I imagine that most people reading this have questioned their career choice at one point or another, maybe even daily. If that’s you, then you’ve probably wondered how to attain a job you love or even what your dream job might be.
“Love and work..work and love..what else is there really?” -Sigmund Freud
Freud believed that if we have fulfillment in love and in work we will have the ingredients to be content in life, so we better make sure that those two bases are covered. Love, in this case, does not mean a romance or having the perfect relationship. I believe he was referring to “love” as the love we experience in our relationships with friends and family and with ourselves. And in the same vein, “work” to Freud meant contentment in the path we take in our vocational or avocational lives, payment or not.
Today as I walked from the train to my new job, a sense of euphoria filled my body as I watched all the frowning faces rushing back from their lunches to work, sitting longingly in front of their salads dreading the afternoon, or just sitting staring blankly into space looking as if they needed to hear just one more minute of a podcast transporting them to another world so they didn’t have to think about the depressing mess back at work. Don’t get me wrong, I was not euphoric because they were blue, I was euphoric because I used to be them.
I used to try and hang onto one moment of joy in order to be able to go back to the office and do my job, and now, now I am doing my dream job. “I did it, I actually did it!”, thinking about the last two years of my life. I had gone back to school at almost 40 years old to become a therapist.
So many people ask me: “How did you decide to do this?”, “Have you always dreamt of being a shrink?”, “Why did you want to do it?”. The questions sometimes confused me because, doesn’t everybody want to do something they love? But the truth is, all that I knew before I started this process of a career change is that I was not satisfied with my life and I could not fool myself any longer into believing I was excited for the week ahead. So I had to make a change.
The reality is that making a career change – actually doing the shift is different from the process of deciding what it is that you want to do. And the reality about deciding what you want to do is a very personal experience. For me, making this decision was a culmination of all my life events and experiences and allowing myself to be vulnerable again.
Career Change: How do you figure out what you want to do
So what about you? How do you figure out what a fulfilling or dream job is? There’s no specific equation or formula to this process, but there are important things you can do to better understand yourself and aid in you thinking through which path sparks passion in you.
Consider these questions: Hint: If the answer is “I don’t know” or “No” or “I haven’t really thought about it” then it’s time you start thinking about those questions for more reasons than just a career shift decision.
- What is your relationship like with yourself?
- Do you love and respect yourself?
- Do you hold appropriate boundaries and honor your needs and feelings?’
- What are the qualities you love most about yourself? What are your strenghts?
- What are your life values? (Important note here: Values are not what others want for us or what we think others want for us. They are 100% authentically unique to each of us.) Examples: Do I want to seek excitement in my life? Do I have a goal of being compassionate towards others and myself? Do I value persistence – am I committed continuing difficult tasks or overcome adverse circumstances?
- Are you in love with your career? Does it bring you more joy and satisfaction than not?
- What are other times in your life when you felt happy, what were you doing?
- What makes you feel productive or fulfilled? Are there any specific experiences or tasks? Sometimes it’s helpful to first think about tasks or experiences you enjoy and then what jobs or careers incorporate these items versus simply thinking about ultimate career you’d like.
The reason these questions are so crucial is because without a clear understanding of yourself and without appreciating yourself for who you are, I would argue, that it is very tough, if not, impossible to truly get a sense of what you want to do in life. Imagine having to find the perfect gift for someone who you didn’t know. How on earth would you know what to give a person you knew nothing about? Getting to know yourself can be done through self-exploration but it is also one that we often do in counseling with clients.
You know what you want to do, how will you make it happen?
Truthfully, the best thing to do is to find a great therapist who will partner with you and help you with your journey to self-discovery, correcting self-doubt into brave vulnerability and work through stressors such as coping with shifts in finances, time, and work or student/life balance.
Once you have decided what you want to do, as if that wasn’t hard enough… Now it is time to make the shift. That’s going to be challenging. No doubt about it! It often involves education, time, financial obligation, an adept balancing act, networking, starting over, and much much more. Not to mention having to contend with the sometimes negative or self-doubting feedback from others etc. You know the types who say things like: “How can you leave your benefits?”; “Aren’t you a little old for that?”; “You want to do what?!” You must SILENCE critiques of self-doubting fear-based voices! You do you boo! Take it from me, you can spend your whole life dreaming of leaving something but be stopped by fear, and watch time slip away, or, you can take the leap. What I have learned is that the universe provides what you need when you need it when you are working towards improving your life. Once you have taken the leap, those naysayers…will be the first to say “I knew you could do it”; “I am so proud of you”; etc. etc. etc.
You can do this!
Step one, as we now know, is understanding and being content with yourself. Step two is taking the big step to do the thing. Next, identify routes to take to get to your goal.
- Think about the end goal, picture it, believe in it. Then work backwards from there. Is there education needed? Identify several ways to get that education.
- Utilize all the great resources and contacts that you have built throughout your career.
- Get in contact with old friends who may be doing something similar to what you want to do. Meet with them, pick their brains, gather ideas. You are literally designing your new life so make it exactly the way you want it.
- Then think about your current role and how you can leverage your knowledge to help you with the future one. You can also think about your current role and how your education for your new role can help the one you are in. When I was in school for psychology, I made it known to my current company and explained to them all the ways it will benefit what I do there. Chances are, people tend to be more accepting of change when you are open about it and explain how developing your own skills can and will help develop your role, your team and even the company.
Depending on the goal you have, you may have to work on a plan to transition from one role to the other. For me, when it came time to do my clinical internship, it became clear that I would not be able to do both roles. I was almost ready to defer a year to do my internship when an advisor at my school shared some very wise advice. Paraphrasing here but essentially she said,
“Anne, you’ve worked very hard for this degree knowing the end goal was to make a career change. If you defer your internship one year, what about next year will be different from this year? At some point you have to make the shift. No time like the present.”
How incredibly right she was and I will never forget that conversation. So, I knew I had to take the leap and leave my job, rely more on student loans to survive and complete an internship for the next year. Yes, it was daunting, but also yes, it was the best thing I ever did. I had a huge sense of relief and felt I could breathe again and I had something to look forward to in my life. The moral of this part of the story is, don’t wait, do!
Whatever your passion is, do it. If there isn’t a way, make a way. If you haven’t found your passion, then find yourself. Life isn’t waiting for you. You have to make the move. Be that person racing back from lunch because you want to go back to work.