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How To Get Clarity When “I Don’t Know What Job I Want”

The average person will spend over 90,000 hours, roughly one third of their waking lives, at work. That’s why finding the right job is one of the most challenging, and meaningful, journeys we undertake in our adult life… 

The pressure to find the right professional fit can be immense.  And yet, a Pew Research study shows that 30% of workers in America view their job as just a way to get by… That’s not the way you want to live your professional life. Right?  

Whether you’re just embarking on your career, or you’ve decided it’s time for a change, I’m here to help.  Admitting to oneself, “I don’t know what job I want” is a positive step!  Believe it or not, I was once in your shoes, and my career fit what I thought I wanted on paper, and yet I spent each day wondering why something felt like it was somehow missing, why I felt disconnected and wondering how I was going to fix it.

I dive into the whole story in my forthcoming book You Turn, and thankfully by the time I wrote the book I got myself out of the depths of despair and into such a powerful place, I was able to offer you an 11 step roadmap to get out, too… but for now, let’s start with the fact that finding the job you want starts with asking yourself some challenging questions. From there you can tune into your instincts, and take actionable steps toward getting clarity.  Finally, you have to learn to recognize your own fear of failure and avoid the pitfalls and roadblocks of societal pressures and perfectionistic thinking. This will help you take decisive action and move toward your dream career. 

Whether you’re looking for a career change, or you are new to the job market and you don’t know what job you want, the process of finding the right job should start with asking yourself some difficult questions:  

 

  • Am I hiding who I am at work?
    Studies show that 61% of members of the workforce are hiding something about themselves or their identity while they are at work.  If you feel that you are hiding a part of yourself, your values, your goals, or what you really want out of your professional life, that’s a sign that it’s time to explore other options.

 

  • What am I good at?

All of us have a foundational, deep rooted, primary skill set, an attribute within ourselves that if not used throughout the day, we are left feeling off. I have found that there are 10 core skill sets in the workplace, to name a few: words, service, beauty, innovation. Your skill set is probably something that you find a way to use in your job regardless of what the required responsibilities are. This looks like someone who works as an engineer but finds himself constantly trying to talk with everyone in the office, or this looks like the business assistant who adds a touch of beauty to every aspect of their office space, and of their work.  Your skill set makes you, you.

Have you ever noticed that the things you enjoy doing the most are often those that come naturally to you?  It feels as though you can simply, just…do them.  These are your natural talents, the gifts you were likely born with, and the skills you should lean into within your work day. If every task or aspect of your job feels like a constant fight to succeed, you are likely not taking advantage of your natural talents, or your primary skill set.

 

  • What do people tell me I’m good at?
    Sometimes we’re our best cheerleaders, but often, we’re our own harshest critics.  This is why it’s important not only to reflect on what skills we value in ourselves, but also the things that others have often told us we are skilled at.  There is magic in the center of this Venn diagram, the union of the things we know we excel at and those qualities that have earned praise from others.  This may be the truest reflection of our skillset.

 

  • What do I know that I wish I didn’t?
    In these difficult questions lies the answer on how to make changes for professional progress… What do you wish you could forget or ignore?  Maybe you know deep down that you don’t want to work in accounting or with numbers ever again. Or that despite many attempts to improve, your skill set does not fit the career that you have chosen.  What are the things that stand in the way of getting what you want?  Perhaps a bad relationship is doing damage to your self-esteem, or the constant worry about pleasing your parents has driven you toward a career that your heart is not in.  Facing these hard truths will help us eliminate the parts of life and career that stand in the way of happiness and fulfillment in our work lives.

 

  • What is holding me back?
    Fear of failure can cripple your ability to start on your right path. This fear may show up as anxiety in a similar way to the bad feelings we have about stimuli in our profession or personal life. The difference is that rather than recognizing something that we want to move away from, we are really seeing something that we wish we could move towards, but are too afraid to do so.  We have to be in touch with ourselves to recognize the difference.

This includes looking at what limiting beliefs you are holding onto. These are the deep-seated beliefs, or state of mind, that hold you back from making the choices you truly want or taking actions that you dream about.  This can look like saying, “I’ve never been good at math, how could I expect to run a business.” or “I wasn’t ever talented at public speaking, there is no way I could become a thought leader.” When you can remove yourself from thoughts that hold you back, you will find yourself opening up doorways to possibilities you never even considered before.  

In order to break free from these limiting thoughts, begin by first noticing what thoughts you have in general, those that feel like they’re stopping you from action.

Fill in the blank:

I can’t move forward because I__________________.

Or

I can’t get what I want because _________________.

What’s the limitation?

Take some time and write down your thoughts and beliefs on various areas of your daily life.  Group them into categories such as family, health, relationships, career.  And ask yourself, “Does it make me feel happy and healthy to continue thinking this thought?” 

You can take this a step further and do an audit on your actions.  After all, our thoughts and beliefs dictate our feelings, and our feelings dictate our actions. Consider experiences where you may have gotten hurt, and look back on the beliefs you may have formed about the world, or yourself, as a result of that experience.You carry these limitations with you until you question them, forgive yourself for them… and release them. The ladder two steps can take a while, but not always! The more you can practice this level of awareness and self reflection, the easier it will become to step out of limiting beliefs and grasp a truly growth mindset.

Once you’ve given those questions a hard think, it’s time to reflect with your second brain, your gut, or what others would call intuition. We are so frequently told to be rational when it comes to big decisions, that occasionally we lose sight of the fact that there is a lot of value in trusting your instincts.  

Science increasingly backs up the fact that you make better judgements when you combine rational thinking with your instincts. University of Southern California neuroscientist Antonio Damasio argues for trusting “somatic markers,” the intangible feelings that originate in the parts of our brain responsible for emotions and feelings of threat.   Understanding Damasio’s Somatic Marker Hypothesis can help us understand how these instincts function in our decision making.  

  • Somatic markers emerge from our brain’s calculation of short term and long terms risk and reward.
  • A perceived positive outcome may cause feelings of excitement or anticipation.
  • A potential negative consequence might cause a feeling of dread or trepidation.
  • We often process a number of conflicting feelings from these quick mental calculations.
  • The brain will arrive at an overall feeling based on weighing these potential risks/rewards,essentially creating a red light/greenlight feeling about a decision.

So your exhaustive Pro and Con may not be the only thing to give you clarity on a decision; your brain may have already done the processing for you. 

The data doesn’t stop there, research shows there is a direct connection between our gut and brain; there are so many neurons in our gut that scientists often refer to it as our “second brain.”  This complex relationship between our brain and gut has major implications for mood and general health and wellbeing.  So, if you feel a bad feeling about something in the “pit of your stomach,” or you have an immediate intuitive negative feeling about something, listen to these cues. 

So what are some actionable tools, beyond the questions I presented, to tune into your gut?

  • To tap into your intuitive sense of self and what you truly want, consider making a joy journal.  Every time something gives you joy, write it down.  Whether it’s a walk through the park, a certain work assignment, or a news article, it’s worth taking note.  Once you have a compilation of the greatest joy hits of your life, you may find some patterns emerging, or you may realize that you are drawn to certain subjects or certain fields in ways you never before examined. While it’s crucial to listen to your gut and to give credence to bad feelings/intuitions, it’s important to be able to differentiate these feelings from the fear of failure. 
  • Talk it out with a friend. Clarity comes from engagement, not from thought.  Rather than staying stuck in your own head about these important questions, engage with others’ ideas as a concrete way to take a step forward.It can be tremendously helpful to have someone as a sounding board. Ask a trusted colleague or friend to give you impartial advice on some of the ideas and questions you have been thinking on. Sometimes it’s just good to say things out loud: this in-and-of itself may give you some real clarity.
  • Read a book or listen to a podcast to help you frame your decisions. Confidants are great, but sometimes you need to hear from an expert. Digging into a good book or even a podcast can help you frame your own job search/career questions in ways you may not have considered. For more perspective on my own roadmap to finding your dream career, check out my book You Turn. You can also tune into some of my in-depth conversations with many top career experts on my You Turn Podcast and turn “I don’t know what job I want” into career clarity.

In one way or another, we are all afraid to fail. 

Between academia, family pressures, and the social expectation to hit benchmarks in our personal and professional lives, we’ve all internalized a tremendous sense of perfectionism.  A 2016 UK study showed a huge increase in perfectionism in young people from similar data gathered in 1989.  The study measured perfectionism over three categories, and found 10% more young people had self-directed desires to be perfect, 33% more felt social pressures to attain perfection, and 16% more sought perfection in others.  

Perfectionism is another killer of a happy work life, because ultimately we are striving for something that is fundamentally unattainable. In this desire to live up to a perfectionistic vision of what our lives should look like, we may be pushed toward things that we may not necessarily truly want.  This internalized desire to attain perfection feeds the fear of failure.  How can we have our perfect lives if you put everything in jeopardy by making a big change that could lead to major failure?

Perfectionism is the antithesis of action, and only through action will you discover what job is right for you.  Take stock of yourself, your skills, what you truly want and what moves you.  And take action.  You can always course correct along the way, but at least you will be moving in the right direction.  It’s a journey, it’s okay if you feel that you haven’t yet arrived at your ultimate destination. 

Chart a course towards where your instincts and your skills meet, and you will find your joy and your proper place in the world of work. 

1 Comment
  • Kirsten M Trammell
    Posted at 13:46h, 12 August Reply

    Thank you for this! I absolutely loved the prompts exercise to help reveal what is actually holding me back.

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