I’ve often thought how wonderful it must be to know from an early age what you want to do with your life… and then travel a straight path to get there. Apparently, though, there are an awful lot of us who don’t experience that certainty.
The number one concern I hear from people in their 40s and 50s (and beyond) is that they have no idea what they want to do. Many of them seem embarrassed about it, believing they should have it all figured out by now.
If that sounds like you, know that you’re not alone. For various reasons, many of us lose touch with what’s important to us. Maybe we weren’t encouraged when we were younger, or we put all our energies into something that wasn’t a good fit. Whatever the reason, when asked what you’d rather be doing, you come up blank. You have no idea how to discover what you want.
But you probably know what you don’t want
If you’re having trouble figuring out what you’d like to do, one way to discover what you want is to start with the things you know you don’t want. Most of us have no trouble coming up with a list of those.
Identifying what you don’t like about your work can provide clues to work that would be fulfilling to you. Think about your current and/or past jobs. What skills did you dislike using the most? What elements about your work environment kept you from being your best? Which tasks caused you frustration or led you to procrastinate?
What things do you simply not want as part of your next “career”?
Take a look at the flip side
Take a sheet of paper and draw a line down the middle. In the left column, list all the things you dislike about your work, both past and present. When your list is complete, think about what the flip side of each item might be. What would “fix” that item for you?
For example, if you don’t like working in a cubicle, you may decide that the flip side for you would be working outdoors or having your own home office. Alternatively, you may discover that you could be perfectly content remaining in your cubicle, as long as it’s in an organization that values openness and camaraderie.
Or maybe you’ll realize that you don’t like working with the public day after day, but that you’ve always enjoyed organizing data and might be interested in a behind-the-scenes bookkeeping job.
Transform negative to positive
One of my clients, whom I’ll call Michelle, was unhappy in her career as an I.T. manager, but had no idea what she would rather be doing. As she worked through this exercise, she realized that what she really wanted was more flexibility, creativity, and the opportunity to make an impact on people’s lives.
She also remembered that her top values include learning and growth, things she’s no longer willing to give up. She was able to use this knowledge about herself to transition into a new career in training and development.
Here’s Michelle’s list:
The most important step in any career change is knowing what you want. By flipping around those things that are negative about your work, you not only discover what you want, you transform them into things that will work for you.
How would you transform what you don’t like into the work you want?