A friend of mine (let’s call him Kwasi), after performing well in his high school exams, received an invitation to study law at a top university in the country. His parents were ecstatic, and so was he at the time. As he puts it, he was only 18 years old and didn’t really know what was important to him or what he wanted to do with his life, and so he went ahead and studied
law. Midway through the course, he started having doubts and considered switching to Computer Science or Information Technology because he came to realise he was ‘somewhat a nerd’ but he pressed on with his law degree mostly to please his parents. He now works in a law firm and he hates his job. He is certain he is in the wrong career.
The problem, he says, is he didn’t get any career advice when he joined university, and there was the small matter of pleasing his parents. Unlike Kwasi, you may not necessarily hate your job, but you might have doubts all the same. With time, though, once the doubts take root, they can affect your productivity, performance and satisfaction in life. So, how do you know?
Does the career fit your values?
If your career does not fit into your value systems, it’s probably not the right path for you. The things that are important to us normally help us decide what matters and what is right. Values, in a nutshell, are maps, according to Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. If your career clashes with what you believe in, you’re not just at a risk of job dissatisfaction but can suffer health issues such as anxiety and depression. In a study
published in the International Journal of Humanities and Social Science, researchers found that when your career
fits your values, your job satisfaction, motivation, commitment and performance are likely to be high, and they add, you can progress more easily in your career path. Having said that, determining your values can take time. That is why the doubts normally start creeping in way past your 20s because the more you grow, the more you get to know yourself and what matters to you. One way to determine your values is to write down what you’d like to be remembered for by your family, coworkers, and other people in your circles.
Does it match your skills?
Many of us used the ‘Follow Your Passion’ mantra to choose professions, but is it the only mantra to live by? What if you don’t know where your passions lie or happen to have too many passions to follow? Should the right career match your passion or should it rather match your skills? The author Elizabeth Gilbert said in 2015 that “follow your
passion” is an advice she stopped giving. Cal Newport, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Computer Science at
Georgetown University and author of So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love argues that following your passion is not necessarily a good idea. In fact, he writes, “The conventional wisdom on career success – follow your passion – is seriously flawed. It not only fails to describe how most people end up with compelling careers, but for many people it can actually make things worse leading to chronic job shifting and unrelenting angst when one’s reality inevitably falls short of the dream.” If you’re doing what you’re good at then, experts say, you might be in the right track, and if you have an idea on how to improve on your existing skills, even better. On the other hand, if your skills and knowledge are underutilised, you might be in the wrong career altogether. A word about passion: it can be cultivated. You might not enjoy your job from the
get-go, but as you become better at it, your passion for it can grow. This is according to a study in Personality and
Social Psychology Bulletin.
What are your aspirations?
You work diligently at your job, but it takes extra effort (even though you might have the skills) and worse, you watch the clock the whole time. That was me at my first job in front-office management. That was me again a few years later in public relations. I wasn’t bad at both, I just felt like I was contorting myself to things I wasn’t. I imagined myself doing something else – writing. If you have the same feelings, that you should be doing something else, that’s a sign that you’re in the wrong career. Make a list of your motivations as this can help you create goals and aspirations.
In the book Focus: Use Different Ways of Seeing the World for Success and Influence, researchers Heidi Grant
Halvorson Ph.D. and E. Tory Higgins Ph.D. describe two forms of motivation that influence how we move through life: focus to win (or promotion focus) and focus to avoid loss (prevention focus). And because we all want to experience pleasure and avoid pain, they further explain, we possess both kinds of focus although one kind of
focus might be dominant. They further add that your motivations can help you determine the career that’s right for you.
So you’ve taken stock, now what? Now that you know where you stand, come up with an action plan to move
forward – whether you have decided you want to move up the ladder in your current organisation, make a lateral move in the same organisation or industry, negotiate for a raise or change your career.