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Confused About Your Career? Why That’s Good & What To Do Now

Confused About Your Career? Why That’s Good & What To Do Now

Do you ever pine for the Middle Ages? Oh, those lovely medieval times when life was so limited. How great it must have been to have someone shove a rake in your hand and tell you to go dig potatoes all day long.

Life must have been great when you didn’t have the stress of figuring out a career. No, you just were told: “You’re a blacksmith. You’re a beer wench. You’re a princess.”

There’s no confusion.  You just get on with your potato hoeing, and life is good.

Right?

Uh, wait. What if you don’t like being a potato hoe? Tough potatoes, kid. Who do you think you are?  A minstrel? No. You’re options are limited, so suck it up.

OK, so that’s not what you want.

What you want is to stop feeling confused about your career path. You want certainty that you are doing what you were meant to do and that you will be successful.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed and confused, thinking that you should have this all figured out by now, come with me.

I will tell you why you are confused, why this confusion is a good thing, and what to do about it now to feel fulfilled and excited by your life.

The Source of Your Confusion

Every summer for the last 8 years, I have taken groups of teens backpacking and camping in the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina. We go deep into the woods for up to 22 days at a time, carrying our food and gathering our water from creeks.

We hike an average of 4 miles a day, and the students learn how to navigate. I don’t guide them; they have to learn how to read the land, read a map, and use a compass so they don’t get lost.

The Appalachian Mountains is one of the hardest places in the world to navigate. There was a time when these mountains were taller than the Himalayas, but erosion over time has worn them into beautiful, rolling, feminine mounds. There are very few peaks to climb to use for triangulation, and in the summer, the lush foliage can make it nearly impossible to see for more than a tenth of a mile.

As a consequence, one rolling mountain knob looks like another. It takes practice to learn to read the subtle distinctions of the land.

Additionally, the maps we use are from 20 years ago, at best. In twenty years, any man-made structure can change. Roads and trails can be re-routed. So you can’t trust the map.

Finally, the compasses that we use go out with hundreds of students and get abused. Sometimes the compass might work well, other times no.  It can’t be fully trusted, either.

Imagine a dozen 14–16-year-olds, most of whom have never done anything like this before (probably never even used a map before), hiking through the woods with limited abilities to understand the world around them, inaccurate maps and potentially faulty compasses.

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Again, I don’t guide them. They work together to figure it out after I teach them the foundational skills.

If they make a mistake, I let them get lost. They have to learn pretty quickly or else they may end up hiking an extra 10 miles because of the mistake.

This is bad news for me, because I have to hike it all with them, knowing we’re going the wrong way the entire time.

Why do I let them get lost? Isn’t that mean?

No. In fact, it would be mean not to.

One crucial navigating skill is learning how to recognize that you are lost, figuring out where you are, and deciding what to do next. If I rescue them or they think I will rescue them, they stop thinking critically.

By letting them get lost, I am teaching them significantly more than showing them the way.

So what does this have to do with you?

You are doing the same thing right now.

Why You Are Confused About Your Career

You are trying to read the subtle distinctions between careers with very limited understanding.

Should I go to law school? What is the difference between a business and entertainment lawyer and a defense attorney?

I want to work with kids. Should I be a teacher, a social worker, a pediatric doctor, or a camp counselor?

Is it better for me to get an MBA or just start my own business?

I have the training, but what’s my niche?

When you don’t know what it’s actually like to be in each job on a daily basis, everything blurs. To a novice, every mountain looks like the next, so how are you supposed to choose?

Plus, you too have an unreliable map that was made 20 years ago. Many people are training for career possibilities that will be obsolete in 10 years. If you trained to be a librarian, you may find yourself a bit screwed right now.

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Technology is rerouting the trails and roads we’ve used for centuries. How are you supposed to confidently invest in the education and training for a career that may not exist in a decade?

And remember that faulty compass?

Did you know that adolescence actually extends to the age of 25 for the average person? What biologically signals the end of adolescence is when your brain fully links up into it’s optimal functioning. Before that, your brain isn’t wholly equipped to make strategic risk-management and predictive decisions by applying past knowledge to current problems.

That means your brain is not a reliably functioning compass until then.

Now, when do most of us decide about our careers? When we are in college around 19 or 20.

We put enormous pressure socially and financially on a 20 year old to have highly attuned internal guidance to make a decision that will determine the destination that we call destiny.

Yet we don’t even legally allow them to decide whether they can have a glass of wine with dinner.

Does this make sense? No!

It’s no wonder that I talk to parents of 20-somethings every day who are deeply concerned that their bright, talented child seems direction-less. “Where did we do wrong?” they ask.

You are not alone if you feel lost in the woods with limited abilities to read the land, holding an unreliable old map, using a faulty compass.

Why It’s OK to Be Confused About Your Career

Are you looking around the terrain of your life wondering, “How did I get here? Is this where I want to be or is this just where I ended up?”

The sheer panic drops down on you when you feel lost and confused.

Ah, man.  I made a huge mistake. I’ve wasted all this time. How could I be so stupid!

Sound familiar?

Guess what I tell my students when they realize they are lost?

Congratulations! You rock!  This is awesome! What great opportunity you have now!

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Why is getting lost a good thing?

Congratulations, you’ve gained experience you didn’t have before.  You didn’t intend to explore this path and discover this waterfall, but you did.  You wouldn’t have seen it otherwise.  You didn’t waste time. You gained know-how and perspective.

You rock because you figured out that you are lost. Many people never will. Or if they recognize that they are lost, they just ignore it, heading in the wrong direction forever.

You rock because you are aware NOW. That is a skill. Not everyone will use that skill effectively.

You rock because you are thinking. You rock because you are brave enough to see the truth.

That feeling of confusion is not telling you that you did something wrong. It’s telling you that you are on the verge of doing something right. (Oh, that’s good. Want to Tweet it?)

This is awesome because now you get to practice how to figure out where you are and where you want to go next. Not everyone will get this opportunity—not because it’s not available to them, but because they avoid it.

Learning how to figure out where you are and deciding where you want to go feels scary when you don’t do it often. You can feel paralyzed that you will make the wrong decision.

To feel successful in life, you have to learn to be an expert at this. Any parent, spouse, student, learner, business owner, leader, pilot, president, commander, artist—to be successful, they must learn how to recognize when they are off track and decide the new course.

Recognizing that you are lost is actually very exciting! Now you get to create a whole new possibility. What a great opportunity!

What To Do Now

Obviously, you care about your life and your career, or you wouldn’t be confused. Confusion can only happen if you care. When you don’t care about something, you’re just, “Whatever.”

“Whatever” is not confused.

But you are confused. Therefore, you rock.

Celebrate yourself and get pumped. Your life is ripe with possibility.  You can create anything you want.

Now, consult an expert. Great navigators love to share what they know. They are proud of what they’ve learned, and they know that navigating is hard.

Look around you. Do you see anyone who has the life or the career you want? If not, there’s this thing called the Internet. Keep looking until you find someone.

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Ask them how they got there. Ask them what they learned along the way. What was a key lesson for them? What tripped them up? What was difficult? What was easy? What do they love about their mission and work? What are the challenges they face?

Also, if you enjoy talking with them and can help them address any of their challenges, offer to help. Use any talent or skill that you have (especially the ones you learned while you were lost) to serve them, and they may find that they are compelled to help you, too.

If you don’t like talking to that person, keep looking until you find someone with a career that inspires you who you enjoy talking to.

Also, get a coach.  This person can be someone you pay or not.  It could be the same person as the one who inspires you. Whoever it is, they need to have a great understanding of the terrain you are in and have a sincere desire to serve your best interest without judgment.

Their personal identity should not be involved at all, which is why parents are not the best choice here. Even lovely parents are not good coaches in this sense. They have bias because they feel intimately connected to your past selves.  You need someone who can focus on the present and the future.

When you get off-track, they shouldn’t fix it for you. You need someone who can stand by you in the midst of your frustration and have faith that the figuring-it-out pain is crucial to your learning process. They will help, but they shouldn’t rescue.

In the meantime, if you have a job or you are going to school, show up and be outstanding. Give your full enthusiasm and talent to each task and interaction. You know that this current situation is not forever.  Any experience or skill you gain will just make you that much stronger and more prepared when you do decide where you’re going next.

The Future’s So Bright—You Know The Rest

Alright, my friend, I’m excited for you. It’s time to step up and lead yourself into the future. In the end, no matter what path you take, you are still creating your life. Have fun with it!

Nothing has more of an impact on your life than you. When you decide to do something, you are unstoppable.  There is no dream that is beyond you. You have the creativity and the will to push and push and PUSH until you breakthrough.

You’ve woken up and seen the truth.  Don’t go back to sleep now.  Don’t let yourself settle for less than you deserve. Don’t confuse “confusion” for “error.”

You are in exactly the right place at the right time to experience everything you’ve been seeking.

Focus on what you’ve learned.  Focus on what you can give.  Focus on how you can best serve.  Focus on your joy.

Have faith that anything you focus on, you will hit.

You can learn to read the terrain. You can learn to work with an unreliable map. You can learn to overcome an untrustworthy compass.

After all, I’m not still lost in the woods, am I? No. Every group of teenagers I’ve ever worked with has learned to navigate successfully under these conditions.

And they ain’t got nothing on you.

Featured photo credit: o0o0xmods0o0o via morguefile.com

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Last Updated on January 14, 2019

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

The Key to Finding Job Satisfaction and Having a Successful Career

Regardless of whether you hold an entry-level administration role or regularly travel to the ends of the Earth as a hot-shot senior executive, you can still find yourself harboring an emptiness… a feeling that something is missing. A popular assumption that experiencing job satisfaction and a successful career should be underpinned by a well-rounded suite of tangible benefits, no longer holds true for many of us.

We’d never deny health care benefits, appropriate and fair remuneration, bonuses and travel perks in a job package. However, even if served to us on a silver platter, those features can only satiate us to a certain point.

You might wonder what governs entrepreneurs and start-up business owners to quit their lucrative jobs, essentially look the gift horse in the mouth and kiss such benefits goodbye! There can be an irresistible pull to mastermind a business with products and/or services that serve the greater good of community wider than that constituting their daily existence.

Even with research showing entrepreneurship to pose greater threats to their mental and physical health, this unique breed of individuals choose to go against the grain in chasing their dreams of being their own boss. Why? Why would anyone risk this type of career suicide?

Whether you’re an employee, have recently taken the leap to being a business owner or been in business for a while, the commonality is a congenital condition we all share as human beings; to feel a sense of purpose, value and contribution to our community. Despite it being harder to find this for ourselves in today’s world, these approaches will help you achieve ultimate satisfaction through the twists, turns and joyrides that are essential features of shaping a successful career.

1. Search for Opportunities That Feed Your Passion, Not Temporary Excitement

Even though well-intended, the ‘feel good now’ compass that career coaches and consultants often recommend you use to create career satisfaction can actually do you more harm than good. Excitement is transient. It doesn’t last. Passion is the compass you need.

Passion and excitement are two different things. The resounding career legacy that still draws you to turn up on the job regardless of the sunshine or storm that awaits you…that’s passion. It’s like a mental and/or emotional itch you can’t shrug off. Staying attuned to that calling will breed success for you sooner or later. Patience is key.

You’re also likely to have more than one key passion. Beware of getting caught in the notion you have to find your one true purpose. In fact, run immediately from any coach who tells you there is only one. There isn’t.

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Your passion is a journey that can take multiple forms so forget thinking there is the single dream job out there that will give you satisfaction in every way you can imagine. It simply doesn’t exist.

Consider embracing different roles and projects to help you fuel your passion or fuel your pursuits in finding it. Job satisfaction and your career success will be all the more sweeter from a wider range of enriching experiences.

2. Don’t Position Job and Career Satisfaction Assessments as Pivotal Guides to Your Success

Despite their popular use for vocational guidance, assessment tools such as Gallup’s Clifton Strengths and the Myers Briggs Type Indicator have come under fire[1] as being limited to the amount of true value and direction they can offer partakers.[2] These and many other guidance assessment tools (e.g. VIA Character Strengths , DISC ) are self-report questionnaires that don’t have normative population data against which to compare your results.

Simply remember these tools help you develop a stronger sense of what you identify as strengths and weaknesses within yourself, not in comparison with other people. They will still add insight around what sorts of career opportunities, tasks and projects are going to light your fire, what ones are going to extinguish it and what will prod and keep the coals steadily smoldering.

3. Be Clear on Your Personal Values, Ethics and Principles and Choose Relationships That Support You Honoring Them

Teamwork, collaboration, open communication and trust are commonplace for any flourishing work environment. However, whether or not your personal values can be honored in your work can make or break your job satisfaction.

How committed do you want to be to an organization that expects an average of 10 unpaid overtime hours every week under the guise of ‘reasonable overtime’? Are you willing to accept their construing this expectation as ‘strong commitment’ at the expense of your partner and children waiting at home for you? What are your boundaries concerning when you clock on to their time and when you clock off to yours?

Being very in tune with what your personal values, principles and ethics are will bid you well in the job satisfaction stakes. Spending time to reflect on experiences and working relationships you’ve had – the good, the bad and the ugly – will help you make well-informed searches and grounded decisions that will propel your career success.

Finding and nurturing relationships with associates and colleagues who share similar values doesn’t just make your day-to-day pursuits more enjoyable. You become fortunate to work with like-minded people who will support, understand and appreciate you like a second family.

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Being able to honor your personal values in your work means you will still be able to sleep at night when you have to tread where others fear to, and make extremely difficult decisions others would never ever dream of having to make as you forge success in your career.

4. Be Clear on Your Own Definition of What Having a Successful Career Means for You

It’s tempting to get caught up in the ideals and projections of success expressed by those we love, admire and respect. Underneath, we all want on some level to belong to a successful club of some sort.

With research reporting how much money we feel we need to be truly happy,[3] many of us try to subscribe to the notion that having the car of our dreams or taking a European holiday annually will not bring us happiness. The truth, however, for many of us is these tangible rewards are congratulatory reminders of our persistent efforts to chase our career pursuits.

If those are things you aspire to, don’t let anyone steal your desire and want to feel deserving of these things, that those are some parameters by which you define your career success.

Despite consistently being the top revenue earner for two years running, you may not wish to become the sales manager. You may not wish to step out into running your own business even though you consistently excel as an employee, delighting clients and repeatedly receiving glowing testimonials.

Your definition of career success might be enjoying the predictability of a regular workplace routine. You get to leave – without feeling guilty – at the same time each day, love the people you work with and get to spend a good, uninterrupted amount of work-stress free quality time with your family. That picture is also blissful job satisfaction and complete career success.

5. Identify the Sorts of Challenges and Problems You Want to Learn to Overcome

Standard advice you might receive from a career coach might be to look for opportunities where you get to capitalize on exercising your strengths and career-related activities you enjoy.

However, to become a success at anything involves improvement. To excel at anything often involves stepping outside boundaries and comfort zones where others wouldn’t. This means dedicating focus and attention to things you’re not so good at and things you don’t like.

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Here’s where working with a coach can be particularly helpful. Map out the experiences that were unsavory in your working history. Were there challenges you opted out of, projects you failed at or toxic relationships that blasted your sense of purpose and self-worth into oblivion? It’s within these experiences that you might just find the most valuable lessons and guiding lights for your trajectory to achieve greater job satisfaction.

If your natural leadership style is to be a collaborator, finding opportunities that require you to apply a more dictatorial style might be needed. Discussing a secondment or short-term project where you get to develop and test your skills can be a step further in earning contention to lead a larger project down the track.

With several of the company’s boldest personality types penciled to roll out the operation, you’ll not only develop skills that earn your right to throw your hat in the ring; those key players have an opportunity to see your competence. You can then work on building relationships with those stakeholders before you need to hit the ground running should you win the lead.

Greater job satisfaction comes with planning and choosing the lessons and opportunities you want to learn, not desperately flailing, floundering and hoping for the best.

6. Keep Reviewing Your Goal Posts and Be Amenable to Change

The word ‘career’ is indicative of a longer-term pathway of change, growth and development. The journey is dynamic.

You will accumulate new skills and let those you no longer need, become rusty. Your intrigue will be stimulated by new experiences, knowledge and people you meet. Your thinking will continue to expand, not shrink. As a result, your goalposts are likely to change.

A major part of enjoying a successful career is not just setting goals effectively, but regularly reviewing and readjusting them where necessary. However, moving the posts or the target still needs to take place by applying the same processes by which you originally created them. The strength of your emotional connection to those revised goals needs to be the same, if not stronger.

By asking yourself the following questions, you can assure your developmental and growth trajectory is still on course:

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  • Would working toward these goals still allow me to honor my personal values, principles and ethics at the same capacity if not greater?
  • Do the activities I need to undertake to meet these goals honor my highest priorities?
  • Does this feel right for me and those who are nearest and dearest to me?
  • Is this aligned with my passion?
  • Is chasing this goal a right step for me to take now or is this a detour or distraction which could delay my greater plan?

Each of your career goals should have different review periods. Whatever you do, stick to the review schedule you set. It will not only keep you focused but help you see your progress (or lack thereof) and allow you to timely re-chart your course before you get too far down the track. You don’t want to waste time haphazardly heading in the wrong direction.

7. Be Prepared to Let Go

It can be unfathomable to us as to why others risk leaping into the unknown when everything truly appears fine and dandy in the career realm. The company provided stability, recognition, financial success, interesting projects and the promise of a promotion…what was wrong? Why now jump sideways to run a café or train in another field altogether?

Nothing may have been wrong at all. It was all going right. It was just the end of a chapter. Perhaps the yearning for the next step is actually taking a different trajectory entirely. You may want to simply experience a different rhythm. Perhaps it’s time to pursue a different passion.

If you have leaped from employee-land to freelancing or have made the reverse-jump (or you know someone who has), you will have quickly grown a different appreciation for pros and cons each work lifestyle brings. Working for yourself can bring the greater realization of your creativity, whether or not it can be monetized to earn you a living.

When your customers are buying you or a product you designed and fashioned, there is a direct level of appreciation and gratitude that can elevate your confidence in the way you have never experienced as an employee, regardless of your rank.

Similarly, there are times where we need to recognize our business ventures were adventures, not long-term life-changing empires. There are times we need to recognize that time is what provides the clearest limitation of how long we persist for in such pursuits.

We have to recognize the absence of enough financial, mental, emotional and physical breadcrumbs that tells us we’re no longer meant to push in that direction. At least, not for the present time.

The Bottom Line

Above all, keep the momentum. As long as you remain committed to pursuing work opportunities that allow you to honor your highest priorities, the truth of who you are and what you stand for, achieving ultimate job satisfaction and a successful career will never be too far away.

More Resources to Help Advance Your Career

Featured photo credit: Csaba Balazs via unsplash.com

Reference

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