Understand Other People

Better communication through a better understanding of behavior

What If You Could Start Over in Your Career?

Starting over: do you dream of a new career?

I came across a television interview from August of this year, 2012. They were discussing a survey conducted by PARADE magazine and Yahoo! Finance of 26,000 Americans on job satisfaction and job happiness. The survey found that almost 60 percent would choose a different career if they had it to do all over again. This makes sense to me when I see the number of people in my consulting work that feel ill suited for what they do every day, and the number of college students that I teach each semester who seem confused about what they really want to do for a living.

Imagine a world where we all enjoyed what we get out of bed to do for 8 or more hours every day. I am fascinated by who likes their jobs and who doesn’t. When I travel, which I do quite a bit, I inquire with the hotel clerk, the limo driver, the waitress, and everyone else I encounter about how much they enjoy what they do. Many people in the service business respond enthusiastically that they love what they do, but are they saying that to me as a customer or are they being sincere? How many people have found their career bliss?

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As we grow and change, our interests, passions and aptitudes sometimes change along with us. Something what we enjoyed in our 20s may not be as enjoyable in our 40s or 50s, or the job itself changes. In many firms, the job someone took ten years ago isn’t the job they have today. They are doing more with less, doing new things they aren’t as skilled at, or being asked to change their approach in order to be successful. In some companies, large or small, change is the only constant.

What if you could go back to the beginning? What if you could have a fresh start and choose an entirely different career? Would you do it? Most of us wouldn’t – and don’t – because we feel stuck. We may have paid our dues and climbed the ladder and we don’t want to start at the bottom rung again. Maybe we are afraid of losing our income or having to use a nest egg to pay our way for additional education. There are many obstacles to taking an entirely different direction, but for a moment suspend these and consider some steps you could take to find a more meaningful career. What should you think about when pursuing a new career? Let’s examine five key ideas:

  1. What do you value? In too many cases our values, and what we care about or think is important, are not aligned with the career we’ve chosen. Most of my clients are in financial services, for example, and people who have a high Social (“do good”) value or a high Traditional (religious or search for meaning) value might feel out of place in an industry focused on the ROI (return on investment). Or by contrast, you might be in a non-profit organization but you find your values are more aligned with a for-profit business environment. Our values tell us what is most important, so we want to choose a career that aligns with them.
  2. Choose not only what you are good at – but also what you like to do. Many people will choose a career they feel they can excel at. I’m good at numbers, so I choose a career in accounting or finance. I’m a people-person, so I choose sales. The problem is that we don’t always like the things we are good at. Make a list of what you can do, but then cross out everything you don’t like to do. Leave only those things that are enjoyable to you.
  3. Interview people in a variety of careers that interest you. Identify people for networking, and also informational interviewing. Ask them what they like about their career, and what they would change if they could. Ask them about the types of people who succeed in their chosen career – and why. Don’t assume you know which careers are of most interest; pick vastly different ones and examine them to get an overall picture of the different options available to you.
  4. Write down what you want your career to do for you. Is it simply a way to make a living? Do you want to advance and become known in your field? Is it a social avenue for you? Think past the nuts of bolts of the job itself and consider what the job really means to you – and your life.
  5. Find hobbies or outside interests that fuel your passion. Do you really have to make a wholesale change, or are there ways to do things you find meaningful without leaving your current career? Be creative and think about ways to feed your interests that don’t require quitting and starting over.

As you read this list, I hope you find something that may spur an interest in finding other opportunities for a career or job that interests you, engages you and makes you happier than you are right now.

Beverly D. Flaxington teaches at Suffolk University.

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