You have a choice. You can live a life where you are frustrated, unfulfilled, restless, bored, and basically unsatisfied. Or you can live a life where you can’t wait to get to work every day, your mind is active and intrigued, you are proud of what you accomplish each day, and you know that when your life comes to an end you will die with a smile on your face.
Obviously, we all want the second option. And yes, what happens in your love life has a significant impact on your happiness. But we’re focusing on your work life here. Most people spend at least 40 – 50 years of their life working, and if your work isn’t satisfying, your life won’t be that fulfilling, either.
But it’s not easy making the right career choice, for a number of reasons. You might:
- Have so many interests it’s hard to settle on just one
- Have started work in one industry or type of job, and now feel stuck
- Wish you could change careers but don’t know how to go about it
- Have no idea what really would work for you
Your situation might be different, but in any case, you’re looking around and none of your research has yielded any satisfying results.
Fortunately, there is a way to get past these roadblocks. It’s a system, and it works.
How to figure out what career is best for you
If I had another lifetime, I’d be creating a show where someone smart went around with a camera and witnessed the typical working day for people in all different types of jobs. It would really help those considering their options. At the end of the day, if you got into a career whose high points seemed exciting, but the daily grind turns out to be just that—a grind—then you won’t enjoy going to work each day in the long run.
We interrupt this article to say that someone has created a show like this, called “GoingPRO.” There are a lot of careers showcased, and it’s pretty good. Worth a look. There are other sites out there, such as this one, called “FirstHand,” but it’s written content, not videos. And here is one, ConnectED, that combines text and video. In any case, just Google “a day in the life career show” to find resources that appeal to you.
Now let’s get to the system. The goal of this exercise is to find out what really makes you happy, and then go looking for the type of job that will help you continue to experience that happiness every working day.
Step 1: Make a list.
The first step is the most important, so take it seriously. Make a list of everything you’ve ever done in your life that satisfied you. Not things that others praised you for (because it pleased them), but things that made you, once they were complete, sit back and think, I am really glad I did this. And, they were things that, when you were doing them, made you feel like you were in a feel-good zone, totally absorbed in the activity.
Now walk away from this list, and come back to it 24 hours later.
Ask yourself, as you look at what you listed, what the bigger theme is.
When I did this early in my life (the idea came from a good book called, “What Color Is My Parachute?” which is being sold now as a 2023 edition), the main theme was this: I wanted to help other people realize their dreams.
So the next step was figuring out the best way to do that. For example, I could have been a teacher, which I thought I would be when I was in college, or a social worker. But when I graduated, teaching jobs were in short supply, and I knew I was too entrepreneurial to work in a government position.
So I continued to work in sales, something I had been doing to pay my way through college.
I did also have the option of continuing a show business career as a singer, but I had spent my life in that business, and knew what the drawbacks were. For starters, most of the people in the business were flaming narcissists and rather boring as a result.
And if I did make the big time as a singer, I’d end up in Las Vegas singing those same songs for the rest of my life. I’m an ocean sailor, not a desert person, and the whole same-song-each-night scenario chilled my blood.
And how was that helping people realize their dreams? So I sang for pleasure, but not for work.
After college, I ended up being a headhunter in Silicon Valley for five years, which was a great way to learn about tech—and people—but I wasn’t really comfortable in that industry. Some of the people used less-than-ethical methods to lure employees away from the companies they were working for.
I kept searching, and realized one day that helping engineers get their products to market was one solid way of helping people realize their dreams. And, if the company succeeded, then the workers would also be able to realize their dreams, all of which made me very happy.
I’ve been doing this for years now, early on as an agency owner in Silicon Valley with my husband, to a revenue coach (where I turned around sales and marketing departments), and now as a digital agency owner. I started out helping tech companies, but branched out to help all types of companies when the web came along.
That one exercise—making that list—got me on the right track. I knew what the main goal was, and I set out to achieve it.
Step 2: Interview people
OK, this is going to take some guts. You could do the first part on your own, but this will require reaching out to people. It’s also a great way to look for a job, by the way.
After you’ve come to conclusions about what satisfies you—and it will surely be completely different than what I came up with for myself—and you’ve watched some of those “day in the working life” videos, now it’s time to find people doing that work in your area, reaching out to them, telling them that you are considering different careers for yourself, and asking them if you can interview them for 20 minutes or so to learn what it’s like working in their job.
Most people, as long as they are not of the jerk variety, will be glad to help you. Given that everyone is always busy, that might be a little surprising. But there are a number of things here playing in your favor:
- People like being seen as experts, and it is flattering when someone asks for some advice or for someone to talk about what they do.
- Anyone who owns a business is always looking for staff that love doing the work that they are hired to do. If you are super interested, and even if you have very little experience, they will want to understand who you are and may be thinking that they might hire you, even part time.
- Along with that thought, there is the old adage, “Hire character, not skills.” Good managers know they can’t change someone’s attitude toward life, but can always teach new skills to someone who enjoys learning about what is being taught.
All of these factors will make it easier than you think to get that person on the phone, and might even lead to a job opportunity. Note that this is way more likely to turn into a job possibility than just calling local businesses and asking them if they are looking to hire someone like you. That’s a question that is too easy to answer with a “no,” and doesn’t really give the person an opportunity to get to know you. It’s almost guaranteed to result in an instant rejection. This method works much better.
During the interview, the person you’re interviewing will get a sense of who you are, and if there is an opportunity for you, will bring up the subject after the interview part of the conversation is complete.
What kinds of questions should you ask? Open-ended ones that lead to an enlightening conversation that is enjoyable for both of you, such as:
- How long have you been doing this, and how did you get into it?
- What do you like best about your work?
- What does a normal working day look like for you?
- What are your biggest challenges?
- What trends are you seeing in your work these days?
- Is your industry growing or slowing, and why?
- If you were in my position in life, and considering this type of career, what would you do to prepare, knowing what you know now?
You may have other more specific questions, but you get the idea. Use Zoom or some other method to record the conversation, as you will want to be listening fully without being distracted by taking notes (although taking some notes as backup to the recording is always a good idea). And you will definitely want to listen to the conversation again after the conversation ends.
Make it an audio-only Zoom call, if you use Zoom; they will be more relaxed and will be able to walk around doing other tasks while talking to you, so they won’t feel so put upon.
Thank the person via email afterwards or even send them a handwritten note. Seems old-fashioned, but it will be a pleasant surprise for the person interviewed, and they will remember you next time they are looking to hire someone.
Final Step: Get a job, any job, in that industry.
No one starts at the top. And if you take a job in the industry that interests you, no matter how “insignificant,” you will be able to see first-hand how it all works. You will be in a great position to observe and decide if this is the right industry for you.
Are the people generally helpful and pleasant to work with? Is there a reasonable amount of stress, but not so much that it is debilitating (usually it’s poor leadership that makes for a stressful working environment, so make sure you also work for a solid leader, if you can). Are the hours compatible with the life you want to live? Does the work make you want to learn more? Are you happy carrying out the work, even though it’s only at the bottom rung of the ladder? Do you go home satisfied, or unfulfilled?
Whatever you do, be a humble learner, and you will go far. Even the people at the very top—CEOs and owners of companies—are most successful if they are humble learners, contrary to what the entertainment industry portrays.
Good luck to you. May you realize all your own dreams as you find the career that suits you best.