You have been in your professional field quite a few years now. You have a stable job, with opportunities for advancement. People around you consider you a professional success. And yet, a little voice in your head keeps asking: is this the right career for me?
You are not alone. Even those people who seem very successful and appear to know exactly where they are going professionally and how to get there, sometimes wonder if they have chosen the right path. Usually these doubts arise at a time of crisis, such as losing your job or difficulty dealing with challenging people or tasks at work; or else during times of calm, such as a vacation or a slow period professionally, when you have leisure to consider your professional path. Sometimes just meeting someone who has chosen a different career can raise the nagging question: would I be happier doing what they are doing?
It is possible that at these susceptible and vulnerable times you are simply more prone to suffer from the popular malady of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Or is it something more?
The three tests of a career match: tasks, interests, and environment
Surprisingly, your passions and values do not always point you in the right career direction. The oft-repeated career mantra, “Follow your passion” is to some extent to blame for widespread career dissatisfaction. Sometimes people who find work in areas they feel very passionate about are surprised to find that passion does not always translate into professional fulfillment. However there are three tried and true elements that define any job or career as a match or a mismatch.
The single most important indicator of a good career match is enjoyment of your daily tasks. Every job has repetitive elements, and things that must be done on a regular basis. In some jobs the central tasks are thinking and writing; in others they include making things with your hands; still others require public speaking and communication.
What are the tasks that make up your day? Do you find yourself feeling fulfilled, engaged and energized by the tasks you do? If the answer is a resounding yes, that is very good news. If the answer is yes to some of your tasks and no to others, that can give you a clue as to how to make your job a better match – by changing the balance in favor of the tasks you most enjoy.
Areas of Interest
Each of us is drawn to a few central areas of interest. A more eclectic person will have a greater variety of areas than someone more focused, but everyone has fields that they are drawn to.
Because people change and grow over time, our areas of interest can also change; that’s why defining your “passions” when you start out in your career can be premature and limiting. It’s important to keep your finger on your own pulse as time goes on, and consider if the field you are in is interesting and compelling for you. Some people remain fascinated by the field they started out in, while others find new interests and change direction as time goes on.
As a career coach, my clients often start out thinking they are in the wrong field, only to discover that they are in the right field, but the wrong work environment.
Some people thrive in a social work setting with interactions with colleagues, students or clients as an essential part of their work experience; others prefer to work independently and alone. Some people prefer a hands-on manager who guides and assists, and others need to “be their own boss”. Sometimes something as seemingly insignificant as the noise level at work can make you unhappy, and cause you to throw out the baby with the bath water.
Fortunately, there is more flexibility in this area than ever before: working remotely from home at least some of the time, joining a hub or sitting in a café are all options for many professions. Thinking seriously about what work environment is best for your personality is essential to finding happiness in your job.
These days more professional fields are open than ever before, and training is accessible in so many areas. In some ways this plethora of opportunities can be daunting. It might have been easier to be a tailor or a farmer because that was the family business. However if you take a closer look at your tasks, your interests and your environment, you should be able tell if your job is the right fit for you.