of time for your priorities can help you accomplish more in the same 8-9 (or 12) hours that you typically spend at work.

    Try this:

    Take a look at your priorities and consider how long they should take. Pop into your Google calendar (or Filofax, whatever works for you) and schedule time to work on your priority items around any important meetings or events of the day.

    The most important thing to remember is to stick to your dedicated time.

    Often, when we know exactly how long we have to work on something (and honor this time limit), we’re motivated to get more done on time to avoid taking work home at the end of the day.

    The bottom line

    There’s no need to waste 1/3 of our lives feeling unsatisfied at work. Luckily, you now have the tools to get started, take back your time, and become happy and fulfilled at work again.

    The only question is — which tip will you try first?

    Featured photo credit: Ellyot via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1]Psychology Today: The Healing Power of Gratitude

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