Originally published on GoGirl Finance.
Amber decided that she wanted to be a paleontologist shortly after a grade school field trip to a museum.
During that trip she watched with utter fascination as a visiting lecturer described the process of uncovering fossils to better understand other eras of life on earth. Her young imagination was captured; she latched on to her dream career of becoming a paleontologist.
Library trips full of books about fossils and science came next, followed by summer internships with an environmental consulting firm, and, eventually, a master’s degree in Geology.
We all know someone like Amber- someone who had a surefire conviction regarding their chosen career path in grade school or college. They marched with such certainty toward their desired destination that it left us wondering, “Why don’t I have a calling like that?”
So, with the best of intentions, you set out to find your career answer; you took tests, you read books, you kept a journal, you looked at graduate schools. You talked to your family. You meditated. You made a vision board. You journaled some more. All to no avail. What gives?
Could it be that you’ve been falling for a career myth?
The Career Myth
In my work as a career coach, I frequently see the myth that we each have a calling residing deep within the recesses of our psyches.
People think that if they could only master the correct sequence of mental jujitsu they’d be able to unlock the door to their own dream career.
So they try different methods of accessing their core essence and desires. When these methods don’t work, people get anxious and stumped. They stall out and wind up putting their half-formed insights to the side in frustration. Weeks later they try again, and the cycle repeats.
We fall prey to the myth that it’s possible to find our best career path through introspection for a couple of reasons.
We see people like Amber, who seem to have found their perfect place in the world by tapping into magical inner knowledge, and we expect the same for ourselves. Additionally, taking career, personality, or aptitude tests gives us a feeling of making progress, even though these tests don’t actually challenge us to do anything in the real world. And finally, introspection and dreaming are fun to do, at least initially. It’s nice to spend time in the safety of our own brains, considering possibilities or dreams without exposing ourselves to any sort of failure or rejection.
What’s Really Going On
How would you react if I told you that if you thought about it long enough you’d be able to figure out the name, character, and physical appearance of a future best friend or significant other? You’d probably laugh, because the idea is ridiculous.
Sure, you might be able to give me a list of some traits that you’d like to see in a good friend. You could possibly guess at the name. There’s a chance you might even know that person right now, and you could figure out that the relationship would deepen. But there’s also a chance that you don’t know who this future friend is because you haven’t met them before. Thinking about it isn’t going to get you closer to knowing them. Actually participating in life, showing up, and meeting people is what will do the trick.
This same idea applies to figuring out your career direction. You must be willing to explore, take action, and try new things. You have to give yourself the opportunity to ‘meet’ a career path that catches your eye. Your current mental landscape is unlikely to contain the tremendous multitudes of career possibilities that are present in the world, so it is foolish to spend too much time mining your own mind. You would be much better served by interacting with new people and experiences to broaden your horizons.
Your Calling Is Inside You… Well Sort Of
When I work with clients, I always tell them that we will begin our work with a bit of introspection. Any career choice they make will be based on their preferences, dreams, strengths, interests, and values, so it makes sense to begin with an assessment of those areas. But I frame this initial work by explaining that we will get in, get the information we need, and then get out. Lingering too long in introspection leads to spinning in circles and getting stalled out by confusion.
My clients and I spend most of our time together building on our initial information with new experiences. They might talk to people in a field they’re considering, take a college class on a relevant topic, attend a conference, or pick up a side project. By taking these actions, my clients are able to get new information and real world data points. They’re able to gain clarity about the type of work they’re considering.
Does the field they’re thinking about actually match up with their pre-conceived notion? Are they still interested in the area now that they’ve spent more time in it? Did they learn of a new opportunity that they’d never heard of before?
Time and again, I’ve seen that people make the most progress when they combine their knowledge of themselves with real world actions. If you think back to Amber’s story, you’ll notice that the idea of being a paleontologist didn’t just drop into her head out the blue. It came to her because she went out into the world on a field trip, and a particular profession caught her eye.
Do yourself a favor. Get out of your head and take some field trips of your own. Choose experiences that match up with what you’re interested in or what you’re dreaming about. That’s the way to find the career path you’re looking for.
Have you ever fallen for this career myth? What helped you determine your career path? Leave a comment below!
Laurence M says
Thanks, Alison. I made a list of four things I can do now to get in to the real world. This article was just what I needed to get unstuck and claim my theme for the year as the year of action.
Whoop whoop! Doing a happy dance over here. Good for you Chris.
I read this twice to make sure i didn’t miss a word! thank you
Aww, thanks Dana. Glad it was helpful! (And hope any typos didn’t bother you too much on your second reading. :))
Bob DeMart says
Alison, enjoyed the good wisdom you provided in your blog.
While I did have a career path during my early years, I purposely did a few mid-course corrections to take advantage of great opportunities that came my way in three distinct industry verticals. As Yogi Berra famously said, when you get to a fork in the road – Take It!
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experience Bob! Great quote too.
Excellent post! Speaking as one who did every single exercise in What Color is Your Parachute and took personality tests like Myers-Briggs, the enneagram, and DISC, plus temperament, character, strengths and spiritual gifts tests (WHEW!), I am amazed to realise that my best jobs all came about “by accident”. Friends recommended me to someone or recommended I apply for a job and my curiosity or desperation would prompt me to apply (usually with few or no “obvious” qualifications for the job). To my very great surprise, I’d be hired (usually despite a slew of other applicants)! So I credit both curiosity and serendipity (and my Creator!) for introducing me to jobs I loved where I received the training and the opportunities to build on my God-given qualities. Follow your curiosity and be willing to jump in with both feet. It’s a really great way to discover what you love and don’t love in the world of work!
Alison C. says
Love your story Cori! Thanks for sharing your experience with moving your way through career decisions vs. just thinking about them. Great advice at the end of your comment too!