Do you want to change your career but are overwhelmed by all that’s involved? Do you have a number of possible ideas, but no focus? In my work as a life coach I talk every day with people who dream of loving what they do. One obstacle they face is that they’re not sure how to narrow down their interests. They need a process for exploring their career options.
Career exploration is partly following your intuition and partly having a system. You need to listen to what your gut is telling you to a certain degree, yet analyze your options and roadblocks objectively. You must listen to both your heart and your head.
The following is a six-step plan to narrow your list of career options and decide which one to explore first.
- Define your career categories.
If you have a collection of articles you’ve pulled, brochures you’ve collected and notes you’ve scribbled, get them all in one place. If all of your ideas are in your head, write them down. Don’t worry if they’re realistic or not – just capture the ideas.
Separate your materials and lists into categories. They may be broad, such as “marketing,” or narrow, such as “elementary school teacher.” The object is to separate the ideas into groups that make sense to you.
- Choose one category to address while you temporarily shelve the others.
Part of the challenge you may have been facing is feeling overwhelmed by too many possibilities at once. Now that you have separated your ideas into categories, you can address them one at a time and focus on each in more depth.
- Ask yourself thought-provoking questions about the career category you chose and record your honest answers in a notebook.
This is your opportunity to discover what is compelling, frightening, realistic and far-fetched about this career area. When you clarify your thoughts in writing you create a document you can refer to and edit repeatedly during your career exploration.
Here are some examples of questions to consider:
What interests me about this career category?
What have I been telling myself about it?
What skills, talents and experiences do I have that are relevant to this career category?
What experiences and knowledge do I need more of to pursue a career in this area?
What would be the rewards and challenges to me of a career in this area?
What more do I want to know about this career category?
On a scale of 1 through 5, how excited am I about this area (1 = unexcited, 3 = uncertain, 5 = excited)?
- Repeat this question and answer process with each of your career categories.
Try not to compare notes with categories you wrote about earlier. Give each one a fair chance, and take your time.
- Assess your responses and do a gut check.
Look across your thoughts about each category and compare them. What common themes do you see? Maybe it’s working with groups of people, or in a certain industry such as high tech, or maybe you’re drawn to entrepreneurial opportunities. Is there a category that is clearly more compelling than the others? Are there categories that are “pipe dreams” and others that are more realistic?
- Select one career category to pursue further and commit to setting the others aside for now.
You’ve recorded your thoughts about several career areas and can always return to them later. By temporarily narrowing your focus you can more easily organize your research and self-assessment process. If you have very limited time during the week to devote to planning for your next career, this can help you feel less scattered and more purposeful.
When you listen to both your heart and your head, you can transform an overwhelming task into a compelling vision for your future.