How do you choose a career? Should you consider your passion, potential, or the prospects of a certain profession? Or should you conform to family tradition or blaze a new trail?
Some people are dreamers intent on impact and meaning. They want their work to contribute good to the world. At the other end of the spectrum are more practical folks who consider the reward ($, #, N) above all else.
The sweet spot is to be able to find a career which combines passion and prospects, impact and reward. This is what many of us hope for when looking for jobs or trying to choose a career. First, I will start with a little story before we dive into the action steps you can take when you want to choose a career.
How a boy found his career
In 1824, a 12-year old boy called Charles was sent to work at a London factory gluing bottle labels. His family was in debt, and his father had been sent to debtor’s prison. He eventually dropped out of school and took up another job as a law clerk.
It didn’t take too long to realize he needed to find a career he could enjoy and be successful at. Journalism seemed a good option although his family felt he was destined to fail. He learnt to write in shorthand and became a freelance court reporter.
By 21, he was said to be “the most rapid, the most accurate, and the most trustworthy reporter then engaged on the London press.” Still unsatisfied, he switched tracks to become a newspaper reporter. While on that job, he realized he had a love for creative writing.
He began to write sketches, short stories, and then full-length novels which became national and international bestsellers. Within 10 years Charles Dickens became the most successful writer in the world, referred to as “the first true celebrity of the popular arts and the first ‘name brand’.” Some of his popular books to this day are Oliver Twist, A Christmas Carol, and Great Expectations.
Like Charles, you’re reading this because you’ve been thinking about your career. Whether you’re a teenager trying to make this choice or a working professional reviewing your current occupation, you want to find some answers about your career path.
Here are the steps you can take to help you find a career you can become successful at. At the end of this post you’ll find a link to sign up for a complementary tool you can also use to help you find and choose the career you prefer. Let’s dive in.
Discover who you are
While this is the most important factor in finding your career path, it could also be the most demanding and the most time-consuming exercise. The steps you go through when trying to select a career begins from within, and by discovering who you are and identifying your characteristics.
Our likes and dislikes, behaviour, habits, and the influence of our environment. Your personality, interests, aptitudes, and values make up your identity, that is, who you are. One way to make this exercise easier for you is by taking personality assessment.
Here is a free online assessment you can take.
Consider your hobby as a career
This is an extension of the first point but it is worth emphasizing. Pause for a moment and think about the things you enjoy doing. The activities you engage in for leisure may also be an indication of a career path you should consider. Of course, this will not work for everyone but only for some people.
You can be a writer, journalist, editor if you enjoy writing stories or editing what others write. If you like dressing up or designing outfits, how about a career in fashion industry? Maybe you should consider a career in the fashion industry. Dancing? Professional dance, theatre, choreography, movies are some career options for you. Have an eye for pictures? Think professional photography.
This seems to work for entrepreneurial or vocation-type hobbies and related jobs or careers. But let’s try the same with more ‘serious’ hobbies. Do you enjoy volunteering with the Red Cross, or taking care of sick people? You may consider a health-related career.
My aim here is not to provide you a formula or prophecy, I just want you to get to a place where you are open-minded enough to be willing to explore possibilities, and then be able to choose a career path and prepare yourself to succeed in it.
What are the takeaways here? Explore possible career options based on the things you like, scratch that, love doing. Gather information, read, listen to people, watch occupation-type programmes on TV, endure those boring personality interviews and documentaries(!) for a change.
Imagine your future
Here is a little exercise for you. Close your eyes for a few moments: What type of work do you see yourself doing in 10 – 20 years’ time? Do you see yourself running a business or working as an employee?
The pictures that come to your mind may be clues to your careers you should look at. You can write down the ideas you come up with to compare it with the clues you get from other sources.
Ask people questions
One of the ways you can obtain useful information about various occupations is by talking to people. You can talk to professionals, and even friends and family. Identify professionals around you and ask them about their jobs… in a nice way!
This is not just about office people, you can reach out to people having vocational-type careers, too. Some of the information you should watch out for include descriptions of their experience at work, their education or training, and the prospects of their occupation. Consider people on your street, your school, church, place of work, on social media.
It will require some courage to do this because of the risk that some may ignore you or respond in an unfriendly manner. This is especially for folks in society who either don’t want to be hassled to help secure jobs or feel embarrassed that they may not be able to help you. But some of them will be open to share their experiences with you. It’s a risk worth taking. Do it.
Finally, you can also talk to counselors and mentors. Talking to the right folks can save you time and energy. They can also provide a support community for you as you progress in your occupation or career. Hey, you can also talk to me about your career ideas. I respond to all messages.
Get real-life work experience
Look for opportunities to work in as many settings as possible. This will benefit you in two ways:
1. If you are undecided about what you want to do, getting firsthand experience in a field, as close to the action as you can get may help you see things more clearly about the occupation.
A secondary school student can intern during the holidays; an undergrad can use semester breaks to volunteer or intern as an apprentice at informal and formal business setups.
2. The second reason is that you will have a chance to become a more rounded person and professional merely by going through those various work experiences in different settings. One holiday spent with the tailor down your street will teach you product design, precision, time management, and customer service.
The next spent at a supermarket teaches you store-keeping and accounting. You can spend another one working at a law office or ICT firm as an intern or volunteer learning computer hardware or programming or how to sell services, and business writing.
I know, I know, this might be easier to do in other climes or for people who are more privileged. My job is to give you permission to think of possibilities, indeed to ‘expand your horizons’. Don’t discard this, give it a try. Get involved. Volunteer, do casual jobs, extern, intern whenever you find the opportunity.
Pray to God for direction and guidance
You can pray to God for help in choosing your career. What has God got to do with your work or career? The answer depends on who you’re talking to. My answer from experience is, “Everything”. Take my own story: I tell everyone that God directed me to pursue a career in information technology.
I studied biochemistry at the university but had concluded it was not a career path for me even before I left school. After NYSC, I went from misinformed confidence to desperation. I was on a still boat without a paddle in the midst of the open sea.
I rejected a writing job, tried and failed to sell insurance, and successfully milk all within one year before I prayed for help.
My arrogance faded as my desperation increased. So I prayed for what to do with my life, the direction to go and God answered me. I started on the IT path 12 years ago and I can say confidently say it was a good career decision.
Just earlier today, a colleague was shocked when I told him I did not study computer science in school. Maybe my career choice met with some natural ability or aptitude to do well in IT. Always remember, God is interested in all that concerns you and that includes your career.
How do you react to the problems in your environment?
Whether you feel angry, sad, frustrated, or hopeful, the way you feel about the problems could be pointing at a career you should consider. Take some time throughout the rest of today to think about the problems in your immediate environment, city, country or the world.
What problems do you feel drawn to? Which one(s) do you think you can help to resolve or reduce or eradicate? Do you feel you need to do something about the issue, even if someone else is already working to fix it?
Your answers to these questions could help identify the career or at least some of the careers you can consider. By the way, did you feel angry, sad, frustrated or hopeful about the lost cat?
Finally, take things easy
Finding your ideal career is not an exact science, allow yourself room to switch tracks as you get to discover more information about the career suited to you. Robert Greene, the famous American author says he worked at 80 jobs before he found success as an author.
Okay, you don’t have to go through 80 jobs! But like Charles Dickens, you should never settle for just a job because of the money if you feel and know the career made for you is out there.
- Doctors become bakers
- Philosophers become software developers – e.g. Paul Graham
- Engineers become bankers
- Footballers become lawyers and business men
- Lawyers become artistes – e.g. Falz
The most important thing is the sense of purpose and direction you find as things become clearer to you.
To summarize everything I talked about, you should start with some reflection. Find out more about yourself, your interests and hobbies.
Then search for information and for practical experience. Imagine where you want to be in the future, take a long-term view, say 10 to 20 years.
You will do well to ask God’s guidance as you take these important steps to choose your career.
And of course, relax. Have this confidence that you will make the right choices and find a successful career. Set aside time to assess your progress, maybe at the end or beginning of every month.
As promised, here is the link to access the complementary My Career Planner email guide. To your career success!
1 The Charles Dickens story is taken from the book Talent Is Never Enough by John C. Maxwell