Many of us work primarily out of necessity and have made many compromises throughout our careers. However, ideally, we should be able to make career choices that allow for our own unique personal expression; lead to a greater sense of meaning, inspiration, and sense of self; and overall positive vocational outcomes. In order to find a career that is more congruent with your own personal set of values, passions, and skills, you must know what it is you like and dislike. It sounds simple enough…
For a moment, set aside your judgments, beliefs, and preconceived ideas about your career as it and what is possible. Close your eyes and drift back to age five and ask yourself what you are doing, what you enjoyed, and what dreamt about becoming as an adult. Then, allow your mind to drift forward in time and visualize yourself at age seven, nine, twelve, eighteen, twenty-one, and so on. Take note of what images, scenes, and feelings arises.
For most individuals, our dreams of our future and career goals have continued to change and evolve with age. Maybe we realized what a particular career actually entailed, which didn’t really appeal to us after all, we developed other interests or passions, or we told ourselves we didn’t have the talent to compete in that field. Perhaps, you can even pinpoint a specific moment in time where you either received negative feedback from a peer or teacher and you gave up on nurturing a dream, talent, or skill. Maybe we even had to make other compromises due to unforeseeable circumstances, such as illness, starting a family, moving, or other economic factors. Regardless, as we grow older and make compromises and choices, we also learn more about the world around us and how to persevere through difficulty. The key to re-charging your career or altering your career trajectory lies in how we reframe our past choices, appreciate challenges we have met and overcome, as well as taking an inventory of skills we have gained and identifying other skills or passions we would like to reawaken.
Each individual, regardless of talent, age, or socio-economic status, has had to make some kind of compromise in order to survive and come to terms with our environment. If you are feeling dissatisfied, disengaged, and stagnant in your career, this might be a sign that you have had to comprise too much of your core values and a course navigation correction might be necessary. However, all is not lost and positive change is possible! One is never too old to set and pursue new goals. If you take an honest inventory of your talents, passions, values, and optimal workstyle, it is possible to find a work environment or field that suits your preferences. It can also be worthwhile to take the time to honestly explore and challenge limiting beliefs surrounding personal worth, excuses for not exploring other opportunities or career paths, or negative internalized stereotypes or generalizations that have been activated and internalized.
Let’s face it, many of us, at one point in life or another, have had a wake-up call where asked ourselves “Wait a minute! Who am I, what am I doing, and how did I get here!?” These are important questions to ask and no one can provide an honest answer to these questions except yourself. There are many external factors and influences from our past, such as parents, teachers, or peers that either continue to perpetuate self-doubt, fear, or end up steering us in the wrong direction. Never underestimate the subtle, yet powerful force these internalized voices can have upon your life path and career. It can be hard to discern between your own values and that of one’s family, peer group, or culture. Instead of trying to force oneself into a mold, imagine that what it would feel like to be valued and appreciated for your unique talents and abilities. Yes, we are limited to some extent by family, culture, society, and our economic system, but awareness of these different influences can help create more freedom of choice.
Gender stereotypes and norms are another major influence on career and important factor to consider. Perhaps a young girl enjoys and has a knack and talent for building things, taking things apart, and putting them back together. However, she is subtly discouraged from cultivating or pursing such a talent by her parents without them even realizing it! Maybe, she chose a more “acceptable” career for a woman, but still dreams of putting these talents to use. On the other hand, perhaps a boy has a passion for creating art or counseling others, and, similarly, he has been discouraged from nurturing these talents by his peers, teachers, and parents.
Another helpful exercise is to examine your family history and do a career genogram to discover what and how your family’s values have evolved over time. This may show family norms and expectations, talents that have been taken for granted, and wounding that needs to be healed in order for you to move forward. Next, unearth and identify any negative self-perceptions, memories, or feedback that may have stopped you from pursuing goals dear to your heart. You might ask yourself whose advice are you really listening to when you tell yourself Goal X is impossible. It can also be also quite valuable to do an inventory of skillsets you have inherited from your family that perhaps either you or your family undervalue.
Next, while you are in a relaxed state, allow your imagination to create a picture of what your ideal career would look like. Ask yourself questions like…What are you doing? Who are you working with? And most importantly, how do you feel? It is important to anchor this feeling in your body and write down what you see and feel while being as specific as possible. Visualization is powerful tool for allowing different possibilities into your subconscious mind.
By practicing this exercise, you can allow yourself to accept your career ideals and dreams as an actual possibility or reality and then begin to take steps towards this new path. Yes, there will be challenges and obstacles, but these might hold less weight and no longer prevent you from taking action. As you move from identifying and validating your own core intrinsic values (being fulfilled by work) and move away from being motivated by purely extrinsic values (working just for money), you create the potential to re-define your relationship with work and your career trajectory and develop the courage to meet the world authentically and honor your sacred dreams.
Other online career tools to explore: