I was hungry, meeting people for lunch in an unfamiliar area. My instructions were to look for the parking lot behind the restaurant because that lot would validate parking. I thought I saw the restaurant out of the corner of my eye, so I turned into the first garage and asked if they validated parking for the restaurant I was going to. The attendant shook his head no. I was confused. My experience wasn’t matching up with my instructions, and I didn’t know why.
This idea of a mismatch is present in all forms of confusion. For example, confusion occurs when people around us behave differently than we thought they would. It’s present when new information doesn’t fit with our previous knowledge or worldview. And, you saw it coming; confusion can be a common companion when you’re facing a career decision.
So what’s really going on with career confusion?
Career confusion is a signal that there’s an incongruity or discord between the different ways you’re thinking about an upcoming choice. Things aren’t matching up.
Here are some examples of conflicting career thoughts.
“I have to please my family” and “I want to finally choose a path just for me”.
“I don’t have experience in field X” and “I won’t settle for anything less than a 6 figure salary”.
“It’s really important to me to have a high standard of living” and “My heart tells me to go for a job in a lower paying field”.
“I want to go back to work” and “No one will hire me”.
“This choice has to be perfect” and “I’m still exploring what I like”.
“I have to follow my passion” and “I’m tired of struggling financially”.
Here are four things to try if you’re feeling befuddled about which path to choose.
1) Take care of physical needs first!
We’re more susceptible to confusion when we’re feeling physically out of it. Therefore the first thing to do before working through a career conundrum is to make sure you’ve got a full belly and that you’re feeling rested. You might even try taking a walk to center yourself before taking the next steps.
2) Try to pull out your conflicting thoughts.
Write down the different ideas you have around your career choice. Then try matching up ones that point you in opposite directions. Put these conflicting ideas next to one another.
3) Question your assumptions.
Once you have your thought pairs in front of you, underline any phrase that has one of the following words in it, ‘have to’, ‘should’, ‘must’, ‘need’, or any other idea that makes you feel locked in.
Insert a key into that lock by questioning your assumptions. Do you really ‘need’ to follow your passion? Why? What would happen if you didn’t? Do you ‘have’ to live your life according to other people’s desires? Is there really anything forcing you into that corner? Or are you choosing it to avoid certain consequences?
4) Lean towards the choice that feels like freedom.
Just as it isn’t a great idea to leave a job by smashing your desk and cursing out your boss and coworkers, it isn’t sound to stomp all over the people or arguments that are contributing to your feelings of confusion.
However, it does help to give greater weight to the argument that feels more like freedom. So try leaning a little further towards the side of your thought pairs that is lighter and more expansive. Take a small action in that direction. And then see what happens.
Questions and actions help us move through confusion. Just as you would ask a teacher for clarification of a new idea, you can ask yourself for more information by questioning your assumptions. Similarly, by taking small actions you can try out your ideas and see if the new information you experience provides clarification.
What conflicting ideas are bouncing around in your brain? And which one feels freer to you? Leave a comment below!