When you were a child, did you ever hear your parents, one of your teachers or your favorite uncle say that if you work hard, you can be anything you want when you grow up?
Of course you did. Very uplifting career advice right?
But the only problem is that you can’t. That’s why now that you’re coming in terms with reality, you’re asking yourself, “what career is right for me?”
It’s not an easy choice. Circumstances matter. Strengths and interests matter. And so does money. Only hard work or talent isn’t enough to get exceptional success and contentment.
The reason you heard those words as a child was that elders feel kind when they say encouraging words to a child. And it’s “cute” for a child to believe them. Nobody gave it a second thought.
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Three factors have to work in sync to pick the right kind of work for you.
Circumstances – Now some of you may say the same thing I remember reading in most self-help books, that you can alter your circumstances by choosing your response to them.
Yes you can, but only to an extent. For every successful person who went from being nothing to something he or she wanted, there may have been countless others born under different circumstances. And many who put in an equal or more effort to change their situation and be what they want.
Strengths & Passions – When brainstorming what career is right for you, you may pick a career determined solely by your circumstances (peer pressure, parents’ wishes, social norms etc.), or something you hate doing but the money is good.
But then you’d have compromised on who you are and what you love to do. You can’t be happy after selling your soul. The job will seem like a burden and your dreams will fade away.
When you love your work, happiness is intrinsic. Do you think Steve Jobs didn’t love technology, creativity and marketing? Is there an accomplished musician who didn’t love music when starting his or her career? Or a writer who hated writing?
Everyone has their own unique set of strengths and interests. And he or she is more likely to be what they want if they play along those strengths.
Again, the ultra optimists among you may say that you can learn, practice and gain the strengths you lack. If you lack passion, you can also learn to love what you do. So you can be anything you want.
But people who believe this forget one crucial fact. Your time on the planet is limited. You’re not going to live forever.
Honing an organic, natural strength is much easier and quicker than learning, building and loving a completely new one which doesn’t come easily to you. And the more time you spend learning to be what you want, the less time you have to actually be.
Profit Potential – Now let’s assume that circumstances are in favor and you have all the resources you need to be what you want. Let’s also assume that you have chosen to be something fully aligned with your strengths and personality.
But what if you want to be something with no demand, which means no potential for fame or money? Is that career right for you? You got to do something that you’ll be paid for.
If I want to be an entrepreneur who provides VCR repair services, for example, then I can’t sustain it for long. VCRs don’t exist anymore and there is no market for such a service.
I may be an expert in VCRs and even love repairing them, still doesn’t mean I’ll be able to be a VCR entrepreneur for long.
In the end, I will feel wasted and unappreciated, frustrated by people around me who seem to have less talent but more success.
Identifying What You Wanna Do
By now, I hope I have clarified that in trying to choose a career that’s right for you, you ideally want to do something that has circumstances at least partially in favor, that comes naturally to you for most parts, and that will be profitable enough to sustain your ideal lifestyle.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
Think about each of these factors one by one, and I am sure you’ll get a few ideas to take note of. You don’t have to be too picky at this stage. Don’t worry about noting ideas that meet all the 3 criteria.
- Think what you can easily be given your childhood and current circumstances.
- Think about the things you have always loved and been good at.
- And ponder of which ideas of yours people would be willing to pay for.
Note down all these ideas. Even if there’s an idea that you’re not sure enough to meet all the required criteria, still keep it in your list.
Your mind will try to trick you into rejecting ideas based on beliefs that found their way into your brain over the years. Your belief system may include stuff like, “Painters don’t make enough money” or “I can’t do XYZ,” or “ABC won’t ever work.”
When a belief (for which you have no solid proof) tries to take over, catch it and question it. Do you really know that something you think as impossible is really impossible? Did you really ever try a 110%?
Many people in history who have found their true calling didn’t just rely on finding a way, but also on creating one when it wasn’t there.
And even if an idea actually seems to stretch beyond reality (like becoming Iron Man), it’s usually enough to discover your love for a particular career (like mechanical engineering). You can’t know this in advance unless you try. So don’t discount any ideas for now.
Ideally, this level of brainstorming should leave with with a number of choices that you can begin to try out and experiment with one by one. Start with the idea that you think is most likely to meet all the 3 criteria.
Don’t worry about putting too much effort into it. At this stage, the goal is to simply enjoy trying different stuff. The effort usually comes automatically when we find something that we not only enjoy, but also make money from.
As you are going through the process, be prepared to fail a lot. It will happen as you are doing things you never did before. Don’t start retreating back to your comfortable shell when something doesn’t seem to work out. We’re not playing the game for consequences, but for the process.
Checking Demand – If an idea is strong on passion and circumstances but you’re unsure of profitability, validate by telling people about it. If it’s a skill, check various job portals for demand among employers. Or try offering it as a service to your target audience.
If it’s a product, you don’t need to have it ready. Just spend a small budget marketing and advertising it to see if this is something people will bite and pay for.
Checking Circumstances – If an idea has profitability and triggers your passion, do a cost-benefit analysis of what it’ll take in terms of time, money and other resources to make it a reality. How much are you prepared to arrange and expend to realize your dream.
Checking Strengths & Interests – If you don’t know where your strengths and interests lie, chances are that your childhood would have at least left some clues.
Look deeper into your memories: the things you or others said and did. There may come up things you always wanted to do, or do more of, but never found the time for context for. You may very well start there.
As you go through the process and carry out this career advice, keep in mind that you don’t need to do all this all by yourself. The whole sum of human knowledge – the Internet – is there to help you on every step.
You can always search for something that’s unclear, find the data to support or reject an claims and so on. You have more resources to find the information you need to decipher your life’s purpose than your ancestors ever did.