Are You Feeling Lost In Your Career?

By Robert Half International

Most professionals are familiar with the concept of a career map. But between the ups and downs of the economy and the twists and turns of a decades-long career, a conventional map can sometimes serve as little more than wishful thinking. It can also prevent you from recognizing -- and seizing -- unexpected opportunities along the way.

That's why you might want to consider a career compass instead.

What's the difference? A traditional career map serves as an outline of what you hope your professional life will be months, years or even decades down the road. It guides you from point A to points B, C, D and so on.

But a career map can be rigid. There's no accounting for the unexpected. What happens if you want to re-evaluate your career at point C, for example? Or you're poised at point F, only to realize it's no longer a feasible option? Your map suddenly becomes useless.

In contrast, a career compass orients you so that no matter where circumstances take you, you can point yourself in a rewarding direction. A career compass is a more flexible way of approaching your career. It gives you a better chance of arriving at a fulfilling point X, even if you currently have no idea what point X actually is. A strong compass can also help you enjoy your journey, even when it takes you through scary or unfamiliar territory.

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May the forks be with you
Some career decisions are straightforward, and for those, you hardly even need a map. But for tougher decisions -- such as whether to stay with your current employer or join a hot new startup or to accept a dream job with a daunting commute -- you'll need a rock-solid sense of your professional priorities. That's where a compass comes in.

To create a compass you can consult when you reach a crossroads, you'll need to develop a clear sense of what you do and don't want out of work. Start by considering how you'd respond -- or have already responded -- to questions such as the following:
  • Independence versus teamwork: Are you happiest when you're left alone to identify and execute your own initiatives or when working closely with colleagues toward a common goal?
  • Action versus serenity: Do you thrive in demanding, fast-paced, unpredictable environments or prefer a calmer workplace? After a day's work, would you rather arrive home feeling exhausted but satisfied, or relaxed and ready to enjoy the evening?
  • Big company versus small company: Do you prefer the excitement and intimacy of a startup or the stability and security that larger companies tend to offer?

Also consider dilemmas that might force you to choose between two equally attractive options. These can help you identify priorities and tendencies you may not be fully conscious of. For example:
  • Opportunity versus security: Would you rather hold a position that offers little security but vast possibilities for development and advancement, or a steadier job with narrower prospects?
  • Career versus personal life: Which sounds more frustrating: shortening a vacation to rescue a work project or missing a deadline in order to fulfill a personal obligation?
  • Money versus passion: Which would you choose: a less-than-thrilling job with a generous and steadily rising compensation package, or work that gives you a strong sense of purpose but doesn't pay as well as you'd like?

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Don't limit yourself to the examples here. Other useful questions might cover topics such as managing others, benefits, relationships with colleagues, the type of boss you work best under and more. If you have trouble creating relevant questions for yourself, ask a friend or mentor for assistance.

Forcing yourself to make these choices might seem harsh or arbitrary, but it can help you triangulate your true intentions. By contrast, a career plan based on an idealized dream job isn't likely to help you navigate the tradeoffs and compromises that real careers entail.

Recalibrating your true north
The most important part of setting your career compass is to examine your priorities regularly and revise them as necessary. The more outdated they become, the more likely you'll be to keep marching in a direction that no longer serves you or to miss a turn that might have led you down an unanticipated and richly rewarding path.
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Angela J Shirley

With the economy still being a challenge, employees need to stay "flexible" in their thinking and be willing to "learn" other jobs to increase the chances of avoiding being laid off. When the budgets get evaluated, employees that show they have their employer's interests at heart will usually get to stay. For those of us who are stuck in a job that we know is not taking us anywhere, but we need the income - use your free time to do something that will. It is all about "balance" and making sure you get family time and rest. You will be no use to anyone if you are burning the candles at both ends. It is possible to have a Career Passion if you evaluate your life daily and pay attention to what is happening around you. At age 55, I have been through several career changes and as of today have no idea in which direction I am heading. But I do know I need to be realistic and start planning for my retirement. Now I may never stop working, but things like having a safe place to stay come to mind. Too many older workers are relying on Social Security and other retirement programs and there are no guarantees they will be around when we need them. In comes Plan B - the back up plan - the plan you figure out just in case they don't!

December 12 2013 at 4:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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