4 common traps when choosing a career

There are four common traps you may face when choosing a career:

  • Believing you are only meant to do one thing
  • That you must identify a specific career position to work toward
  • That doing what you’re supposed to, will bring you success
  • That having your base, practical needs met is enough to bring satisfaction.

The fallacy of “the one”. It’s critical you embrace the idea that several paths can lead you to have a satisfying career and life. Don’t get hung up on finding the “perfect” job for you. Instead, try to think of your career as always being in a state of flux.

It’s dysfunctional and unrealistic to believe you only have one true calling in life, for you are capable of so much and can never predict what doors will open for you. If you believe you only have one purpose, you will end up frozen with indecision trying to figure it out. You might pursue a job only to find it isn’t as great as you’d built it up to be. Or, if you’ve been let go from your dream job, you might mistakenly feel like you can never be satisfied at work again.

In your job search, you should be looking for ideal paths, not the only one.

Stanford innovators Bill Burnett and Dave Evans, in their book Designing Your Life, propose an interesting way to explore the concept of multiple potential paths. Burnett and Evans suggest sketching out three lives according to these criteria:

1. Your Optimised Life: You redesign your current career by reducing disengaging and exhausting tasks and increasing the tasks that engage and energise you. Do this by looking for the times you were excited, focused and having a good time at work. A perk of this approach is that when you become so good at the things you enjoy, you may be asked to do the things you don’t enjoy even less, thereby maximising those enriching elements while reducing those that only deplete your energy.

2. Your Alternate Life: This is the life you would have if your current career vanished. The pandemic may very well have caused this to happen to you. In this instance, what industry would you try to transfer your skills to?

3. Your Fascinated Life: This life is where you see yourself doing the thing you want to do if money and image were no object. It is the dreamer’s life, with no barriers to hold you.

The misbelief that you can’t proceed without a specific destination in mind. Rather than pinpointing the exact role you’d like to have, it’s worth considering a general direction. Choosing a particular field or type of work, for example, that aligns with your values, skills, achievements, interests and motivations will stand you in good stead as you start to pursue this direction.

When you think this way, rather than in terms of a specific position, you’ll find this less restrictive approach allows you to be more open to opportunity. In line with this, also consider looking for work that will foster learning, so that you may grow personally and professionally, thereby continually enriching your life along the way.

The myth that success depends on doing what you’re supposed to. Scott Dinsmore of Live Your Legend, advocated for forgetting about doing what you’re supposed to. With 80% of the American workforce unhappy in their job, much of the problem seems to stem from people following a path they’ve been told to. Instead, Dinsmore said you should identify your own definition of success, because success to you doesn’t have to look like everyone else’s.

In fact, Eric Barker, author of Barking Up the Wrong Tree, suggests defining success through subjective measures.

According to Barker, those are:

Achievement: Do you feel like you’re winning?

Legacy: Do you feel like you’re influencing others in a positive way?

Significance: Do you feel like you’re needed by the people closest to you?

Happiness: Do you feel like you’re enjoying life?

Burnett and Evans propose another way of defining what success looks like to you:

  1. Do you like it?
  2. How confident are you in it?
  3. Does it fit with your life, work and world-view?

The trap of satisfying only basic needs. Frederick Herzberg’s Theory of Motivation, (also known as Two-Factor Theory or Motivation-Hygiene Theory) tells us much about why some jobs are merely tolerable to us, and others provide the highest level of fulfilment.

Herzberg proposed that it isn’t just a case of being dissatisfied or satisfied with a job, but rather, that there are two sets of factors.

Hygiene factors are those governed by the context in which work is performed. They are the working environment (physical and interpersonal), the remuneration and benefits, job security and working policies. According to Herzberg, these factors relate to dissatisfaction, but they aren’t enough to make a career satisfying on their own. When these factors are appropriately present, they can mitigate the frustrations of a job, but don’t bring high levels of performance. For that, motivating factors must also be present.

Motivating factors are intangible in the context of work, and it is these that govern whether you find a job extremely satisfying and meaningful. They are achievement, the challenge of the work itself, the recognition you receive, as well as opportunities for growth, advancement and responsibility.

This means that when looking for a meaningful career, you need to look beyond the salary or the fancy office. Those will only take you so far. When the hygiene factors are right, you then need to ask yourself if your motivators for success will be realised in your new job.

Ask: which govern negative and positive work attitudes.

  1. Is it meaningful to you?
  2. Is it going to give you a chance to develop?
  3. Will you learn new things?
  4. Will you have the opportunity for recognition and achievement?
  5. Will you be given responsibility?

For each individual, you would expect the answers to these questions to differ, even when considering the same job. That’s because each person’s definition of success should be different, as will the career path that will fulfil how you see success.

I feel it’s important to point out that if you need to find a job – any job – that will help you pay the bills and take care of your family right now, it is perfectly acceptable to choose one that only satisfies hygiene factors for you.

In this climate, it’s realistic to expect that an enriching career is one that you will work towards. Therefore, if you don’t find a job that also satisfies motivating factors for you right now, don’t despair – this is absolutely something you can be taking steps towards in the meantime.

Want to find out more?

Register your interest here to buy my latest book “Career Clarity, how to find career enrichment” by Greg Weiss.

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