Editor’s note: This week, we are pleased to introduce a new columnist and weekly contributor to California Job Journal. Penelope Trunk brings a fresh and, yes, sometimes brazen perspective to issues faced by today’s jobseekers and careerists. On her blog, she describes it as "advice at the intersection of work and life." Highly successful in a number of her own endeavors, she preaches what she has practiced, asserting that for Gen-X and Gen-Y workers, this is not their parents’ labor market. Ms. Trunk is the articulate voice for a new generation, and we think you’ll find her observations both prudent and provocative. Enjoy!
Take the Pressure Off Choosing a Career
Most of us will change careers. Most young people will change careers at least three times – after they find one, when they are thirty. So work life is really about a series of careers, and we all need to get good at the process of choosing a new career. We all need to get comfortable with the inherent uncertainty during the process.
Here are nine ways you can make choosing a career less stressful:
1. Squash perfectionist tendencies and get comfortable in gray areas. It’s fine to be lost and not sure what you’re doing, so don’t rush yourself to solve the problem. Maybe you can just look at the problem differently and it won’t look so bad. And don’t feel like you need to get the right answer in your hunt for the right career. Being right is not important. Just do your best and see what comes of it.
2. Don’t wait for a new career to start being creative. Every job is creative. Every job presents problems that need solving, and problem solving is a creative act. If what you mean by creativity is that you want to paint with watercolors, then go home at night and do that. Why do you need to get paid to make art? It’s enjoyable and fulfilling and a fine thing to do in your free time, even if you have only fifteen minutes of free time a day. Raymond Carver is famous for writing short, short stories because he didn’t have enough time in the day to write long.
3. Stop looking for a career to save your life.
A job is not a life. A job is something to do with your time that is rewarding and fosters personal growth. A career can’t make you happy. Relationships will make you happy. Figure out what you can get from a career and what you can’t. Once you recognize that you will rescue you, not your career, there’s a lot less pressure in the career hunt realm.
4. Relax about the career choices you make.
Try something. If you don’t like it, try another thing. There are no rules that say you have to stay in the career you choose. In fact, moving from one career to another at a breakneck pace til you love something might be good for you, and taking ten years to figure something out is fine. The life or death decision is about living below your means. As long as you do this, you have lots of choices in life. If you don’t live below your means, you get stuck in a career.
5. Don’t wait until you know yourself. You never really know yourself. It’s a process. If it’s a precondition for finding a career, then you could be learning about yourself forever and never feel ready to choose a career. Forget the soul-search and just try something. Ironically, the best way to learn about yourself is to do things and see if you like them, so the inactive, soul-searching time is, in some ways, counter-productive. Try testing the waters with a lot of lower risk moves, instead.
6. Stop choosing dead-end fields. All things being equal, you’re better off choosing a career in a field that is growing, not shrinking. Once you identify your talents, focus them on a field that has a future. If you write well, go into interactive marketing – one of the fastest growing fields – and not print journalism, which is in trouble. If you like to help people, go into nursing – huge demand, and not centralized, slow-moving nonprofits, which are falling out of favor with donors.
7. Don’t overlook the good points of the job you have. You can save the world from almost any job, you can shift from a dead end to a hot spot in almost any field, and you can learn and grow if you get good at managing your boss. These are all things you can control. You don’t need a specific career to accomplish these things. So maybe you don’t even need to pick a new career.
8. Make a lifestyle choice before you make a career choice. Figure out what you want your life to look like, and then choose a career that will enable that life. If you don’t know what you want from life, how can you possibly know what you want from a career? What we want from life might change. That’s okay. You have to start somewhere. So figure out what you want, and try out careers that might give you that. If you change what you want from life, you can change your career.
9. Talk about yourself the way you want to be. To figure out what sort of career will suit you, try talking about yourself like you’re already there and see how it feels. We intuitively know what stories feel right, and we can make a career change more efficiently if we create stories about our process. You might actually surprise yourself by figuring out what you want to do by figuring out what story seems natural to tell.