Making the Right Decision about Your Career
“If once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.”
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
- Frederick Buechner
How do you make good decisions about what education, job or career you should pursue?
It’s a question with a complicated answer, unless...
This morning I met with a client who’s struggling to answer that very question. He’s torn, and reasonably so, about which of the many details he needs to consider when (and/or if) he makes a career transition. His job loosely fits him but doesn’t give him the authority to make the changes he knows would make the company better. In the meantime, he has two young children, a recently acquired mortgage that stretches his budget, and a wife who’s counting on him to take care of their family. He knows about the career changes he could make but fears making a misstep that could negatively affect their finances or force his wife back into full-time work. Every option he considers seems to have equal opportunities for joy and disaster.
You might be surprised to learn that willingness to take or avoid risks is often directly related to your natural “hardwiring”. Sure, there are other factors like how risk-averse your parents were when you were growing up, whether you experienced adverse or traumatic events in your life, your age and station in life, etc.. But, three aspects of your personality (the ways you naturally interact with the world and daily life) play a huge role in your willingness to make the changes that lead to a better work-life fit. That’s a lot of stuff that can muddy the waters of making your decision.
I believe that when we’re considering a career transition or what career to pursue there are three important questions each of us should ask ourselves: “What are the risks/costs of staying put versus pursuing a particular change” and “How do I ensure that I am seeing everything accurately” and, “Who might help me see this more clearly?”
My young friend was overwhelmed by the potential up and down sides he perceived in each of his career alternatives, and this seemingly “even” risk of success and failure paralyzed his decision-making. He grew up in a risk-averse family and is naturally wired to sacrifice himself to avoid negative impacts on his family. His (perceived) great challenge is the attraction of a seemingly noble choice to “suck it up” and sacrifice his own identity to protect the family OR take a chance on a different career path that would better fit him and his life aspirations.
In our conversation we objectively discussed the real risks and rewards of each option, and I helped him see how he’d slipped into all-or-nothing thinking about these. I also helped him consider tweaks and changes to those options, as well as alternatives he hadn’t considered, that don’t have the downsides he fears. Finally, I reassured him that singlular missteps and bad choices rarely condemn us to the irredeamable life of misery (the “path of the dark side”) we may fear but the outcomes of our lives are actually the result of consistent choices made over a lifetime. His challenge was to determine what matters most then consistently make choices that allow him to pursue those life priorities.
A former client, and current good friend, recently wrote me about the changes she made after our work together. She labored for years working for businesses that failed to engage her amazing intellect and limited her ability to help make the company great. She said, “I am where I need to be and I know that things will fall into place. There is no way that I could feel the peace that I feel (and to feel physically better than I have in years) and not be where I am supposed to be. I just can't buy into the thinking that this isn’t how life is supposed to work. I don't think we HAVE to suffer. I think a lot of people choose to suffer, but it's not a have-to.”
It took her some time (years, to be precise) to overcome her apprehension and choose to pursue a work-life that truly fits her. Over that time she came to understand that the things she feared happening (the risks) might not ever occur while the things that were wrecking her emotional and physical health (the realities) were already ruining her life. It was an heroic and courageous decision that led to her career change and it was pure joy for me to hear that her decision has brought her what she most desired.
After doing this work for almost 13 years and serving nearly 1000 clients, I believe objectivity and perspective are two of the most valuable qualities I can give clients. So often these two are the very things that help clients move from being overwhelmed by choices and staying in a bad work-life fit to actually taking control of their own career path to pursue the life they’ve always wanted.
Even if you never become my client, if you’re in a bad work situation then I encourage you to seek out someone who can objectively weigh the things you’re struggling with, help you consider things you might not see, then inspire you to courageously pursue the path to a life that fits you.