Recently I wrote an article about how to avoid the pursuit of prestige in a career because ultimately the title you hold at work is not what will make you happy. Since writing that article, I have had a number of conversations with different people about how to actually make a career choice. Perhaps you just graduated from college and are uncertain which way to go next. Or perhaps you are at a point in your career where you want to make a shift in order to increase your income or have more influence. The prospects of making a career shift can be daunting, but there are some simple steps that I have learned which can make this process easier for you.
Before we delve into the topic, though, there are two things I want you to remember:
First: There’s no such thing as the perfect job. That is a myth. Every job has certain aspects that are fun and exciting, and certain aspects that are not. The key is finding a job where most of the time you are engaged in activities that are fun and exciting. Yes, you might end up in a job that you absolutely hate. But that’s okay, too. Just find another one if that is the case.
Second: There are a lot of articles on the web that complicate the process of finding a career, but it should not be that complicated. There’s one article in particular that advises people to first think about what they want in a career, then consider if they have the skills to pursue that career, then take a personality test, then list all the possible careers that they ever wanted to pursue, then talk to people to narrow down their options, then do informative interviews to make a final selection.
Inhale! I’m feeling anxious already. Personally, I don’t think such a rigid process is necessary or even helpful. Besides, life does not work that way. Most people stumble into a job or career that they enjoy; they did not actually plan every step of the process to get there. You might drive yourself crazy doing that.
Research shows that too many options can lead to cognitive dissonance, otherwise known as buyer’s remorse. So, do yourself a favor and try not to over-analyze your career options. Choosing a job can be an exciting process, so have fun and don’t stress over it too much.
With those things in mind, here are three principles that I have learned, which have served me well in making proper career decisions.
1. Commit your ways to the Lord
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” Prov 3: 5,6
There is no other verse in scripture that has helped me more in decision making then this one. It does not mean that every decision I’ve made has been stellar; but I have avoided some serious mistakes because I did not lean on my own understanding, but simply asked God to guide me. He has a way of opening and shutting doors according to his will.
One word of caution, though: this does not mean that God will come down every time to tell you exactly which choice to make. In his book Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung talks about the paralysis of analysis that assail young people as they “wait” for God’s will in regards to whom to marry, which job to take, and which church to fellowship in, etc… This failure to act is not piety but timidity, Kevin says. Committing your way to God means seeking wisdom and discernment from him. As long as your career decisions are not sinful and foolish, well, you are free to just do something.
There is an analogy I like to use in regards to this. Imagine a child who wants to climb over a fence. On the other side of the fence is a poisonous snake ready to strike. You see the snake. The child does not. You tell him to not climb over the fence. He has two choices: he can choose to listen to you or lean on his own understanding and climb over the fence anyway. The consequences could be lethal. That’s the same way I think about God’s guidance. I don’t know what’s on the other side of the fence. That’s why I need to lean on him for wisdom and guidance.
So before you make a big decision, be sure to seek His guidance. Don’t expect God to send you a “sign” or a golden ticket. His guidance is much more subtle than that and can come in a simple job opportunity that you never saw coming. Five years ago I entered the healthcare industry exactly that way.
2. Talk to those who know you well about some of the talents they see in you.
“Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Prov 11:14
When I was in college studying pre-med and Biology, a number of my teachers and friends told me that I had a knack for putting people at ease. At the time I did not know what job, other than being a therapist, would require this mighty skill, but it’s something that always stayed with me. When I started learning about leadership a few years later it felt like a natural fit. And today, this knack for “putting people at ease” has been a great asset in my work.
As you consider what line of work to pursue, be sure to include your family and friends in that conversation. No one knows you better than those who are around you most of the time, i.e. your family and friends. They can tell you far more than any personality test can about your habits, your strengths, and your weaknesses. Ask them if they notice any natural gift or talent in you that you might not have noticed before. If you are currently thinking about a particular job, ask them if they think it will be a natural fit for you. And if you notice that more than two people are telling you the same thing, then you might be on to something.
So spend time with and get counsel from those who know you best, and allow them to help you evaluate how you can best use your natural gifts to help others.
3. Don’t be lazy, try different things
“The lazy man says, “There is a lion outside! I shall be slain in the streets!” Prov 22:13
We live in a culture where many people are preoccupied with the future. In fear of making the “wrong” decision, they forget to live in the present. The Book of Proverbs has much to say about laziness, and one of the key attributes of the lazy man is indecisiveness. Instead of actually going out and doing battle with life, the lazy man gives many reasons for why something cannot of done. I believe this is one of the reasons why anxiety is so rampant, especially among young people. We want to know exactly how a choice is going to impact us before we actually make a move. Nothing is more debilitating than passivity.
The corporate world does not help either. How often are you asked to put together a 3-5 year plan at work? The typical question in a job interview is, “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” umm… I don’t know. The world might end tomorrow for all I know. I’m not a clairvoyant; I can’t tell the future. The present is all I have. How many of us could have predicted five years ago where we are today? If we were never able to predict the future before, what makes us think we can start doing it now. Future knowledge is reserved for God. What he has given us are the past and the present and our thinking faculties to evaluate options and make wise decisions.
So, try different things. Dabble in retail, spend some time doing sales, volunteer as a substitute teacher, coach your child’s basketball team. You might not end up pursuing any of these jobs as a career, but there are invaluable character lessons that you will develop from each experience, which will help you for years to come.
Throw off the paralysis of analysis, and be decisive. There’s no guarantee of success in whatever job you take; there are risks. But the worst thing you can do is to stand idly by waiting for a sign, in fear of making a mistake. Besides, if you never fail, then chances are you will never grow in resilience.
When all is said and done, I want you to remember that a job is a job. It has nothing to do with your identity or your sense of worth. Yes, it feels good to do work that will have a lasting impact on other people, and you should pursue that type of work. But the idea that we need the perfect job out of fear of missing out on our “calling” is a myth. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a job for which you are well suited, but the problem arises when someone is so obsessed with finding his “calling” that he becomes paralyzed and doesn’t do anything.
The Bible tells us that our identity must be found in Christ and Him alone. That is where true happiness and joy exist. Once we have that, then where we choose to work for eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, we are free to choose– provided that it’s not unethical or illegal. I fear that too many of us put undue pressure on ourselves to always make the right choices. Frankly, life does not work that way. Often our failures are our greatest opportunities.
So, have fun in your career adventures. Remember to keep things light; and as long as you commit your plans to God, he will lead you where he wants you to be, as you live life one choice at a time. Also remember that while looking for a job, be sure to find something that can pay the bills.
– Led by the Book