I Don’t Know What I Want, But This Ain’t Doing It

by Denham, Thomas J. Thursday, March 29, 2007
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Are you getting what you want out of life? Do you really know what you want? Are you caught up in the “busy”-ness of mere day to day living that you sometimes feel you are achieving empty victories? Have you ever asked yourself whether or not you have a clear sense of direction and purpose that inspires and energizes you? Or are you uncertain about what you really want out of life and a career? You are not alone.

Unfortunately, an overwhelming majority of Americans have only a vague idea of where they are going in life. They get up in the morning to go to work, then come home to relax, make dinner, watch TV, and go to bed, only to get up again the next day and begin all over again. Most Americans get so busy making a living that they forget to make a life. Since only about 40% of Americans ever plan their careers, it is no surprise that most people hit a point where they feel dissatisfied. According to a survey of worker dissatisfaction, 80% of working people are dissatisfied with some important area of their job or career. Many just stumble into a vocation, get restless and then don’t know how to get unstuck. Most people spend more time planning for summer vacation than they do planning their careers.

The US Department of Labor estimates that the average American will have three to five careers in his or her lifetime, ten to twelve jobs and hold each job on average of three and a half years. This means that changing careers is not only acceptable, it is expected. Some people make poor career choices just because they lack the awareness of all the many career possibilities in today’s rapidly changing economy.

As a former banker with HSBC Bank USA, I am proof positive that shifting careers is not impossible. However, changing jobs and careers is not an easy task and is something that requires deliberate preparation and sacrifice.

Many people I work with are striving for meaning in their lives and embarking on a lifelong voyage to find it. We want our work to have significance, to be a gratifying experience that helps us grow into enlightened and caring people. Many of my clients ask me, “Where do I begin?” There are 3 steps to the career development process: 1) self-assessment, 2) career exploration, and 3) job or further education search.

Unfortunately, most people try to short cut the process by skipping steps one and two and going directly to step three by applying to graduate school or by sending out random resumes for jobs where they lack the interest and/or qualifications. This is unwise since job seekers can run into trouble at the interview, or worse – they can wind up unhappy in another job or career that is not congruent with who they are. People who find themselves in unsatisfying roles are often there because they never set out to discover and catalog their most important skills, values, and interests.

Instead, build your career on the foundation of self-assessment. Sit down with a local career counselor and take the Myers Briggs Type Indicator, the Campbell Interest and Skill Survey, or the Strong Interest Inventory. A development professional can then interpret the results and help you identify your skills, values and interests and then move you into the second stage, career exploration.

In addition, researching your career plans is part of self-assessment, and I would also suggest reading a few pages each night of a good career development book. Bookstores typically have an entire section devoted to the topic of careers/business. I can suggest several resources that are listed on my website: CareersInTransitionLLC.com, but you may want to find a resource that best fits your needs.

Keep in mind that many of the most fulfilling careers include serving others and looking to the greater good. Looking to the greater good of your job greatly influences how you feel about your work. Whatever goals you choose to pursue, make sure they demand something from you; otherwise they won’t draw out your greatest potential. Your clarity of purpose and sense of direction derive from an organized personal plan. Once you have developed your career and life plan be sure that your review it periodically, revise it as necessary, and recommit to it frequently.

Remember finding your ideal job is one of the most difficult challenges in adulthood and clearly not a situation that can be solved overnight. However, beginning with self-assessment and the right level of commitment, you will be ready to move into the next stage, career exploration, with greater clarity.