It’s a question we start asking when we are kids, and most of us don’t really stop asking it as we go through life. What career path is right for me? Am I on the right path now? Should I change direction?
When trying to figure out their career paths, most people ask themselves two important questions:
What am I really good at?
What am I passionate about?
Let’s take an example: Josh knew he was a fantastic teacher. He also knew that education was an issue that was very close to his heart. It seemed obvious that with those answers to the two questions, Josh should enter the field of education, and that is what he did.
Fast forward ten years. Josh got his teaching degree, a B.Sc. in Biology (another area close to his heart, and that he was very good at) and has been teaching high school biology for five years.
And he is miserable.
What went wrong?
Josh didn’t ask himself the third question:
What would I enjoy doing for long periods of time, every day?
I hear you laughing. Right, you’re thinking, I love hanging out at the beach, reading a great novel, having coffee with my best friend. I could do that every day for hours. Who’s going to pay me to do that?
But after you finish laughing, think about it. One person could happily spend all day alone, researching a topic; another could spend all day finding solutions to problems; someone else would be happy spending all day giving others emotional support; another person could do almost anything all day if they were doing it with people they like.
The surprising thing is that sometimes, what you enjoy doing all day is not necessarily what you are best at or what you are most passionate about.
Josh discovered, a little late, that standing in front of a group and presenting to them, dealing with discipline issues, writing and grading exams and papers – the central pieces of a teacher’s day – were not enjoyable to him. There were wonderful moments in his day: finding creative ways to explain a difficult concept, and generating curiosity and excitement in his students were definitely bright spots for Josh. And yet, these moments were not enough to sustain him and motivate him to go to work every day.
Another example: I vividly remember bringing my two month old son to the doctor with a fever and a very odd looking rash. The doctor sent me out of the room to consult with his colleagues at the clinic. When they called me back in, they told me to take my son to the emergency room. They suspected a very rare condition indicated by his symptoms.
I was terrified. But even through the cloud of my fear, I could see the barely concealed excitement among the doctors. I could sense what they were feeling. Finally, after years of strep throat and runny noses, a really interesting case! This is why I became a doctor!
Perhaps my doctor became a pediatrician because he was fascinated by the human body and by the discoveries of modern medicine. He was probably also motivated by a desire to heal and help children in pain. But he may not have realized that he would be spending most of his days writing prescriptions for the same mundane ailments, or reassuring worried moms or dads that it was just a virus. (By the way, my son is fine; thankfully, the doctors’ excitement was misplaced in our case.)
Of course, there are some lucky people whose three answers coincide in one glorious career. Those are the people who tell you, “I would do my job even if no one paid me.” But for many people, making a career choice means choosing among the different – and sometimes contradictory – directions that the answers to these questions suggest.
In that case, I strongly recommend not giving up on number three, and making sure you choose a career that includes a daily routine that you truly enjoy. It’s possible to find other outlets for your various passions and talents, such as volunteer work, hobbies and studies. But there is simply no replacement for an enjoyable day’s work – and perhaps nothing more frustrating than spending many hours each day doing things you do not enjoy.
Whether you are just starting out on your career path, or have been working in your profession for a while, it’s never too late to ask yourself the three questions. The answers can guide you to choose wisely: a career path that gives expression to your talents, reflects your passions, and fills your day with activities that you truly enjoy.