3 Keys to Picking a Career

All things being equal most of us want more money.  All things being equal most of us want a career that brings immense personal satisfaction.  What if those two things do not align?  What if the career that you would love to pursue makes it extremely difficult to make money.  Some common examples come to mind – teachers, artists, philosophers, and musicians.  They all can be fulfilling careers, if only they would pay more.  That’s not to say that some of those jobs don’t pay a lot in some instances, but for the majority of people who attempt them, the pay is minuscule.  What can be done about that?  What if you’re one of the 50% of Americans that hate their jobs?

Part of the problem may be how people are (wrongly) advised to pick their careers – aptitude tests, following trendy job markets, following your parents, or simplistic introspection of your joys and pains.  Just because you are good at math does not mean you should be an accountant, engineer, or scientist.  Just because you hate trash in your house does not mean you should be a garbage collector.  While it is possible those careers might work for you, far deeper introspection and knowledge about the careers are necessary.

So how can we tie our passions together with making lots of money?

1. Identify your values

First, you need to introspect, deeply and meaningfully.  You need to think about all the activities that you love or despise.  Attempt to identify what aspects of the activities you enjoy or hate.  Avoid the quick answers, like “I like playing computer games”.  Why do you like playing computer games?  What about the games do you enjoy?  Is it the strategy?  Is it the interaction with friends?  Is it the competition?  Maybe you like gardening.  Is it because you like the challenge of designing a beautiful landscape?  Or maybe you just like nurturing living things?  As a kid, did you enjoy spending time with your mom working in the garden? Look for common denominators.  Discover your most important values.  Then put them into a hierarchy, listing the most important at the top.

2. Identify your strengths

Have you identified your values?  Great.  Now, look at your skills.  Do you have any strengths?  Are you a whiz at math?  Can you argue your parents into submission?  Perhaps you have great dexterity, a musical ear, or excellent enunciation.  These strengths do not need to be better than everyone else’s strengths, just good for you.  Why not identify your weakness?  Because you’re probably already doing it and you need to stop.  You can’t make money on your weaknesses, but you can get better at them.  Are there any skills that you could and want to learn or improve upon (most can be)?  Don’t try to be a jack of all trades.  Specialization is the name of the game for success.

What you love and what you can do should help define a direction for your career.  Ideally, these first two steps help you to discover your central purpose in life (CPL).  Even if you haven’t picked a CPL, you should have a direction that better captures your passions and capabilities.

3. Identify opportunities

Lastly, you have to look at the world around you.  After you look inward, look outward and try to identify how your CPL can be useful.  Yep, that’s right, happiness is not guaranteed, but the pursuit of happiness is (or at least would be in the U.S. with a little less government meddling).  Here, again, people often underestimate the opportunities available.  They look superficial at “jobs,” hold their noses, and pick one.  Whether this is due to a lack of knowledge or an aversion to risk, selecting jobs this way greatly limits your career and leads inevitably to dissatisfaction.  Think broadly.  Do some research.  Talk to friends and family about what type of stuff they do in their jobs.  Become more entrepreneurial.

Maybe you love organizing clutter.  And by love I mean you are obsessed with finding the right place for everything (OCD anyone).  Not to mention, you are pretty darn good at it.  However, the prospect of becoming a filing clerk sounds dreadful.  You could become a interior designer specializing in organizational systems.  You could start a blog writing and reviewing organizing strategies.  You could write software that organizes digital photos more effectively.  You could start a business organizing office spaces.  You could design products that better handle organizational needs.  You could sell products you love but designed by others. Perhaps you could do several of these.  Or change from one job to another.

The important thing is that you identify, identify, identify and then integrate, integrate, integrate.  In other words, use reason!  Turn your passions, strengths, and opportunities into a value dense career that integrates as much about who you are and where you live into a career that can best bring you happiness and money.

About John Drake

John Drake is an associate professor at East Carolina University. While pursing his PhD in management information technology and innovation, John learned the art of high productivity through setting difficult goals to achieve unending success. John is a student of Objectivism, an advocate of Getting Things Done, a parent of three, a husband, a writer, a business owner, a web master, and an all around cool guy. His professional site is at http://professordrake.com

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