If I were to distill my five years of working as a career coach into one simple lesson, it would be this: The knowledge of your best career path will not magically drop into your brain one day in a blazing flash of insight. Instead, it’s something you will discover incrementally, over time, through a process of trial and error.
In fact, many times it is the “errors” we make with our career choices that can be the most informative. They guide us forward on our career paths, and help us figure out what does—and doesn’t—fulfill us professionally.
I often counsel my clients to think of every position that they take as a way of testing out a career path hypothesis. For example, you might make a hypothesis at graduation that working as a tax accountant would be a great fit. After surviving your first few busy seasons, it’s normal to revise your initial hypothesis based on your new level of knowledge and experience. Maybe you now know for sure that you love working in tax. Or, you may sense that being an auditor would be a better fit.
Much like a science experiment, not every hypothesis will turn out the way you expected. Wondering whether it’s time for a new experiment? Look to these three indicators to figure out if a change is in order.
Sign #1: Energy Depletion and Boredom
Most of us have mornings where we drag a bit on our way to work, aren’t fascinated by every task that comes our way and feel worn out and tired at the end of the day.
However, my client Adam’s* experience was more than just the regular ups and downs of a week. For this 34-year-old, just getting out of bed and going to work as an insurance adjuster involved an intense exercise of willpower. He found the travel and paperwork tedious, and his energy was totally depleted at the end of the day. He reported that his work doldrums were spilling over into other areas of his life, affecting his relationships with friends and family.
When work feels like a drag before, during and after each day, it’s a clear sign that one of your work variables could use a change.
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What to Do if This Is You
If you feel exhausted and bored all of the time, you need to figure out what exactly is doing the damage by breaking your job down into different components. Which aspect is most draining to you? Is it the subject matter that you’re working on? The long commute? Are your co-workers wearing you out? Getting specific about what’s not working will tell you exactly what it is you need to change.
Consider whether your dissatisfaction is core to the job itself, like your day-to-day work activities, or environmental, like annoying co-workers, an overly demanding boss or a lengthy commute. An environmental factor could be remedied with less extreme measures, like moving closer to work, seeking a different team to be a part of or even switching to a similar position with a different company. If it is the job itself that is draining your energy, that is a clear sign of a need for a change.
“Identify the activities, people and environments that give you an energy boost during your day—whether or not you’re actually at work. What topics do you find fascinating? When do you most frequently lose track of time?”
Now, do the opposite: Identify the activities, people and environments that give you an energy boost during your day—whether or not you’re actually at work. What topics do you find fascinating? When do you most frequently lose track of time? What are you interested in learning or becoming better at?
See if you can extrapolate a few common themes in your interests—then ask yourself why you enjoy them. Do you enjoy writing music because it allows for creativity or accounting because there’s always a definite number at the end of the tunnel? While you might not want to be a composer or accountant, you’ll want to keep these themes in mind when pursuing a new opportunity.
Adam, for instance, noticed that he was most energized by anything that involved food. His father had worked as an insurance adjustor and had pressured his son into entering the field, but in his free time Adam frequently hosted elaborate dinners for friends, read cookbooks for fun and loved nothing more than trying a new recipe. He successfully maneuvered into the restaurant industry as a line cook and, as a result, his energy and engagement with his work have increased dramatically. Now, when he comes home from work he’s tired but satisfied with how he has spent his day.