How to Tell If You’re in the Right Career (and What to Do If You’re Not)

Just like finding the right person in life, finding the right career can be agonizing. And just like being with the wrong person, being in the wrong career wears you down, causes you stress and leaves you feeling empty.

With any career, there are going to be pros and cons. The pay can be good but the actual work can make you beg for 5 o’clock mercy. Or the work can get you as excited as a dog with a juicy bone but not pay you enough to live comfortably.

Then there are jobs out there that don’t have anything good about them and not really what any of us would call a career. Pretty much everything about them sucks—low pay, crummy working conditions and no real chance of advancement.

You may be thinking of making a big switch but what if it ends up being a mistake? You may already be doing what you’re meant to do but want to be sure you’ve chosen the best career for you. The last thing you want to do is waste time and money on learning what you need to start over only to realize that you’ve made a huge mistake.

But how do you know if there’s something better out there for you? Choosing the right career for yourself comes down to three things: a gut check, a lifelong dream analysis and a lifestyle assessment.

THE GUT CHECK

We’ve all heard of that expression “trust your gut,” which is basically the emotional reaction you get to something. How we feel about something needs to always be an important factor when we make decisions—and it certainly needs to be a part of your career choice.

So how does your current career make you feel? Excited? Content? Bored? Sick to your stomach? Nothing at all?

Your job should make you want to get up in the morning and get started. If you feel like a robot who’s just going through the emotions—or, worse, it repels you—you’re at the very least in the wrong job.

This doesn’t mean, though, that you’re in the wrong career. It could be that you’re working for the wrong people (if you’re an employee) or that your business (if you own one) could use a reorganization.

Take the time to think about the actual work you do. Strip away any problem colleagues, employees or customers; remove the pay or the long hours as factors. How does it make you feel doing it? Do you like it? Can you get lost in it and lose track of time? Do you feel emotionally connected to it?

If your answer is positive, but you don’t get excited to go to work everyday, then you’re doing the right type of work but need to make some changes regarding your work environment.

Who we work with is just as important as what we do. If you’re an employee and you have a toxic boss or colleagues, you’ll want to find a more positive company to work for. If you run a business and it’s causing you stress, you might need to dump problem customers, contractors or employees. Don’t ever walk away from something you love just because someone else is being a pain. Don’t let that person decide your fate like that. Get away from them asap. Improve your work environment so you can focus on the work and not the drama.

If you’re an employee and feel stuck with the company you work for, consider starting your own business. This will give you a lot more control over who you work with. I give valuable tips on how to get started in my article How to Launch Your Dream Business.

If your current career failed the gut check then it’s time to find your true life’s purpose, which I discuss more below in your lifelong dream analysis.

Some people believe that a job is just a means to getting a paycheck so they can pay their bills and buy more stuff. I strongly disagree. Our careers should be much more than just a paycheck. They should be extensions of who we are as individuals. And just because others around you have settled for a job that doesn’t excite them, doesn’t mean you have to as well.

quote by Jessica Hische: The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing the rest of your life.

THE LIFELONG DREAM ANALYSIS

The gut feeling you get about a career is related to the dreams you hold in your heart. What career dreams do you have? Everyone has at least one thing they’ve always wanted to become.

If you’re not sure, think about people who you would love to trade places with—or you can simply ask yourself what you would do if you could do anything in the world and money weren’t a factor. You can also look at your hobbies. What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When naming your dream, be specific. (Having the goal of wanting to be successful isn’t specific enough.) Certainly, though, you can have more than one dream.

Does your current job relate at all to your dream—or at least to one of your dreams, if you have more than one? Dreams left unfulfilled creates sadness and none of us want to get to the end with no regrets. If your career doesn’t relate to any of your dreams, then that’s a signal to make a change.

THE LIFESTYLE ASSESSMENT

What kind of lifestyle do you want to lead? What’s important to you?

The lifestyle assessment is built on the dreams you hold within you but it goes beyond your career. It’s also about what you would do in your spare time, where you would live, who you would be spending your time with and more.

Some questions to ask yourself are:

  • If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
  • If you could do any type of work regardless of pay, what type of work would you do?
  • Who and what type of people do you want to surround yourself with?

These questions should get you started to figure out the type of lifestyle that best suits you. My article Better Than a Budget: Why You Need a Lifestyle Plan can help you come up with a plan based on these, as well as other, questions.

Knowing what your dream lifestyle would be can help you decide if your current job fits into that picture or not. For example, your fantasy might be to live in a cabin the woods, grow your own food and sell your crops to markets around your area. Or your dream might be to run a multi-million dollar tech business and live in a high-rise in the city. These are two completely different lifestyles that require two opposing work environments.

If your current job is in line with your dream lifestyle—or if, at least, it can help you get there in the future—then that’s another green light to stay where you’re at. If it doesn’t, then it’s time to consider a change.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT

If you find yourself in the wrong career for any of the reasons above, you can take steps to move to one that aligns with your heart while giving you the lifestyle you deserve. These steps include:

Educating yourself

Take a course or two (or even more) in your desired career. Usually this does not mean going back to college, which is cumbersome and expensive. Instead, look for a course online offered by a reputable college or by an expert in your desired industry. Start here and it will save you a lot of time and money. You could even just start with a few YouTube videos if you feel like you don’t know anything at all. This will give you a better understanding of your future career without costing you anything.

Once you’ve learned the basics, don’t stop there. Be sure to continue your education so that you can grow and be the best in your field. The most successful and magnetic people are lifelong learners. They seek knowledge and always want to better themselves. If you dedicate yourself to always wanting to learn and improve for the sake of your career, you’re bound to reach your goal of switching to a new career—and because you’re so knowledgeable, you’ll earn more doing it.

Taking on side gigs or launching a small business in your new field to gains some experience

It can be hard to get experience in the beginning and it can be difficult to convince a company to hire you without some work experience to back it up. That’s why I advocate freelancing and starting a small business from the get-go.

The best way to learn is by doing and believe it or not, customers are more likely to trust you in the beginning than potential employers. Once you have some experience under your belt, you can turn your side gig into a full time job or business. If you want to know more about getting a solid side gig, try reading my article 14 Side Gigs That Pay Well.

Marketing yourself to others and networking with others in your new industry

A lot of people think marketing is for the “experts.” But marketing is just sending a particular message to its intended receiver. We market ourselves all the time throughout our lives. If you’ve ever tried looking a certain way to someone, such as a date or co-worker, then you’ve marketed yourself. If you’ve ever filled out an online profile, that’s marketing. If you post pictures of your life on social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram, that’s marketing, too.

So when you’re wanting to switch careers, don’t be afraid to reach out to others touting your new job skills. The people who are the most successful in life usually don’t have any better job skills than others in their field—except for the fact that they’ve become great at marketing themselves.

These steps don’t have to be done in that order. You may get side gigs before you’ve even taken one course—or you may try marketing yourself in order to get some side gigs. Even better if you engage in these four steps simultaneously. It’s like hitting the task from all sides, which will help you reach your goals faster.

I talk more about taking these steps in my post How to Switch to a Job You Love (That Also Pays Well).

DON’T LET OTHERS DECIDE FOR YOU

Only you can know if you’re in the right job. Deep down, you either feel connected to it or you don’t. Don’t let other people decide your fate by telling you lies such as you should stick with the “safe” choice or telling you it will never work.

In fact, if you’ve realized you need to switch, you might want to be selective on who you share this news with—especially if you want to start a business. There are people who are too afraid to go after their dreams and make changes in their life and they won’t hesitate to put their fears on you. Don’t let their attitudes get in the way of where you want to go.

The people you want to share it with are the people who will be encouraging. If you don’t have any family members or friends who will be supportive then look for communities in your area and online to join. Whatever field you wish to pursue, there is most likely Facebook and MeetUp Groups, as well as YouTube videos, for people with similar goals.

I’ve used these types of communities for years to help me learn, connect and stay motivated. I always belong to at least two business MeetUp groups and whenever I’m feeling stuck or frustrated, I turn to YouTubers for an on-the-spot pep talk on blogging, being an entrepreneur or anything else I feel might help.

I hope that if you do need to make a change, you won’t waste any more time. Moving into a new field can be scary but just remember this: Even the “experts” had to start somewhere:)