To Choose Career Direction, Look For Your Energy Source

To find a career that lights you up, understand what energizes you.

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Curt Rosengren
Pursuing work you love can be like playing darts blindfolded. Sure, it’s possible to hit the bull's-eye by guessing where the target is. But it’s a lot more likely your dart will miss the mark.

To take the guesswork out of creating a career that lights you up, you need to understand what energizes you. Here are five ways to find the source of your energy so you can make conscious decisions to incorporate it into your career:

Ask yourself what you love and why.

Always begin with asking yourself what you love, and then ask why you love it. Think of it as dissecting the activities you enjoy, while looking for reasons why you enjoy them. Make a list of things you love doing—work or play—and dig deep. You’ll likely uncover common themes that run through each of those activities. I call those your Passion Factors.

One of my main Passion Factors, for example, is exploration and discovery. While my Passion Catalyst coaching (my work) and my travel photography (a hobby) may look like apples and oranges, when you dig below the surface they both share a common source of energy: exploration and discovery.

Explore your Personal Return on Investment.

Imagine yourself transported to a different dimension where you get paid for the work you do by the feeling it gives you, rather than money in the bank. To maximize your pay, to get the greatest possible return on your investment of time and energy, what would you do?

[See 14 Secrets to Career Change Success.]

Visualize a scenario where the work you do feeds your energy to the max. What kind of people would you be around? Would the focus of your work be narrow and deep, or broad and varied? Would your work focus on people? Information? Physical things? Would it be creative? Analytical? What would your ideal day look like? What kinds of outcomes would you work toward?

Make a passion collage.

Try non-linear exploration. Gather some old magazines you no longer need. Spend a few minutes sitting quietly and focusing on the idea of pursuing a career you love, then flip through the magazines. Cut out whatever images and words catch your attention. Let the process flow freely. Don’t try to make sense of why you’re choosing certain images and not others. Just go with what you’re drawn to.

After you’ve gone through all of your magazines, make a collage with the images you've selected. Let yourself play and be creative. Then look at the collage you’ve created and ask, Why? What about this image am I’m drawn to? What’s the message here for me? (If you don’t feel like creating a collage, you can go straight to looking at the images and asking why.)

[See 8 Ways to Energize Your Career Dreams.]

Turn your gripes upside down.

Sometimes it’s easier to figure out what we dislike than what we love. Use that to your advantage. Make a list of things you don’t like about your current job or past jobs. But don’t stop there. Once you’ve created that list, look at each item and ask, What would be ideal? What’s the opposite of what you dislike? Use the things you don’t want to identify what you do want.

Consider your wildest dreams.

In your dreams, what does your career look like? What kind of work are you doing? Let your imagination run wild. Don’t limit yourself to what’s practical and realistic. Describe those dreams in detail. Then ask, Why? What is it about that wildest dream that feels so compelling? How would it fuel you? Where’s the energy coming from? The dream might not be realistic, but it could offer helpful insight into what makes you tick and what lights you up.

[For more career advice, visit U.S. News Careers.]

When you don’t have a good grasp of your passions, you’re left blindfolded with a dart in your hand. You might hit your career target, but it’s more likely you won’t. So aim to understand where your energy comes from. Armed with that information about yourself, you can look for energizing opportunities and better evaluate different options. Knowing what fuels you gives you the power to make that next step in your career a wise one.

After years as a professional malcontent, Curt Rosengren discovered the power of passion. As speaker, author, and coach, Rosengren helps people create careers that energize and inspire them. His book, 101 Ways to Get Wild About, 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.