What is your ideal career path? This question haunts us from a very young age, and doubts and concerns about the right professional direction can continue to plague us even after decades of professional experience.
The process of selecting a career path is further complicated these days by the myths about career satisfaction that have become largely accepted as gospel truth by many professionals. In fact, these myths can actually create barriers between you and your ideal professional direction, while questioning them may open up new professional vistas for you.
Myth #1: If I feel passionate about it, it must be my destined path
The blogosphere is full of accounts of people who have “followed their passion”. We read about the doctor who left a prospering career to open a donut shop, the teacher who developed an app that rocketed her into billions, the engineer who decided to pursue a career in the arts.
Of course, we all hope to find expression for our passions in our career. There is nothing quite so satisfying as going to work every day on something you care about and believe in. However this search to “find your passion” can also lead you down the wrong career path. Because oddly enough, people who find work in areas they feel very passionate about are often surprised to discover that passion does not always translate into professional fulfillment.
Why? Because even a job that strives to achieve your most lofty ideals or a job that touches on your pet passion is made up of daily tasks, and if those daily tasks are not ones that you find fulfilling, you will probably feel frustrated or unhappy, even in the field of your passion.
Let’s say you feel passionate about health food or gourmet dining; that does not necessarily mean that you love the daily tasks (marketing, budgeting, human resources and management) that go into running a successful restaurant. Or let’s say you feel strongly about the importance of education; that does not always translate into enjoyment of the daily tasks (lesson plans, class management, grading exams, and discipline) that go into a career as an educator.
This is not to say that your passion should play no part in your career choice; feeling connected and identified with your professional field is an important piece of the career building puzzle. However your passion should not be your lone compass when choosing a career path.
Myth #2: My career choice is for life
One of the assumptions that underlie the pressure, time, energy and tears that go into figuring out a career path is the belief that a career choice made before or after college is a decision that will impact your entire professional life. This was often the case a few decades ago; however for most people it no longer reflects reality. These days, a radical career change is possible and even probable at some point.
As a recruiter and a career coach, I see more and more diverse employment histories, and this is no longer necessarily considered a warning sign for potential employers. I see people discovering new interests, gaining new confidence and training, and embarking on new professional journeys twice or even three times during their professional lives.
Of course your career choice is still incredibly significant and it deserves serious consideration; but a lot of the pressure can be relieved with the knowledge that a choice you make now does not have to mean forever.
Myth # 3: If your professional life is not picture-perfect, you have “settled” for less than you deserve
In an age where Facebook envy has made us all think our friends are living the life while we are still fighting our way up from the dregs, the expectation that we deserve to achieve dizzying professional success early on in our career is a sure set up for disappointment. And that is not because other people are “making it” and we are not. It is because the airbrushed vision of a perfect professional life that many of us have bought into is simply not a reflection of anyone’s reality. Nor should it be.
Life is a process; we are constantly growing, learning and changing through our experiences. And our jobs are part of that process. Sometimes they will be a perfect fit for our needs and personalities, and sometimes the fit will be too tight or too loose; when that happens, we take note of it and choose whether to try and change our current situation, take a completely new direction, or grin and bear it because of other values that we hold dear. To expect to “arrive” at your happy ending at the beginning of your path guarantees that you will miss out on the dynamics of change that make life so meaningful.
Choosing a new career path is a frightening and exciting process, at any professional stage. It requires clarity not only about your passions but also about the daily tasks that you find fulfilling; it requires the ability to relax and keep your sense of humor and proportion, realizing that careers are fluid and there will be room to develop, change and even move in a new direction later on; but most of all, it requires the maturity to embrace and enjoy the journey of life, knowing that you will not be able to reach the top of your Mt Everest before you get your boots on.