In years of coaching adults confronting difficult career decisions, I have observed one common denominator: this stuff is HARD, and many otherwise bright, capable people struggle mightily with it. If you feel that way, believe me, you have lots of company.
Buy why? Why is this stuff so blasted difficult?
Sometimes it’s a matter of unrealistic expectations. We say: “I want to make a career decision.” but what we really mean is: “I want to have complete certainty that my decision will be RIGHT, and that I’ll never regret it!”. The former, yes. The latter, not so much unless you have a crystal ball. And you never change or grow.
Sometimes we pile on heavy pressures to already-difficult decisions. “I have to stop screwing around and decide what I’m going to be for the rest of my life!”. Ack! Who could make a healthy, creative decision with that kind of pressurized, judgmental voice in their head? (Not me.) Ask yourself this: Ten years ago, could I have predicted what I would be doing today, or how I would feel about it? If your answer is “No way!”, then consider this: you also probably can’t predict what you’ll be doing ten years from now, or how you’ll feel about that. It’s unknowable, and laboring over it is simply a waste of time and energy.
So am I anti-career planning? Of course not. We must make decisions, and the best ones we are capable of. I would just suggest that you modify the question. A better option, one that we can really have a hope of answering with authenticity and integrity, might just be this one:
“What would be fun to try next?”
Sound a little frivolous? Maybe, not ‘serious’ enough? Let’s look more closely:
“FUN” is not frivolous. We don’t have to lose sleep worrying about what we consider “fun”; we just know it. Our intuition about what gives us joy and pleasure is very reliable and accurate. That’s what makes it so important. In moments of life decision, trusting your intuition is vital. When you think about imponderables like “What am I going to BE when I grow up?”, most people, quite reasonably, freeze up. It’s heavy, requires fortune-telling, and it makes your brains hurt. On the other hand, consider, “What do I like to do for fun?” and bingo! Instant-answers appear! We loosen up, and may even get creative. It’s not hard. We know the answer, and we trust that our answer is just right.
“TRY” is another key word. We can’t know for sure if our career decisions will be everything we hope. In fact, they probably won’t. Most jobs have their downside, and the grass has a way of being kind of imperfect on the other side. But most of us are o.k. with giving something a try. If we think we are committing for a lifetime, we might lock up with indecision. Procrastinate, delay… you know. So it’s helpful to lighten up; it’s o.k. to TRY something, and know that if it doesn’t work out (or even if it does!) you can TRY something else. Hey, life is a buffet, and a lot of stuff might look good! Let’s try a few things.
“NEXT” is the final, vital word. Not always, not forever — just ‘NEXT’. Next implies that your career is a story with, in all likelihood, many chapters. What you do next will take you to forks in the road that you can’t possibly see from here. But you can trust that, if you choose what to do next with integrity, you’ll know what road to take when that time comes.
So if you’re struggling with life and career questions, unsure and unhappy with your lot in life, maybe it’s time to lighten up a little. Life is, to quote John Lennon, what happens while we’re busy making other plans. Stop trying to figure out what you can’t possibly know, and ask yourself something that only YOU know: what would be fun? To just try. Next. You might be surprised how easy some big decisions seem when you shift from ‘working at it’ to ‘easing into it’.