Finding a fulfilling career can seem like a dream, especially if you’re currently miserable at your job. You might have zero clue about what you’d like to do. And that’s understandable. “We’re not taught how to make this kind of decision,” according to Laura Simms, a career coach for creatives. For most people, she said, the traditional route of picking a major in college and then matching a job to that major isn’t effective.
Also, career aptitude tests aren’t necessarily helpful in identifying the best career for you. “Much like an IQ test is an incomplete measure of your intelligence, career tests can only quantify so much,” Simms said.
Finding a Feasible and Fulfilling Career
So what does work? Below Simms and other coaches share valuable advice for finding a fulfilling — and feasible — career.
Consider what other people thank you for.
The goal of this activity is to find common threads, according to Michelle Ward, aka The When I Grow Up Coach, who’s helped almost 200 creative people devise the career they think they can’t have — or discover it to begin with.
Spend two minutes writing down what others thank you for. Spend another two minutes writing down what anyone can do. “No censoring allowed — don’t exclude the silly, the ‘stupid,’ the things that aren’t career-related — and don’t let your pen leave the paper or fingers leave the keys,” Ward said.
Also, “Rifle through those old report cards/job reviews/thank you notes and emails you accumulated over the years to find those key descriptions that keep popping up.” Next, brainstorm ways that you might monetize your skills, she said.
Comb the past for patterns.
Tracy Brisson, the founder and CEO of The Opportunities Project, a career coaching and recruitment consulting company, believes that your past can hold clues to a passionate career. She suggested “Creating a timeline that goes as far back as school activities and charts triumphs and disappointments.”
Write a letter to yourself — in the future.
Let yourself dream and find a future that you’d like to create, Ward said. Begin your letter with “Dear Future MyNameHere,” and write down everything that’s happened to you that year, where you live and what you’ve accomplished, she said. Here’s Ward’s letter.
Use social media to research ideas.
“Search LinkedIn or Twitter to look at what other people do and how they got there,” Brisson said. Many will probably be happy to talk to you about their own careers.
Visualize your ideal world.
“Set a timer and put on your favorite dreamiest song, and let yourself drift to your own world — literally,” Ward said. In Ward’s world “… I get to know everyone…personally and they’re all sweet and fun and caring and creative, and they all live their passionate careers without worrying about money or disappointing their doctor parents,” she said.
Then, consider how your land can be translated into the real world. Ward buys tickets to musicals, surrounds herself with creative and caring people and helps them live their passionate careers.
Think about what you’d do if you didn’t have anyone to disappoint or answer to.
“Would it be something that’s been a deep dark secret since you were little — like be a published writer — or something you’ve recently discovered you love but isn’t so mainstream or stable,” Ward said.
Once you realize your dream career, write down all your excuses. And then get rid of that piece of paper. Create a new list of how to make your dream happen, starting with the smallest or easiest things to do, Ward said. (Also, check out Ward’s free resources.)
Reflect on your legacy.
“What kind of legacy do you want to leave?” Simms said. “Your ideal career is always in alignment with your answer.”
Specific Career-Related Concerns
Below, Brisson, Simms and Ward addressed specific concerns when contemplating a career change.
Making the right choice
When switching careers, it’s hard to know whether you’re making the right choice. According to Simms, this is something to ease into. “Write about it, talk about it, research, talk to people who do the kind of work you’re considering,” she said.
While it’s different for everyone, intuition usually plays a role, Brisson said. “After reviewing pros and con lists, it will ultimately feel right for you. Not only will you feel excitement, but you’ll feel peace.” It’s also natural to feel nervous. “Equal-ish nerves and excitement mean that something’s lighting you up and there’s something at stake, too,” Ward said.
Staying in a similar field
Another concern is whether it’s best to stick with a profession in a similar field. “It’s certainly the safe choice, but not always the best one,” Simms said. “What you have done in the past is not necessarily a great indicator of what suits your abilities, interests, and needs of today. That’s where your focus should be,” she said.
But first, it’s helpful to figure out what’s contributing to your unhappiness at work, Ward said. Is it your colleagues, your boss or the company’s culture? If so, changing careers might not be necessary; changing companies might.
You also might be able to combine your passion with your current career. Ward worked with a client who realized that she enjoyed teaching and training. Because she liked her job, she asked her boss if she could transition to doing this type of work within the company. The result? They created a custom-made position for her.
Also, “Depending on your education and background, many of your skills may be transferable to different fields,” Brisson said. “Start networking online and in-person in new industries you’re considering to find the ins and outs.”
Negative experiences or a new career
You might be unsure whether it’s the negative experiences at your job or an actual disinterest in an entire profession that’s the problem. The experts recommended doing some detective work and getting specific about what you dislike about your job.
“Was it the hours, the people, the corporate culture, the actual tasks?” Simms said. Determining this will help you clarify what you’ll tolerate and what you won’t, she added.
Also, according to Ward, dig deeper and consider your strengths and which ones you enjoy; the values you need in a job; and your personality type and how it relates to a career you think you’d enjoy.
Do you think you could get those “values, needs [and] priorities met elsewhere but in the same position, or if this is par for the course for this career path”? Ward said. If you’re not sure, she suggested talking to people who hold the same positions but at different companies.
Balancing financial security with fulfillment
Some people are torn about their dream careers because they worry that their salary will nosedive, and their debt will skyrocket. “Everyone has a different level of risk,” Brisson said. So it’s important to reflect thoughtfully on your choice and research thoroughly. Analyze your finances right now to determine your options, she said. You might be in a place where you can minimize your expenses and incur some debt. Even if you can’t make any changes right now, you might be able to in the future, she said.
If you’re thinking entrepreneurship, and health insurance is a priority, research the various plans available. For example, Brisson said that New York offers great options for starting entrepreneurs through their Healthy New York program. And “Remember, research is not a decision.”
It took Ward almost three years to leave her corporate job, because she had certain goals she wanted to accomplish while she had a full-time job and a steady salary. “I wanted to (a) get certified (b) have a kick-ass website (c) have enough money saved up that I’d give myself a nice severance when I left (it turned out to be five months worth) and (d) be confident that I had consistent consultation calls and clients coming in and signing up, so that people knew I existed.”
“It doesn’t need to be a leap, even — it could just be a step, with a safety net directly under your feet,” Ward said.
Monetizing your passions
People also worry that turning a hobby into a profession will zap the enjoyment right out of it so it becomes just that: work. “Just because you have a passion or a gift does not mean you ought to monetize it,” Simms said.
You might want to save some passions for pure pleasure and others may not make a good career anyway. “If you have a passion for knitting dog bonnets, you have to research if you can sustain yourself on selling dog bonnets,” she said.
Again, “Do your research, make a plan [and] live in the questions for a while,” Ward said. One of Ward’s clients held a full-time corporate job while working part-time at her Etsy shop. After she was featured on the website Heartsy, she took several vacation days to fill her many orders. This helped her determine whether she was interested in doing all the other responsibilities related to being an Etsy shop owner. After those two days, she realized that she was and decided to work toward this goal.