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Tuesday 24 July 2012

Careers at the Boundaries

How do you find a career that suits you?  By giving up.
"Hmm, architecture might be fun..."

Ask a career-searcher to sit down and list all of the jobs she can conceive of. Invite her to take three hours, or a day, or three weeks to do it.

The career that will best suit her still won’t be on the list.

People tend to think of job categories. “Let’s see.  Pilot.  Nurse.  Salesclerk.  Lawyer.  Teacher.  Politician.” The larger the category, the more likely it is to appear on the list.

The ideal career path usually isn’t a category. It’s a rare position that the person may never have thought about before.

The ideal job for most people is one that lies at the intersection of two or more interests or talents. It doesn’t fit in any one category.

The cousin of a friend had a great interest in music. So she wanted to be a classical musician. A hearing problem got in the way, so the path was blocked. She also had an aptitude for mathematics, so she became an accountant. But that did nothing for her musical interests.  She could feel her interest waning.

Eventually she combined her interest in music with her ability to handle money and finances, and she became a fundraiser for a symphony orchestra.

If, at 20, she sat down and wrote a list of all the jobs in the world, “fundraiser for the symphony” would never have appeared on the list. It simply would not have occurred to her as an option. But it was her destination.

Another friend has an tremendous interest and ability in mathematics – and a love of art. He has become a mathematics professor with a special interest in the mathematical analysis of artworks regarded as “masterpieces.”

Think about the people in your own life who love their jobs. Chances are, they do not have the standard job in their category. In fact, if they were simply a “generic” nurse, or police officer, or teacher, they wouldn’t like the job at all. Their love springs from the intersection of interests.

This sounds discouraging. It’s often said that we are unlikely to arrive at our destination unless we know what it is. How do we move toward our ideal career if we have no idea where to find it?

Inevitably, the process must be a bit less linear than we might like. We need to step back, forget all about finding the perfect career, and simply explore.

We might, for example, create a list of all of the jobs that vaguely interest us – knowing that none of them will be the answer and that most would bore us to tears eventually. The point is not to strike the jackpot, but to identify the themes underlying our interests. “Hmm, seven of these involve music.  Ten involve working with finance.  Four involve travel.  Six involve planning social events.”

By identifying themes, we can begin exploring options out there in the real world. What are all the jobs associated with an orchestra? Where are all the places that accountants work?

There are other strategies, of course. But when I’m talking with someone who is exploring the options for their future, this is one of the exercises I return to again and again.

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