Career Decisions - Working Out What You Want.
If I ask you what is important to you in your career, would you know the answer? Do you know what your ideal career, or day at work would consist of? Do you know what would make it feel worthwhile or interesting or the right balance of challenging but not stressful?
No..? Well don't feel bad or strange, you aren't alone. Perhaps you've spent your whole life trying to make decisions based on logic about what you or others think you are good at, what seems sensible, or best guesses about the job market. You may have been scared to risk dropping a grade going for a subject you wanted to explore but might not be as good at. You may feel you can't try a different job because people would call you mad for leaving behind what you have, but feel quietly disappointed and unexcited by the prospect of work tomorrow.
I believe that researching careers is best done after, or at least alongside, drawing up your own list of the perfect mix of sweet 'stuff' making up your ideal career or even day at work. I say 'stuff' not because my vocabulary is that limited but because I don't want to influence what that might be. Also, if you don't like the pick and mix of sweets analogy, then think about ingredients making up a perfect dish instead.
Let's do a practical exercise.
Grab a stack of scrap paper or sticky notes.
Pick an experience you've had: a part time job, a position on a committee, an event you were involved in organising, experience travelling. If you've been in work longer term, then perhaps pick one particular project, period of time or team you worked in.
Now on one small piece of paper write something positive about that experience. For example, I really enjoyed my time there because the people were great. Take another piece of paper and repeat. Perhaps, I loved that event because the smiles on people's faces felt so good. I got really engrossed in those meetings where we talked about strategy, time just flew. Keep going until you can't think of any more positives. This short post might help you to identify more specifically what was going on when you were at your best.
Next jot down something you didn't like. For example, the work required a lot of attention to detail and that's not really for me. Repeat. The culture and pace were just a bit too slow moving for me. Giving presentations was stressful. The commute meant late nights and no socialising in the evening which got me down. I just didn't really feel great about what the organisation does. Again, keep going until done.
You don't have to keep two separate piles of positive and negative just throw them all together, pick another experience and repeat. You can do this as many times as you like but 2 or 3 experiences will probably be enough to try the next step. The experiences you use don't have to be kept separate either, you now have one lovely big pile of useful data about yourself. This to me, is gold to fund your career planning.
Go through each point one by one and decide what it is you were talking about. It makes no difference whether it's a positive or negative. Just ask yourself - what am I referring to here? Does this point (positive or negative) relate to a lifestyle factor (location, hours, salary..), a skill/task I enjoy or don't enjoy using/doing, my interests, something about my personality, something about my values, something about the culture or environment I was in, for instance the people or the physical environment. Place each note in the relevant pile. Yes, positive and negative can still be all in together you just want to stack up under the above headings, or others if some other theme occurs which doesn't fit my categories.
Now what do you have in front of you?
What is the mix? Do you have 6 stacks, or maybe less because some of the categories I suggested aren't of significance to you? That's ok, some people don't find that the tasks they actually do in a day is a factor in their career choice or happiness. Or personality and values haven't really had a noticeable impact yet. Or, you may have come up with a category I didn't list. It doesn't matter this just tells you in a broad sense what is important to you, so what factors you should perhaps research or consider when ruling options in or out.
What stands out as more important? Is one stack of notes bigger than the others, or maybe a couple? Is one absent, or very small?
What you have here is your ideal mix of ingredients making up the most desirable work situations for you, right now. If values stand out as particularly important then you can focus, or at least start, your exploration of career options around those. If interests are key, then you can read about certain sectors and organisations to see which areas you enjoy reading about and develop views on - because they are interesting to you.
Your ideal mix will most likely grow and change a bit as you get more experience and as your life and priorities change. But that's ok, you can add in more preferences and things you want to avoid at any time and as the desired ingredients and proportions change, then you just seek new recipes to fit.