How often have you asked yourself that question? Or heard someone else ask it? I know that if I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard it, I’d be rich!
And in fact, I’ve asked myself that career question many times over the course of my life. When I was a younger me, I wanted to be an astronaut. Then a marine biologist. Then a business lady (because I absolutely loved the idea of wearing high heels to work, which still makes me laugh to this day). And then eventually around the time that college selection was underway, my desire was to be an art teacher. And then fast forward to college graduation where I earned a degree in both Fine Art and Business with a goal to pursue an advertising career. Wow – lots of changes in 21 years. So fast forward another 18 and here I am, departed from advertising to a career of leadership coaching and empowering my clients.
Or maybe a simpler story is our friend Katherine Dyke who pursued her dream of being an architect but somewhere along the way realized that it was less about building the building and more about communicating the creative idea and inspiration – shifting her path to integrated marketing and communications.
And my guess is that every one of you reading this article has felt the same way with a shift here and a try that there.
So, how do you know what the right career choice is for you?
Beyond taking a career aptitude test or quiz from Buzzfeed – which I’d wager a bet that they won’t actually answer this question for you – it’s important to know what your purpose is in life, what your passions are, what your gifts are, and finally what keeps you motivated.
Which is a lot of things to know, so let’s break this down:
Purpose: most people confuse purpose and passion, but purpose is the very philosophical idea of why you are on this earth, what you are here for and what you are intended to do? A less overwhelming way to look at this is to ask yourself what your “who” is? Your “who” is essentially what drives you, what defines you as a person, what makes you tick.
Passion: passion takes the idea of purpose one step further. Passion is essentially what gets your juices flowing. What excites you? What gets your heart beating fast? What are you willing to sacrifice for?
Gifts: what skills, experiences and unique offerings do you have or want to have? What can you physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually offer to the world around you?
Motivation: what keeps you going, even when times are tough? What keeps your internal “lights on”? Some would argue that people are promotion-focused or prevention-focused when it comes to motivation – meaning are you goal-oriented and motivated to reach new heights (promotion) or more interested in security and protecting all of the things that you’ve worked so hard to get (prevention). Promotion people are typically fast-paced, like a challenging or changing environment and like to try new things to continue to grow and evolve. Prevention people are more analytical and like to know the details before taking action avoiding potential risk (or at least having a plan for risk should it happen); they also take great pride in the quality of their work and recognition of their expertise. No one is 100% one way or the other, but knowing what your main motivation is, is extremely helpful in considering careers.
And once you know the answer to these 4 buckets, you can start to really define (or redefine) what your career path looks like.
Let me give you my personal answers as an example to help crystallize this.
Purpose: My “who” is being a Supporter. Nothing makes me happier or gives me more fulfillment than supporting someone else however they need it.
Passion: I love seeing women be successful in their careers and in seeing women continue to rise up in the ranks across the globe.
Gifts: I am uniquely gifted in being able to see themes and break down information in a way that it can be used to tell a compelling story. I see people’s gifts, strengths, offerings (sometimes before they do) through my ability to be a great listener, utilize my strong empathy and intuition, and translate ideas and themes into simple, sticky messages that resonate.
Motivation: the idea of taking on new challenges, solving new problems, learning and trying new things is highly motivating to me making me primarily a “promotion-motivated” person.
Adding it all up: for me, the combination of these questions pointed me right into the path of being a leadership and career coach. My heart sings when I can support women to be successful and to build their confidence in who they are to get that next job, change careers, get promoted, become a stronger leader, run a business, etc. And because every human in the world is unique and different, my promotion motivation goes on and on to support every client’s needs.
Adding it Up for You
Choosing a career, changing careers or even contemplating trying new things can be equal parts scary and exciting. The sheer fact that we work or are focused on careers the vast majority of our lives only compounds our fear and enthusiasm. Give yourself time to really reflect on these questions, make lists, ask your friends, family and peers for their thoughts and research opportunities to open your mind to the potential.
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