5 Ways to Screw Up Your Career Decision–and How to Avoid Them

These 5 ways to screw up you career may seem exaggerated, but I have run into each of these ideas many times in classes and coaching. Often, they are not exactly people’s first topic of conversation. They are hidden in their assumptions, but once revealed, tell a lot about why someone is having problems with their careers. See if any of them are lurking in your assumptions. Below each is a short discussion of a better way to go.

1. Decide that what you’ve done in the past and your current skills list are all you can ever do unless you start from scratch.

The past need not predict the future. It’s up to you. There are many ways to move into new areas or advance. Look out for projects at your company that will expand your role or set of skills. Look for mentors. Look for volunteer opportunities. Look for internships. Change doesn’t necessarily require going back for another degree, though that’s an option too.

Even if you go for education, you may not need to get a degree. A client of mine who decided he wanted to switch careers and become a technical writer was discouraged when he talked with a for-profit university about the courses he might take. They told him he couldn’t choose a few courses, but had to get a full degree. That wasn’t possible. But that was only one view. Fortunately, we were working with a variety of informational interviews. He talked with technical writers and managers who were hiring technical writers and learned that he didn’t necessarily need a degree. Some job postings confirmed this. He needed to develop a solid portfolio and that this was very possible to do without a degree.

2. Rely on career assessments and follow their advice even if you feel uncomfortable with the career options

I continue to have clients who have done extensive career testing and have come up with ideas for careers that not only don’t excite them, but actually depress them. This doesn’t mean assessments can’t be helpful, only that the ultimate guide is you–not a standardized assessment comparing your answers to others. Look for what challenges and interests you instead of how you match up with others. Look for what seems meaningful to you that you’d like to keep doing and what you’d like to learn about. In addition, look for the kind of work environment and opportunities you’d like.

3. Decide where the big paying careers are and choose one of those that you can do.

As practical as that sounds, it can be a sad choice in the long-term. We want happiness and a sense of purpose most of all. So start with those factors before looking at the money.

4. Put off a career decision until you feel inspired to act

A great idea if you want to procrastinate.¬† As artist Chuck Close says, inspiration is for amateurs¬†(vs. hard work, dedication, trying things out…) Or Edison–Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. Inspiration can be amazing and set your brain and life on fire. But if you’re just waiting for it, it’s not likely to arrive. Instead, if you start moving toward a decision regardles of inspiration, you are making progress on getting a career you may really love and creating a better mental space for inspiration to strike.

5. Go for whatever opportunity comes up and just see where that will lead.

That might be a cool way for someone in college to try out some part time jobs or internships, but I hear client after client tell me that’s what they did in their careers, and now they want to make a more conscious choice about their lives and careers.

Don’t get me wrong. Unexpected opportunities are great. Research has shown that people who are deemed “lucky” are people who do notice opportunities, so that’s a great skill.¬† Sometimes you have to jump at new opportunities without knowing if they will work out.

But that doesn’t take the place of defining a career you’ll love. Once you do that, you are more likely to see RELEVANT opportunities than if you just wait for someone to hand you a job opportunity.


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