Do you find yourself outwardly successful in an unfulfilling career? Many people look back and realize that they accepted their first job after college because perhaps it paid well, offered extensive benefits or seemed secure—not because they felt particularly passionate about it. In fact, you may have veered away from the very activities that inspired you because they seemed impractical or frivolous. Before you know it, you find yourself climbing the corporate ladder in a field you can’t stand. Then you wake up one day to realize you are excelling in a career you hate when what you really want is fulfillment. If this sounds familiar, it’s not too late. There are steps that you can take to finally get unstuck and gain career clarity.
1. Take a step back
The first step in finding career clarity is to start with your “why.” Why do you want to make a career change? What is it about your current career that you don’t like? What is it that you like about it (there must be something if you’ve spent many years in the same field)? This phase requires deep self-introspection. You’ll need to take a step back to understand your strengths, weaknesses, values, likes and dislikes. Don’t underestimate the power of assessments. Some assessments, like the Enneagram, can be powerful and insightful tools for understanding ourselves and others.
2. Shift your perspective
If you’ve been in the same high-powered career for a long time, you’ve likely been operating primarily from your “head” and not your “heart.” This phase will require you to make a shift from head to heart. The head’s central reference point is past experiences and future expectation. The heart has no reference point. So, to be open to new possibilities and ways of doing things, it’s essential to go beyond previous experiences. According to Zen master Shunryu Suzuki, “When we do not expect anything, we can be ourselves. That is our way, to live fully in each moment of time.”
3. Brainstorm options
Think back to when you were young. What were the things you enjoyed doing? What are your gifts? What do people compliment you on? What are your hobbies? Talk to people that know you well and get their input. Try to find the intersection of what you enjoy and are good at. These days you can create a career out of almost anything. Career clarity comes from opening yourself up to the possibilities. This phase might be an excellent time to find a mentor or coach to support you and keep you on track. Think about what you’d like your life to be like one, two and five years into the future. A fun concept is to create a brainstorming session with a few people that you really trust. Collect some flip charts and post-it notes and write down some thoughts. Remember to keep an open mind—no idea is too far-fetched!
4. Try it on
Test out the careers that you may be considering. Are you thinking of becoming a life coach or starting an online business? Those careers and many others can be started as a side hustle. You can even begin completing certifications or educational programs on evenings and weekends while in your full-time gig. Network with people in your personal and professional circles to learn about careers you may not have even considered. Volunteering or joining a board are other options that will help you uncover new interests. You can also shadow people in the field you are investigating. That’s the best way to get a feel for the day-to-day grind and whether it might be the right fit.
5. Identify a goal
Once you’ve completed your self-analysis, set some career goals for yourself in writing. Writing them down is important because studies show that vividly describing your goals in writing is strongly associated with goal success. One study revealed that people who vividly describe their goals are 1.2 to 1.4 times more likely to accomplish them than people who don’t. It’s also important to tell people around you what your goals are. There is a strong correlation between vocalizing our goals and completing them. You also want to break up your broad goal into smaller, more manageable milestones. This approach will make the prospect of career transition much less daunting.
Once you have career clarity and a plan in place, stick to it! If you can succeed at a job you hate, imagine what you can accomplish by pursuing a career you feel passionate about. Remember, the sky is not the limit; your mind is. Don’t wait for the perfect moment. Believe in yourself, stay positive and make it happen.