How to Choose a Career: 8 Steps to Uncover Great Options
Not knowing what to do for a career has become one of the most common problems nowadays.
There are so many options for people to do what they love. And that’s a good thing.
But it also makes matters a little bit more complicated; the more options you have, the more you tell yourself, “I don’t know what I want to do for a career.”
And the more you compare yourself to others who seem to love what they do for a living.
This happens to all of us at least once in a lifetime.
However, people seem to be so silent about it that it’s normal to feel like you’re alone.
Apparently, people want the rest of the world to see they’re happy with their choices and that there’s not a single ounce of doubt in their bodies.
But, in reality, they’re much more lost and stuck than they appear.
So, is it normal not to know what career you want?
Yes, it is.
It’s true that some know what they want since they’re very young, like the majority of athletes for example, but those are the outliers.
The truth is that figuring out what you want takes time. And that’s okay.
It’s worth taking the time to explore different options and figure out what truly makes you happy and fulfilled.
Many people who are very successful today, and that you may have heard of didn’t find out what they wanted until they were in their 30s or 40s.
Take Abraham Lincoln, for example.
He started several businesses that failed and held different jobs before becoming the President of the United States.
Vera Wang, the iconic wedding dress designer, was a figure skater and then a fashion editor before launching her own bridal wear line in her 40s.
My point here is that you can take your time to figure out what you want, and that doesn’t mean you won’t have enough time to enjoy it and become successful.
In this post, I’m giving you actionable steps you can take today to finally stop telling yourself, “I don’t know what job I want.”
How to Choose a Career: 8 Steps to Uncover New Options
1. Invest time in knowing yourself better
Self-discovery is the process of learning more about yourself, and when it comes to choosing a career, it can be incredibly valuable because it helps you understand what you want and need from your work.
In my opinion, there’s no way you can nail a vital career decision without taking the time to know yourself better.
How can you know what you want if you don’t know yourself?
Many people go through life throwing spaghetti at the wall career-wise to see what sticks or what gives them the most amount of money, without stopping to ask themselves: Wait, what do I really want?
In my opinion, that happens because this isn’t an easy process. Knowing yourself can be tricky, and it takes time. And patience.
You’re a complex human being with many moving pieces that make up who you are and what you want.
Figuring out what you want from a career when you don’t know what to do with your life is like a job in and of itself, but it is SO worth it.
It can help you understand:
- What you’re looking for, so you’ll be better equipped to find a career that aligns with those needs and makes you happy and fulfilled.
- Your strengths, which makes it easier to explore careers you can excel at.
- Your passions, so you can explore engaging careers you’re excited about.
- Your ideal work environment, so you can identify the career fields that align with your personal and professional aspirations.
Here are a few quick tips to help you get to know yourself better:
- Take some time each day to reflect on your thoughts and feelings. This can be as simple as journaling for a few minutes after waking up or before bed.
- Pay attention to your intuition. Learning to trust your gut feelings can take time, so start listening to what your inner voice is telling you.
- Try new things. Step out of your comfort zone and try something new. This can help you discover new interests and passions.
- Find a way to express yourself creatively, whether it’s through writing, art, music, or something else. Doing this can help you tap into your inner thoughts and feelings.
- Learn from your experiences. Take the time to reflect on what you’ve learned from your experiences and how you can apply that knowledge to your future.
In my experience, taking the time to learn myself and why I felt so miserable in my previous career was vital for finding the right career.
It took me years of journaling and being patient with myself, but it was worth it.
Remember that self-discovery is a journey, and it takes time to get to know yourself better.
Be patient and enjoy the process.
2. Make friends with your journal
Journaling is a great tool to help you know yourself better and can help you gain clarity on what you want in your career.
If you’ve read as little as one other post in this blog, you’ll know I’m a huge fan of journaling.
You can use your journal to write down how you feel about different jobs or fields you’re interested in or to reflect on what you’re looking for in a career.
If you want to give it try but don’t know where to start, here are some prompts that can help you explore what you think and feel about different careers:
- Write about a time when you felt really fulfilled or excited at work. What made you feel that way? Be as specific as you can.
- What’s important to you in a job? Write about how you would like to make a positive impact in your work.
- What are you naturally good at? How can you use these strengths in your career?
- What are you passionate about? How can you incorporate your interests into your work?
- What’s your ideal work environment? What would it look like, and what kind of people would you like to work with?
- What does the perfect work-life balance look like to you? Think about the kind of lifestyle you want to have and how your career can support that. What kind of schedule would your ideal job entail? Would you need to travel a lot, be in many meetings or hardly ever talk to anyone?
- How do you feel about your current job? What do you like and dislike about it? Write about what you’d like to keep and what you’d like to change in your next career.
- What do you want to accomplish in your career? Is it freedom, recognition, leadership, or purpose?
- What’s your dream job? What would it be like, and what kind of person would you be in that role?
Journaling can also be a great way to process and release any negative thoughts or doubts you may have about your career path.
And it can help you understand exactly what you don’t like about your current career or any other option you’ve explored.
3. Don’t be afraid to choose wrong
Don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from taking action.
You don’t have to choose the “perfect” career right from the start.
If you’re too afraid of making the “wrong” choice, you’ll never try anything new. If your goal is to pick the “perfect” career, you’ll be too afraid to go beyond your comfort zone.
It is possible to choose the wrong career, and it’s not uncommon for people to change careers multiple times throughout their lives.
I’d say it’s just part of it.
Now, I’m not saying you should leave a job you hate just to get stuck in another one you hate as much (or more).
However, keep in mind that changing careers is a process that begins the moment you start learning something new or acquiring new skills, and it’s not only the moment when you actually get the job in a new industry.
That means you can realize it’s not for you way before you dive head-first into getting an actual job.
Start giving different options a try, and don’t be afraid to quit if you realize it’s not what you were expecting.
Changing careers can be complicated and overwhelming, but it can also be an opportunity to explore new options and discover what you’re genuinely passionate about.
Be willing to make mistakes, learn from them, and move on.
4. Know your values
Work values are the principles that guide your actions and decisions career-wise.
Work values are important because they shape your perspective on work and your motivation for working.
They reflect what’s most important to you and what you stand for. Understanding yours can be like uncovering a compass that’ll take you where you want to be.
On top of that, they give you a sense of purpose and direction, and they can help you make decisions that align with your personal and professional goals.
Some examples of work values include:
- Integrity: Honesty and ethical behavior.
- Respect: Treating others with dignity and kindness.
- Teamwork: Collaboration and cooperation with others.
- Growth: Continuously learning and developing in your career.
- Innovation: Being open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
What are yours?
Here’s a list of work values you can check if you need more ideas.
Once you go through it, ask yourself: Which one of these sounds like a must-have for me? What’s a non-negotiable?
There’s no right or wrong here. The idea is that you use this exercise to uncover what you’re looking for.
If you want to go deeper, here are a few journaling prompts you can use to figure out your work values:
- Reflect on your past experiences. Think about the jobs you’ve had, the projects you’ve worked on, and the activities you’ve been involved in. What did you enjoy about them? What did you dislike? What does that say about your values?
- Consider your current situation: Think about your current career path. What do you like about it? What do you dislike? Can you learn what your values are based on your answers?
- Ask yourself more profound questions. Use journaling prompts like, “What’s most important to me at work?“, “What values do I want to see reflected in my work environment?“, “How do I want to feel after a day at work?”
- Research different careers. When analyzing different careers and industries, consider which values they align with.
- Take a values assessment. There are online quizzes that can help you identify your work values, like this one.
When you’re clear on your work values, it’s easier to find a work environment that aligns with them and make career choices that are fulfilling and satisfying.
Not all values are equally important for everyone. What matters is what’s important for you.
Remember that work values can change over time and can be influenced by different factors such as life experiences, personal circumstances, and job experiences.
Reflect on your work values every now and then, especially if you’re feeling lost and confused about your career.
5. Let your career choice evolve with you
Some people may have a clear idea of what they want to do as a career from a young age and never change, while others may explore different paths and change careers multiple times throughout their lives.
And there’s nothing wrong with any of those options.
Both are perfectly fine, but changing your career preferences as you grow older is, in my opinion, a lot more common.
Just think about it: As you grow older, you may also have different life circumstances to consider, such as starting a family or caring for aging parents, which can affect what you want to do for a living.
Also, as you gain more experience, your values and priorities change.
You may have started your career focusing on making money but then realized that you want to make a positive impact, or you may want to prioritize work-life balance over climbing the corporate ladder.
It’s essential to be open to the possibility of change and to reflect on your career preferences constantly instead of getting overwhelmed because you used to like something, and now you don’t.
Keep learning new skills and connecting with new people in different roles.
Be open to new opportunities and keep an open mind. These opportunities can help you gain new perspectives and discover new interests.
No matter what you do, be open to the possibility of change, whether it’s a new career path, a new industry, or a new location.
You’re a human being that grows every day, not a rock or a tree.
What matters is that you are happy and fulfilled in your work, and in order to do that, you need to stay present and in touch with yourself so you can understand what you need at every stage of your life.
6. Become a life-long learner
Learning constantly is important for finding the right career because it exposes you to new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking, which can help you discover new interests that could lead to new career opportunities.
It also helps you develop a growth mindset, which means being open to new challenges and ways of doing things.
All of this can help you adapt to changes a lot more easily and even have fun while at it.
Acquiring new skills and knowledge will help you become more confident in your abilities, and this will help you to be more assertive and take more initiative in your career.
Read books, articles, and research papers related to your field or interests.
Watch videos, listen to podcasts, and follow interesting people on social media. All of this can help you stay informed about new trends and developments in your industry.
Be curious about the world around you, and don’t be afraid to ask questions or explore new things.
Learning can help you approach problems from different perspectives and make you more innovative and creative in your problem-solving abilities.
Make learning a part of your daily routine by setting aside a little time each day to learn something new.
Life-long learning is a journey, and it’s essential to your personal and professional growth.
It’ll help you stay relevant, adaptable, and motivated in your career, and it can also help you discover new interests, passions, and career opportunities.
7. Connect with as many people as you can
Talking to people from different industries can be a great way to learn about different career options and gain insights into the pros and cons of different fields.
It can give you a better understanding of what different roles and responsibilities entail, which can help you determine if a specific field or role is a good fit for you.
You can also learn about the culture and work environment in different industries, which can help you learn more about that job and see if it’s a good fit for you.
People who have been in an industry for a while can also give you tips and advice on how to succeed in a particular field and navigate the job market.
Networking with people from different industries can also help you make connections that benefit your career, like getting a referral for a job or learning about new opportunities.
Something that helped me figure out what I wanted to do when I was changing careers was learning more about the company my husband works for.
It’s a marketing agency, and even though he’s part of the engineering team, he’s familiar with what that people from other teams do.
One day, I was telling him for the eleventh time that I wanted something different, something challenging and creative, but that at the same time “I don’t know what I want” and he was like, “Why don’t you apply for this new position they opened at my job? Just give it a try.”
And the rest is history.
The moral of the story here is to let people know you’re looking to change careers.
Look for conferences, trade shows, and networking events relevant to the industries you’re interested in, and be open about what you’re looking for. This is a great way to meet people working in those fields and learn more about them.
Using LinkedIn is another excellent way to connect with people from different industries.
Enrolling in a class or course related to an industry you’re interested in can be another great way to meet new people.
Meeting new people and showing genuine interest in what they do can open your mind to possibilities you had never thought of.
8. Take career tests
Career tests can help you find the perfect job for you by providing you with information about your interests, skills, values, and personality.
These tests are designed to help you identify careers that align with your strengths and preferences, which can increase your chances of finding a job that you will enjoy and excel in.
They can also help you assess your interests, which can help you identify jobs and careers that align with your passions and hobbies.
On top of all of that, they’re fun to take!
However, it’s essential to remember that while career tests can be helpful tools, they shouldn’t be the sole determinant in making a career decision.
Some are not designed to take into account the unique experiences and perspectives of different groups of people, and may not be as accurate or relevant for others.
Some test results may not align with your expectations, and some may not seem to fit with your interests or values, so it’s important to be open-minded and willing to explore new options.
The Bottom Line
Choosing a career can be a daunting task, and it’s normal to feel worried about picking the wrong one.
But remember: picking the wrong career doesn’t mean that you’ve failed; it just means that you’ve learned something new about yourself and what you’re looking for in a new job.
You don’t have to have everything figured out right now.
Career choices can evolve over time, and it’s okay to take your time and explore different options.
Be patient and trust the process.
You know yourself better than anyone else. All the answers you’re looking for are hiding inside of you.