3 Steps to Career Clarity
How to pivot from frustrated to fulfilled
by Erin Urban
Thousands of professionals suffer from career confusion and disillusion, and desperately want career clarity. Some don’t know where to start, while others are afraid of starting over. Fear can keep you stuck in a dead-end job—such as fear of walking away from a hard-earned status, money or benefits. Many professionals put up with the status quo because they are paralyzed by the thought of being outside of their comfort zone.
Career clarity can be hard to find if you are blinded by career confusion and disillusion. If you don’t even know where to begin, it makes the next best step for you look like a leap off of a cliff.
The fact is, the only constant is change. If you are not growing, you’re stagnating. If you aren’t stepping outside of your comfort zone enough to stay energized with fresh new ideas, new places and new people, eventually your zeal for your profession will sour and go stale.
A slight shift in your career must occur every three to five years. But change doesn’t always require rebirth. While the “phoenix rising” approach sounds dramatic, it probably isn’t necessary for your long-term happiness. A career shift could be a simple innovative approach to leveraging your existing abilities.
You don’t have to lose yourself in the process of a career change. The best next step is at the intersection of your strengths, interests and expertise. If you are waiting for the right time or some promised benefits, you could be wasting precious energy or becoming obsolete. Don’t hesitate to seek change to ensure your growth and long-term fulfillment.
Root cause: Is it your job or your career?
Before you make the leap into a new position, path or place, figure out whether you are frustrated with your job or your career—because there’s a big difference. If you’re frustrated, ask yourself: “Is it what I do, or who I do it with or for?”
If you are unhappy at your job because of what you do, it’s time for career clarity and a career shift. If you are frustrated with who you work for or with, it’s time to find a new job. You don’t always have to shift your career path—some frustrations are a direct result of your environment.
Follow these three steps to assess whether it’s time for a new job or a new career:
- Know your strengths
You must know yourself to grow yourself. If you have no idea what the next best step for you is, take a strengths assessment or personality test. These will give you insights and the confidence to make more informed choices. Barring a strengths assessment, here’s a quick way to understand your strengths at a basic level:
- Make a list of all your tasks and what you do in your role.
- Highlight everything on the list that gives you energy.
- Put a red X next to everything that drains your energy.
Chances are, everything that gives you energy or that you look forward to doing is in your strength zone and items that drain you aren’t in your strength zone. It’s also important to understand that you can be highly skilled at something you don’t like. If you knew how many surgeons actually hate their jobs, you would ask different questions of your doctor!
- Define your interests
It’s also important to get an idea of what your interests are. We spend the majority of our working adult lives at work—why do something that doesn’t interest us? Sadly, thousands of people all over the world go to jobs that make them bored, aggravated, irritated and basically miserable. While you may not sing and dance all the way to work every day, the idea is to be content in your work.
Think about this:
- Did you give up a dream to pursue your career? (This happens more than you’d think.)
- Is there a hobby you’d love to invest more time in (and can it pay you)?
- What would you gladly volunteer your time to do?
- Are there any emerging industry trends or new methods that fascinate you?
- What areas in your previous or current role jazz you that you could leverage for the future?
Compare your interests to the items in your strength zone (highlighted on your list). Do you see any overlaps or similarities? Dreams are great, but if you aren’t operating in your strength zone, you could turn your dream into a demon.
- Leverage your expertise
Don’t reinvent the wheel. To make a smart career move, it’s always best to leverage your expertise where you can. Using your existing experiences as a springboard allows you to shift gears with more confidence and get better traction in your job search. This way, you aren’t starting from scratch.
To understand more:
- Make a list of the skills and expertise you are known for.
- What would you say you are great at—even if you don’t use the skill in your career?
Compare your list of expertise to your interests and your first list of tasks. Do you see any patterns developing? Avoid the energy drainers! Keep in mind that there’s a difference between not loving something and having it completely drain your energy.
Get clarity and find fulfillment
If the majority of your previous jobs or current role drain you, consider going down a completely different career path. When pivoting your career, perform a gaps analysis before you make the leap. If you like what you do but must go someplace new, leverage the lists you made to assess potential new opportunities. This will help you avoid falling into the same trap again. Remember, your next best move is found at the intersection of your strengths, interests and expertise.
Erin Urban is a lean Six Sigma Black Belt from Houston, certified career growth and leadership development coach, and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. She is the founder of Urban Professional Performance Solutions in Houston. Urban has a bachelor of fine arts degree from Longwood University in Farmville, VA. She is a member of ASQ.