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When considering your life and your place in the world it is natural that you want to leave some kind of lasting legacy where you have made a difference. Something that is possibly bigger and more important than you as an individual. We all want to be able to look back with a sense of pride and accomplishment. The big question is, how do you achieve this? How do you find fulfilment in your life? For most people, the natural place to find this is in their career – but what is a career?
It is estimated that the average adult spends between 20% and 30% of their life at work – the exact figure is hard to come by as there are so many variables. Regardless, the world of work is now a central part of our existence and plays a very significant role in determining our levels of happiness, contentment, and fulfilment with our lives overall. Furthermore, many people explore and develop their sense of identity and their values through the work that they undertake.
From the time of early civilisation, the core purpose of work has always been to receive money or materials to enable us to provide for our families. However today much has changed, and many people consider their work in a much broader sense, encompassing different aspects of their lives. It’s no longer just about the money, a job is no longer just ‘work’ – it is much more significant than this. Work ethics have changed, people commonly make well thought out decisions and plan their work – rather than falling into a job that simply pays money as would have happened in the past.
The language of employment has changed significantly over the years and there are now a range of words which are used interchangeably to describe the paid use of our time and how we make a living: job, occupation, trade, profession. But what is a career? And how can a career contribute to the fulfilment that we aspire to achieve in our lives?
What is a Career? What does the term actually mean?
So, what is a career? The term can be used in a variety of ways, but it always involves the aspect of your life that concerns employment. However, in the modern world, the word ‘career’ encompasses much more than simply going to work and getting paid.
Today, a person’s career is seen as the sum total of a person’s journey and progress through life. It includes their learning and education, the range of different jobs and positions held throughout their lifetime and the contribution made by them as an individual.
A career is seen as a lifelong journey and is the product of a range of different decisions made by an individual. A person’s career often reflects their values and motivations, their unique characteristics and their life goals.
Thus, a person’s career can begin relatively early on in their lives as they begin to make decisions about education and the path they would like to follow.
A successful career is one which is associated with progress and advancement, as better positions are secured, and a person’s salary increases.
Today, most people seek to achieve things with their careers much in advance of simply providing security for themselves and their families. People seek to add meaning and value to their own lives and the lives of others.
You will often hear people talking about their career as a vocation – this is when someone feels that they have found their ‘calling’. They feel fully suited to their career and enjoy devoting their time and energy to it. People in this position feel fulfilled and inspired by their work.
Why career decision making is important
To feel motivated, empowered and fulfilled it is important to feel in control of your life and its direction. As we spend so much of our time at work, managing our own career is fundamentally important to our happiness.
Overseeing your career development is a lifelong journey. There will be periods in your life where you will need to set aside some time to actively manage your career. At other points things will be running smoothly and it will simply hum along in the background.
Effectively managing your career will involve a range of different tasks including researching different jobs, exploring the differing levels of education needed for different roles, finding opportunities to gather a range of different experiences, conducting research to set up your own company; the list really is endless.
Effective decision-making lies at the heart of good career management. Making choices about your career enables you to feel in control, ensuring that your choices complement your characteristics, personal values, strengths, and preferences. Making the right career choices will also enable you to grow as an individual – you may be stretched and challenged and put out of your comfort zone.
Career decisions are not to be taken lightly because they will impact not only on your financial security but also your physical and emotional wellbeing, your life purpose and sense of fulfilment. It will be clear when you have made good career decisions, just as much as it will be abundantly obvious when you have made poor decisions.
Factors to consider in career decision making
There are multiple things to consider when contemplating any aspect of career decision making. Some of these include:
- Work-life balance: Do you work to live, or live to work?
- Salary: How much money do you want to make?
- Location: Are you prepared to relocate to secure your ideal job?
- Travel: Are you willing to be away from home?
- Pressure and stress: Do you like working in high-pressure situations or do you prefer peace and tranquillity?
- The environment: Are you suited to an office or should your ‘office’ be the great outdoors?
- The company you keep: Do you prefer working with people (Adults? Children?), animals or the natural world?
- Human contact: Do you have a preference for working alone or as part of a team?
- Entrepreneurship: Do you want to work for yourself?
- Your educational history and performance: How much freedom of choice do your qualifications give you?
- Talents: Do you have any special skills that you could turn into a career?
- Creativity: Do you want the freedom to think creatively or are you happy to follow an established system and protocol?
- Purpose: Is make money or making a difference in the lives of others more important?
- Under scrutiny: Are you comfortable working in the public eye?
- Personal values and fulfilment: How does your chosen job meet your personal needs?
As you progress through your career you will inevitably find that things change over time. You might feel differently or the career that you initially selected my head off in a different direction that no longer aligns with your preferences.
In today’s working world people often have many different careers. You do not have to stick to one path for your entire life. Make sure that you keep your options open and evaluate your career at regular intervals. Be openminded to opportunities, training and advancing your education.
There is no need to remain in a job that makes you unhappy and no longer meets your needs. Make sure that you remain in control by effectively managing your career.
When making decisions in regards to your career it’s important to be both practical and ambitious. We are much more capable than we give ourselves credit for, so it’s important that you consider your true potential. You need to stretch yourself, step out of your comfort zone and keep a keen eye on where you are going. A good way to do this is by having some career objectives that guide you, enable you to track your progress and motivate you to take action.
Action lies at the heart of progress. Whilst you might have clear ideas about what you want to do and where you want to go with your career, it’s taking action that makes the difference. We can all dream, but it is the consistent application of well thought out actions based on sound decision making that breeds career success.
Career objectives form the foundation for good decision making. Having a clear vision of what you would like to achieve with your career long term is a great way to move forward and promote momentum.
To develop a career vision, you need to set aside some time to think about this. The New York Times bestseller, The 12 Week Year, written by Moran and Lennington outlines an excellent technique for designing a ten-year vision which is then broken down into incremental steps.
Take a pen and paper and write down what you would like your life to look like in 10 years’ time. How much money do you want to have in the bank? How do you want to spend your time? What do you want your personal life to look like? Do you have any hobbies? Take your time and be detailed. If it helps, you can create two visions – one for your personal life and one for your professional life, you may find that they overlap.
Take your time and craft a vision for your future 10 years from now. This then needs to be broken down into more incremental milestones – 3 years and 1 year. You can then set yourself goals and targets based on this vision. As Moran and Lennington explain, to really get momentum in your career you can follow The 12 Week Year model.
Finally, set yourself some things that you can measure yourself by. This might fill some of you with dread, but numbers usually tell an accurate picture. If you’re really serious about career planning for success this is an important technique to use.
What is career success?
At the end of the day, career success is deeply personal. The term refers to the extent to which an individual can be described as effective, successful, prosperous and thriving in their career so far.
Some people will choose to measure their success by financial and material yardsticks. Others will want to go to bed at night knowing that they have made a difference to the lives of others. Some will want to be high profile and recognised for their achievements.
There is no right or wrong way to measure your success. However, you will instinctively know when you feel a sense of inner-harmony, pride and satisfaction for your endeavours:
- All aspects of your life will align with your personal values
- You will feel empowered and valued
- You will feel excited about what the future holds and proud of your past.
What is Career Support?
There are lots of options to consider when you feel that you need some support in managing your career and it can be accessed at any point on your journey.
It is common to receive career guidance whilst still in school or when at college or university. However, it can be used at any point in a person’s life. For example:
- when they are contemplating a career change
- when they have been made redundant or are unemployed
- when they are in a transitionary period, such as becoming a working-parent or approaching retirement.
Career guidance can be sought from a wide range of people: through informal networks such as family and friends, colleagues, mentors, coaches and career professionals. In addition, support can be sourced online where an abundance of self-help materials can be found.
Career support activities are wide-ranging, and can include individual and group work, self-assessment tools, mentorships, work-experience and taster programmes, transitionary support, counselling, and online learning.
It’s important to consider the options available before deciding which kind of career support you need.
There is an abundance of self-assessment tools currently on the market. These tools gather personal data in order to guide you towards careers that align with your unique characteristics. Some of these tools will guide you towards specific jobs, others will highlight your skills, strengths, and preferences. Some organisations use self-assessment tools to determine best-fit employees, and others will be interested to hear your scores in well-known career tools such as the Myers-Brigg Type Index (MBTI).
A qualified career professional can usually provide you with the information you need to make informed decisions, such as the typical salary or certain roles, the qualifications and education required, the current market need, available training etc.
Career counsellors and coaches can help you to explore your options and they are particularly useful if you feel lost or stuck in some way. Usually working in a one-to-one setting, they facilitate deep reflection and give you the time to consider what it is that you really want.
Moran, B. and Lennington, M. (2013). The 12 Week Year. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons.