Essential Career Change Questions: What Do I Want To Do?
It’s the most common question I hear. And it’s a big one!
You know you want a career change.
Maybe you’ve fallen out of love with your work. Or maybe you never had it, and you fell into your career by accident, and somehow the years have gone by and now you want to take charge and forge your own path. Or perhaps it’s more urgent than that, and you can’t stand another day in your job.
Whatever’s pushing you, the trouble is — nothing’s pulling you. You don’t know what you want to do. YET.
Career change is a hurdles event.
But all too often we think of these hurdles being things like lengthy training courses, affordability, or a lack of transferable skills. But when you don’t know what you want to do, it can feel like you’re stuck in the blocks.
In this article, I’ll show you 3 ways to start running. And at the end, I’ll tell you the one crucial leap you have to take, whatever hurdles stand in your way.
IN THIS ARTICLE:
1. Begin at the starting line
2. Size up your hurdle
3. Don’t run from the pain
1. Begin at the starting line
When we attempt to answer this question by searching for vacancies or job titles, we’re trying to join the race near the end.
The fact is, the problem is not that you lack job market information. You could spend months or years scanning job sites, taking online career tests and scrolling down endless lists of job titles, and still feel no closer to knowing what career you want to do next. Stop it.
What you’re lacking is information about you. Click here to download a brief questionnaire to kickstart the right kind of thinking. (No, you don’t need to give me your email address, or anything else for that matter.)
But before you begin, there’s a twist: forget about ‘careers’ for now. Answer these questions without referring to a single job title or industry. I know this is LinkedIn, but professional jargon is banned!
Now look over your answers. For now, forget about practicalities and limitations, and give yourself permission to brainstorm freely. Imagine there are no restrictions. What would you love to do?
It’s essential not to let limitations hold you back at this point, no matter how realistic they might be. This is because your answers will hold important clues to the kind of thing that would make you happy, and provide a starting point for the right way of thinking about what career you want.
OK, perhaps you can’t be a fighter pilot now that you’re 45. But having allowed yourself to explore this dream, what might it tell you about what you want to do?
Is it adrenaline, operating machines, status and admiration, varied physical work, being outdoors, travelling, working in a disciplined environment? What realistic roles or industries could offer you some or all of these criteria?
Repeat this process until you have a shortlist of 3–5 ideas. They don’t have to be specific job titles at this stage — the task is to get your mind moving forwards.
2. Size up your hurdle
Now that you’re scrutinising yourself, take the opportunity to look even closer. Ask yourself this:
What is the main obstacle getting in the way of me knowing what I want to do?
There are far too many possible answers to this question for one article (watch this space), so here are 3 common hurdles we encounter and 3 ways to leap over them.
Hurdle 1: You have a 4-WALLS career
If you’ve ever thought, “There must be something else out there,” you almost certainly have a 4-walls career.
This occurs if you’ve always done the same kind of role, or never moved industry. You’re likely to have a highly developed skill set and admirable experience within your sector. But the disadvantage is that your experience has built four solid walls around you, and it can seem impossible to step outside them or even to know what lies beyond. How can you know what you want to do with your life, if you’ve only ever done one kind of thing? You might catch occasional glimpses of the wider world through the windows, but you never see enough to know if it’s worth walking out the door.
Leap 1: Step outside
Poke your nose out. Go out on day release. The longer you stay inside doing no more than thinking, the longer your ideas will be limited to what you’ve always done. So whether this means a second job, occasional volunteering, or just starting a new hobby and making connections outside your existing network, start expanding your world — either physically or virtually.
Hurdle 2: (whisper it) You don’t have a career passion
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: PASSION = PRESSURE.
We live in an age of passion — or that’s what society will have you believe. Most career coaches and self-help gurus will tell us we should all have passions. Or even worse, they just assume we all have them and are just bursting at the seams to break the dam and drown in fulfilment. Watch any TV talent show and try to find any contestant who hasn’t had an
for singing/dancing/whatever since they were 3 months old.
Sure, some people are lucky enough to feel strongly about a certain cause or activity to call it a passion. And from there it’s a quick jump to knowing what job they want. If that’s you, fantastic, roll with it or have a look elsewhere in this article for other ways to move forward. But that’s not all of us, and the pressure to have a passion and act on it is immense. We can feel deficient (or just plain dull) if we don’t have a passion we want to shout about.
Leap 2: Drop the label
Abandon your quest for a passion and just start doing more of the things you think you could enjoy.
After a while, you’ll find you enjoy some of them more than others, and some are more likely as a means of earning an income. This is just a start, so go easy on yourself, and follow your nose.
Hurdle 3: You want to have your cake and eat it
This is a different problem. Here, you actually DO have a decent idea of what you want to do with your career from this point onwards, but you sense it would require too great a sacrifice or upheaval (salary, status, lifestyle, location, etc), so you don’t allow yourself to consider it. You stop trying, and convince yourself you don’t know what you want.
Leap 3: Get a dose of reality
You’re getting in your own way. Instead, force yourself to get your requirements down on paper, and make a detailed assessment of each potential compromise. What EXACTLY would it mean? Is it truly impossible, or are you just avoiding discomfort? What are you sacrificing by not giving this the consideration it deserves? What’s the worst that could happen if you chose to accept the compromises, and what’s the preferable outcome?
Even if your top choice isn’t workable, go back to the jet pilot questions. What other options offer some or all of the same factors?
3. Don’t run from the pain
Not knowing is a difficult place to be. For most of us, our instinctive reaction is to rush for an answer as quickly as possible, to stamp out any trace of uncertainty. The trouble is, rushing for an answer almost always leads to the wrong one, and in a year or two, you’ll find yourself right back where you started.
So try to accept discomfort for a while longer. It’s hard, but most of us recognise that being out of our comfort zone can be extremely fruitful. It helps us grow and makes us wiser.
One of the key ways to make discomfort fruitful is to work with possibility, as opposed to certainty, or even likelihood. So you don’t know the answer for sure — so what? Do yourself a favour and put your grown-up hat on. Take some time to play with ideas and explore a shortlist of possibilities. Stand in front of the mirror (with said hat on) and tell yourself it’s OK not to know — for now.
Start to explore vague ideas by setting yourself actions. For example, let’s say you’re kind of interested in the idea of working for a charity, but you’re not sure it’s for you. Remember: at this stage, you’re not committing to anything. So your actions should feel fairly easy — they should be low-stakes, low-cost, and fast.
So, at first, you might set yourself the action of speaking to someone in your network who works in this sector, or knows someone who does. Then, if you’re still keen, you might take it a bit further by volunteering occasionally for one or more charities that seem kind of interesting, but still without going too far down the road. Ultimately, before a complete change into this sector, you might consider changing your working patterns to take on two part-time roles to bridge your career change, or a stepping-stone role which combines some of the old with some of the new.
This approach is a gentle slope, not a leap — but it’s resilient. You will have confidence in the changes you make.
You might be wondering which of these hurdles is your main barrier to career change.
But if you look carefully, whichever hurdles are lined up ahead, there’s really only one way to leap over them: act, don’t just think.
And it makes sense, right? Put it this way: keeping the question in your head has led you to a dead end. If you want to move forwards, you need to bring the question out of your head and into the real world.
So whether you make yourself sit down with a piece of paper and get specific about your needs and compromises, or you start changing your hours and doing new activities, the message is this:
You need to make change happen.