As I’ve worked with dozens of mid-career professionals and business owners over the last few years, I’ve started to notice some trends or categories emerge amongst those who find themselves stuck figuring out their next career move in the middle of their working life. [If you’re curious about the categories I’ve identified, you can hear me explain them here.]
The main question I get from those who fall into one of these categories, is “how can I make a choice between all these different things I think I’d like to do?”. This doesn’t mean choosing between similar roles with different job titles… if this is you, you’ve got a list of completely disparate interests and ideas. There’s likely no common thread which make them difficult to compare, and at a high level you’re equally interested in all of them.
I get it. This feels like a puzzle without a solution and trying to figure it out on your own is completely overwhelming.
The paralysis of the paradox of choice
We’re conditioned in our formative years to believe in the idea of being “something” when we grow up… not many things, just one specific thing we’re meant to do for the period of our working life. For some, this works out well… hooray! But for many of you with multiple interests and passions, this idea might as well be a “life sentence.”
But… the issue with many possibilities is you often end up cycling around the options until you don’t know which way is up. Too much choice can prevent you from making any progress at all.
Yes, the downside of having lots of ideas and options is that you’re torn between wanting to do everything and worrying about the regret you’ll feel if you make the wrong choice. Renowned expert on the “paradox of choice”, American psychologist Barry Schwartz, believes too much choice doesn’t make things easier, instead it leaves you paralysed in indecision.
So where do you start to make a choice when there are lots of different things you’d like to do? Fortunately, there are some simple, practical things you can implement to help you to narrow down your options and solve this type of career conundrum.
How to choose something when you want to do everything?
1. BRAINSTORM AND FILTER
Start with a massive brain dump of all your ideas. Don’t limit, judge or sensor yourself. Now work through your list and, for each idea, ask yourself these questions – 1. Is this something I like doing enough that I’ll happily spend most of my week on it? 2. Is this something I can do now or very soon? 3. If not, am I willing to commit all my available time for as long as it takes to being able to do it? These questions will help weed out fantasies from possibilities and pastimes from pursuits.
2. IMAGINE “A DAY IN THE LIFE OF”
Consider the type of person you are, how you like to work and the lifestyle you want to live. What does your ideal life and working life look like? What about this is most valuable to you? And what compromises are you willing to make for this to be a reality? If, for instance, you think you’d like to work in a health-related profession but your nights and weekends are sacred non-work time, and if you’re not willing to compromise, this option should be crossed off your list.
3. RESEARCH, RESEARCH, RESEARCH
Oh, I know, I’m a broken record on this point but it’s only because so many I speak with always want to skip straight past this step! Do some practical research. Look at what sort of things exist in the job market, Google different roles and industries, reach out within your networks and speak to people. Find out as much as you can about what it takes to fulfil the requirements of the options on your list. Before you jump in, know what you’re heading into.
4. EXPLORE, TEST AND TRIAL
What I see with many in this category is they’ll make a huge commitment to undertaking further studies before they’ve actually walked a day in the “trenches”. If you’ve had a lightbulb idea about something you want to do, undertake some low investment, low risk trials before signing your life away on another degree. Think you’d like to be a teacher, go spend a day or two in a classroom. Want to be real estate agent, go shadow someone on the job for a week. It won’t take you long to see whether this idea is truly a great fit for you, or one to drop off the list.
5. YOU CAN HAVE MULTIPLE CAREERS (AND THAT’S OK!)
Here’s the truth… you don’t need to devote yourself entirely to one career. Recent studies show most of us will have been 12-17 different jobs and between 3-5 different careers. So, if you followed the steps above and you still have a list of different options, that’s totally ok. Perhaps you can create a portfolio career, earning different streams of income doing different things at the same time. Or maybe you develop a plan starting where you are today and grow into other options for the future. Sometimes the best way to decide if a career or role is the right fit for you is to start something and see where it leads you.
By accepting you’ll likely have multiple careers, you can start to feel excited about the possibilities, relax & enjoy the decision-making process. If you feel overwhelmed trying to figure out the right next step for your career, remember you don’t have to do it alone. I’d love to help you work it out.