As children, we depend on other people to keep us safe, comfortable, healthy, and well. For a time we don’t realize all the decisions being made on our behalf and that’s okay… until it’s not okay.
As we grow, we become more independent and our interests develop more fully, but if we’re not careful, we can continue passively accepting what others decide for us- particularly when it comes to pursuing a career. If that happens, we risk becoming who others think we are. We may take cues from them based on what they think is right for us, without determining our own needs and setting our own goals.
What does this mean in the search for a job or career you love? What can you do to find meaningful work YOU want to do?
1. Be Honest
Ask yourself what you’ve buried or pushed aside in life. Consider and reflect on the interests and strengths you’ve always known to be true. Listen to the answer.
If it doesn’t come readily, think back to a time when there was something you knew with deeper certainty. Try to recall an interest, hobby, or pursuit that came naturally and captivated you. When something comes to mind ponder how and where that is part of your life. If it isn’t, be curious about where the opportunities are to make that part of your life again.
One client of mine, in his 40s, wanted a better career fit. He was frustrated with his job – it was affecting his health and causing a good deal of stress. He needed a change and wanted to be intentional in his career search. Since he hadn’t been sure what he wanted to do when he went to college, he followed a path that pleased his parents. He got a degree in Accounting and Finance, instead of exploring creative and altruistic interests that resonated more strongly with him.
He couldn’t put his finger on what was missing in his job. After completing an in-depth personal assessment, his results demonstrated high creativity and a deep commitment to helping people. He commented, “I’ve always known those interests to be true but I buried them because they didn’t fit with the expectations others had for me.”
2. Recognize You’re Separate from How Others See You
People tend to see you from the outside, even when they know you really well. What they see is not always in line with who you are on a deeper level. Begin to notice when you’re suppressing your voice, your interests, your strengths. Look for opportunities to unbury what’s hidden. No one can do that for you, or recognize in you what you’re not revealing yourself.
My client knew his parents sacrificed for his education. They, and he, wanted assurance that he’d get a good job upon graduation. He respected his parents and was grateful for the support and opportunity they provided him. His educational background led from one job success to another but over time, something was missing. He felt there were areas that would align more strongly with who he was and what he had to offer in the workplace.
After he identified what his preferences were he began to take steps to move his career in a direction that he wanted. Now having the confidence to look for and explore new opportunities, he sought ways to apply his experience in finance and business to help run or support artistic programs for children and elderly people.
It’s hard to be happy living your life based on another person’s expectations. Work requires your time, energy, commitment, and dedication, so why add to the demands of the workplace by carrying the burden and weight of what another person thinks is right for you?
3. Find Your Tribe of Cheerleaders
Look for people who support you and can help you expand areas that are important to you. Seek out individuals who share your thoughts and interests and can help you express them clearly and with conviction.
To find these people and make connections, attend Meetups in your area and research local organizations for professionals in your career area of interest. Look for events sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce, or events for alumni groups of schools you’ve attended.
4. Question with Curiosity and Creativity
If you’re neglecting areas that are meaningful to you, don’t dismiss them as unrealistic or unimportant. If they matter to you, ask yourself how they can become part of your life. To develop your interests, engage in activities that will support them: consider enrolling in an art program, assisting at a foodie event, supporting a charitable giving program, joining a volunteer event, or scheduling time for coffee with someone who can give you advice or suggestions.
Your interests may not fit a specific job description or career, but stay curious. Ask yourself how they can be applied to solve a problem you recognize or care about. How do your interests show up in projects or organizations you’re aware of? Who are people you can reach out to for ideas about where to look and discover what jobs are available?
You’ve been making decisions on your own, no longer in need of someone else to chart your course. The truth is, you know yourself better than anyone else. Take a closer look at the interests you want to guide your career and your life. There’s a lot to see and you’re worth enjoying the view.
Laura Rupp is the founding owner of Laura Rupp Consulting and a Certified Birkman Consultant who sees the benefits of the Birkman Assessment to strengthen and guide her clients in their career pursuits. As a recovering Philosophy major she believes in deep questions and finding meaning in life. She also believes in the power of individuals to create their own joy and weather the storms of life with their unique strengths. She has 3 adult children she learns everything from. You can find Laura on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.