I’m sure that during the course of your career, day, week, month, fiscal year…you have had one coworker make this comment. They don’t feel fulfilled in their current role, for many different kinds of reasons. They want to make a change but don’t know where to start. I have a colleague in this dilemma currently. She is a very energetic, talented, educated and highly skilled young woman with great work experience. But like many of us her career has taken some turns and her work history is more like the Great Wall of China than the I10 from AZ to CA. It took some turns and at times seemed to have little direction. However she is where she is and would like to have some direction before she sets off on her next road trip.
In one of our many conversations I began to ask her some very basic questions. And after she answered I had to respond, “No even more basic than that”.
1. What do you like to do?
2. What makes you really happy?
3. What are your strengths?
4. What do you feel are your greatest opportunities for development (fancy way of asking what are your weaknesses)?
5. Where do you want to live?
6. Is there a particular field or industry that inspires or intrigues you?
7. Do you have friends, family that you really look up to and what do they do?
8. When you think of people that really inspire you, what about them do you admire?
9. When you chose your major in college, why did you chose it and how do you feel about it now?
10.(Here’s the kicker) When you think of your life 5-10 years down the road…how do you see yourself?
Yes these questions are basic inventory questions. Some of which you may get asked in an interview, there is a reason for that! Many of us aren’t born with the innate desire to do just one thing in life. Some are, some aren’t…for those of us who are in the latter category, we have a tendency to follow our career path like The Great Wall with all its twists and turns. We make decisions as they come along, not giving a whole lot of thought to the Plan.
Working with college students, especially those who are just getting started, I have a very standard speech. I ask lots of questions, many I’ve listed above. Mostly I tell them that choosing a major is not dissimilar to purchasing a home. A house is not a piece of disposable property. It’s something you are going to spend a lot of time in, money on and energy with. If it isn’t going to last you through your 5-year plan (unless you’re a house flipper) you may want to keep looking. We need to think of our educational/career choices the same way. We need to look down the road to where we want to be. Why do we admire the people we do, what they have we don’t, how we get there, what really makes us happy and drives us to perform. If you can’t really answer these questions honestly, well honestly it’s not the best time for you to be looking for a new opportunity.
There are literally hundreds of articles being written and published on the risks involved with making a career change; especially in the face of high unemployment and a recent recession. There are some very common threads with the advice given; and believe it or not they are pretty much in line with the questions I asked my coworker. In addition to your employment inventory; make an assessment of the possible risks that may be involved with making a career change.
I think what my coworker discovered through this exercise is that it isn’t a new career she needs; it’s direction. Her job isn’t the challenge; her lack of a real plan for her future, where she wants to be not only professionally but personally is the issue. Now, that may mean a change for her in the future, but it will be one born of a plan and for a purpose.
Yes there are times when a career change is what’s needed to achieve that plan. I have made a couple myself; one born of frustration without real purpose and one made with intent, thought and commitment to my future. I am where I am today because of the latter, despite the first.
So the next time someone you know asks you the “I need to do something but I’m not sure what to do” question…remember, location, location, location. Don’t make the investment without the inventory, without real thought of the effect on the future. My mom once told me, “when you don’t know what to do…don’t do anything”. Made no sense at the time but now I live by it. How often do we have the desire to do something, when the best course of action is to sit tight, evaluate, plan and when appropriate, execute.
“When you don’t know what to do…don’t do anything.” Thanks Mom!