How to choose your career
Out of all the many decisions you will have to make through life, choosing a career may be among the most difficult — and the most important.
From a very young age, we’re asked the question: What do you want to be when you grow up? Some of us still struggle to find the right answer well into middle age.
The task of finding your so-called ‘dream job’ can be a lifelong process of self-exploration.
And like most things in life, you’ll probably make a few mistakes before you get it right.
So, how do you begin your journey to career satisfaction?
The popular career advice book What Colour Is Your Parachute?, by Richard Bolles, includes a self-assessment model called the Flower Exercise.
It’s aimed at helping readers choose their career by exploring their strengths, values and preferences, represented through the seven petals of a flower.
These petals include things like career goals and life purpose, qualifications and transferable skills, and other things like money and working conditions.
“What the Flower Diagram does is describe who you are in all seven ways,” writes Bolles, who first published Parachute in 1970 and has updated it annually since 1975. “After all, you are not just one of these things; you are all of these things.”
What matters most to you? Is it money and rewards? Lifestyle and freedom? Answering these questions will give you some clues in the pursuit of your ideal job.
As Joshua Rothman put it in The New Yorker, choosing a career isn’t only about what you want to do, it’s also about who you want to be.
Making an impact
‘Pursue your passion’ may be good advice to some people, but for most, passion alone won’t be enough if it isn’t combined with purpose.
“The goal is not to love every minute of your job, or to identify your one true passion, but is instead to put a dent in the universe,” says Cal Newport, author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You.
“To put it more succinctly: Don’t follow your passion; instead, work passionately toward the hard but worthy goal of making an impact.”
Newport cites the words of Steve Jobs’ biographer Walter Isaacson, who in 2012 declared: “The important point is to not just follow your passion but something larger than yourself. It ain’t just about you and your damn passion.”
Their message is clear: Most people will be happier in their careers in the long-term if they strive towards making an impact through empathy.
They might also benefit from choosing a career that aligns with their values.
“I’ve found it’s ever so clear when people are working out of alignment with their core values … it can be a miserable and even devastating experience,” says careers coach Kathy Caprino.
“Unhappy professionals often know something is terribly wrong but can’t pinpoint exactly what is making them feel so disrespected, undervalued and unappreciated. In many cases, it’s a serious clash in values.”
Inside HigherEd’s Saundra Loffredo agrees, arguing that an alignment between career and values is more likely to produce “satisfaction, a sense of happiness and fulfillment”.
Working out what your core values are, however, is not always easy.
“I wish I could say that I knew from a young age what I valued in life and what I wanted to do with my career,” Loffredo writes.
“It took many years and multiple jobs for me to understand myself, my values and the importance of keeping those things in alignment with the work I did.”
In other words, don’t expect to find a career that ticks all the boxes right away.
Your first (or second, or third) job out of university might not be the right one, and that’s nothing to be too worried about.
Think about what moves you. Follow your instincts. Explore your options.
The most important thing is to have a go. Discover your career path by walking on it. You can always opt for an alternative route along the way.
By now, you’ve probably worked out that the advice to ‘do what you’re good at’ can be a bit narrow.
There’s certainly nothing wrong with embracing the skills that come naturally to us; the tasks we have an innate propensity towards.
However, we are often the last to realise how great we are at something, or even how much joy we get from doing it.
It might therefore be a good exercise to ask others — classmates and colleagues, family and friends — what they think we’re good at.
According to employment site Seek.com: “If those around you often mention that you’re good at a particular thing, it might mean you have an untapped talent you could be focusing on.”
The other problem with the advice to ‘do what you’re good at’ is that it neglects the fact you can become good at something — with training and practice.
Trying new things — things that you’re not good at — can boost wellbeing and have a positive effect on happiness and overall feelings of worth.
It’s hard to know if you’re good at something if you haven’t taken the plunge, giving it a go by attaining the required skills and knowledge and putting them into practice.
It’s also true that it’s never too late to learn. You don’t need to be young to learn a new skill or change careers.
Those who are lifelong learners, who are so-called ‘beginners for life’, tend to more easily pick up skills and qualifications that make them adaptable to changing circumstances — in the work market and life in general.
Finding something you can become good at is, once again, a process of exploration. Have a dig, and don’t worry about making mistakes.
There may be many ‘dream jobs’
That days of a job for life are long gone.
The students of today may have up to 17 employers and change careers five times in their working life.
That means it’s unlikely you’ll have just one dream job.
Your ideal profession in 2025 might be teaching, and in 2033, it might be coaching a sporting team.
Keep an open mind. Don’t cave into pressure, from yourself or from others. Be brave and take risks. Your (next) dream job might be just around the corner.
Keen to pursue your ideal career through study at ACU? Visit us at ACU Open Day to discuss your study options.