Mistake No. 1: Thinking, “I should have all the answers.” If I told you that you could magically pick any career you want, but you were only allowed five minutes to decide, could you put your finger on the right path for you? For most people, the answer would be a resounding "no." And yet few people are willing to admit that they don’t know what they really want in their careers. They look around and feel like everyone else has it figured out, so they just grit their teeth and pretend they do too. After all, who wants to look like they don’t know what they’re doing—especially with something as important as their career.
Here’s a reality check: As confident as people may appear, most of them don’t really have it figured out. Studies show that more than half the American workforce is dissatisfied with their work. More than 30 percent think their work is OK (not great, but OK). Less than 20 percent actually love what they do.
If you don’t admit that something isn’t working, the chances that you will stumble into something that does work are slim.
Mistake No. 2: Taking aim while blindfolded. Imagine standing in the middle of a room, blindfolded. Someone puts a dart in your hand and tells you they have hung a dartboard somewhere in the room. Your task is to throw the dart and hit the bull's-eye.
How likely are you to hit the target? Clearly it’s possible, but very unlikely. It’s the same way with people’s careers. They want to hit the bull’s-eye with a career they love, but when it comes to really understanding what makes them tick, they’re flying blind. If you want to take off the blindfold, you need a deep understanding of what energizes you. Then you can consciously incorporate that understanding into your decisions.
Mistake No. 3: Using the wrong factors to choose your path. When people admit to me that they’re on the wrong path but they don’t know what they right path is, they’re often a bit embarrassed about it (see mistake No. 1). My reply is, “Why would you know? I mean really, when was the last time you saw an Introspection 101 class?”
The unfortunate fact is, we’re not conditioned to look inside for the answers. We look everywhere but inside. We look to parental expectations. Societal definitions of success. Money. Status. Potential for advancement. And none of these things have anything to do with what you might love. Are those external factors important? Some are, some aren’t. But even the ones that really are important aren't the whole story. If the only decision factors you use are external, you could theoretically hit that bull’s-eye, but you probably won’t.
In the system I developed to help my clients through the process of finding a career they love, the external factors have a place in the decision-making process, but it’s always at the end. The first line of evaluation is always, “Is this likely to energize and inspire me?” Only those paths that make that cut continue on to the “real world” evaluation.
Mistake No. 4: Waiting for the right time. One of the best ways to make sure you never have to go through the discomfort of making a career change is to say, “I’ll do it when the time is right.” The truth is, the time is never right. There are always half a dozen really good, compelling, defendable reasons why you can’t make the change right now.
The mistake doesn’t lie in recognizing the things that are standing in the way of change. You may be absolutely right about the things blocking you. The mistake is in choosing to wait until the obstacles are gone. Instead of waiting for the perfect time, adopt the attitude that the perfect time is always now, regardless of what is standing in your way. Thinking that a career change comes with the flip of the switch is a little like thinking that a newborn baby comes from a birth. In reality, there is a gestation period where the baby grows to the point where it’s ready to join the world. It’s the same with a career change. Your new career is conceived the moment you decide to make that change. The gestation period is full of steps to take to lay the foundation for the change.
Mistake No. 5: Trying to do it yourself. Every once in a while, I start working with a new client who had explored working with me years before, but ultimately decided that they should be able to figure it out on their own. After trying and never getting any traction, they invariably wish they had decided to work with me right from the start.
The mistake? Thinking they should be able to do it themselves. I’m not suggesting that everybody needs to hire a career coach if they want to make a career change. I’m saying that the more you can externalize your process (both exploration and implementation), the better your chances of making it happen. That could mean working with a career coach, but it could just as likely be with friends, family, or colleagues. Find someone to be your sounding board. Find someone else who is in the same boat and support each other in your efforts. Find career books you like and use the material to coach each other along the way. Help each other explore and hold each other accountable.
Whatever you do, don’t try to do it alone.
After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As a speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About Work, and his E-book, The Occupational Adventure Guide, offer people tools for turning dreams into reality. Rosengren's blog, The M.A.P. Maker, explores how to craft a life of meaning, abundance, and passion.