The Cure for Career Indecision

Last Updated Jan 7, 2011 8:55 AM EST

What should I be when I grow up?Being at the start of your career can be exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying. You have the space to dream, but all that blue sky in front of you is also a constant reminder that it's just as possible to tank as it is to soar, and success or failure is largely up to you. With so many choices and so much riding on your decision, it's easy for career choice anxiety to set in.

Recently blog CAREEREALISM tackled this anxiety in a counter-intuitive way -- by offering five sure-fire ways to end up with a gig you detest. Make these mistakes and you're sure to be disappointed with your working life. Avoid these mental traps and you're a least headed in the right direction:
  • "--but I'm good at this." So, it's not something you want to do, it's something you can do. I get it. Sounds good at first. Take advantage of your skills and all that. But sooner or later, it wears thin. Don't dedicate your energy to something just because you have the ability. You deserve to be at least somewhat selective.
  • "--but I need the money." It sounds like such an obviously bad idea and yet, so many people fall for this one. Money isn't enough to keep you happy for long. Yes, we all have financial needs that must be met. But, if that's the sole reason you're in your career, prepare for misery my friend.
  • "Things will get better." Staying the course and hoping things improve is a sure-fire way to waste time. If you're in a career that's making you miserable, it's probably safe to say that things can't change enough to make it worthwhile staying. Maybe your awful boss will retire and you'll be promoted and the company will be purchased by Google. But I like to encourage a proactive mindset. Do what you can to improve the situation and, if things don't change significantly and quickly, start the process of moving on.
  • "I'm afraid." If fear is holding you back, you're not alone. This is the number one reason people stay in careers they don't enjoy. The unknown path is always scary. But be honest with yourself. If you never confront your fear, you'll never know what could have been. You don't want to look back on your life at the age of 70 and have regrets or questions.
  • "Nothing else would be any better." This is the kind of thinking that takes over when you're unhappy. You just give up. And it's my job to remind everyone--yes, everyone--that there are ways to find happiness at work. No one is cursed with the miserable career plague. It's a temporary state, IF you are willing to do the work.
If you've read this list and thought, "great, now I know what NOT to do, but that's not helping me choose a path," despair not. Help is at hand for those who still haven't decided what they want to be when they grow up. Brian Kim, author of How To Finally Find What You Love To Do And Get Paid Doing It, offers tips on the Business Insider War Room:
  • Ask yourself what you'd do if you won the lottery. "Retire on a beach and take exotic trips" is probably high up there, but eventually you'd get bored. Instead, try thinking of interests that can be spun into careers. The simple act of thinking about what you want to become is the first big step.
  • Spend time with yourself. Uninterrupted, unplugged, time. "You just have to sit down and decide. The answer is already within you. You just have to dig it up and avoid procrastinating. Your brain has absorbed all sorts of information and experiences and it has the answer ready to be unraveled."
  • Make a list of skills and interests and write them down. Literally list everything from shopping to...whatever. To figure out your interests, ask yourself the following questions: If you went in a bookstore, which section do you naturally gravitate toward? What do you spend most of your time doing? What do you look forward to doing? What did people praise you on doing?
  • Come to a realization. Does your answer give you hope, make you excited, and you can't stop talking about it? To know if you've stumbled across your long lost love, trust your gut.
Easier said than done, but when it comes to something as tricky as choosing a career path, we need all the help we can get.

(Image courtesy of Flickr user Violentz, CC 2.0)
  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.

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