Choosing what career path to take or which job to accept is often a nerve-wracking ordeal. The career decision-making process will typically involve self-assessment, advice and guidance from mentors, friends and family, an assessment of pros and cons, risk versus reward analysis and some measure of forecasting into the future. The volume of information can be large and synthesizing the disparate sources of data can be daunting. This article outlines a simple framework to help organize the information and data you are likely to be presented with when you arrive at a major decision node in your career trajectory.
1 | The Game You Enjoy Playing
Passion for work comes from facing challenges and overcoming them successfully. However, the nature and quality of challenges are critical in determining satisfaction from a job. If a problem is too challenging it is no longer enjoyable and worse if your job depends on solving a problem beyond your capabilities, the situation can quickly become overwhelming leading to unwelcome stress and negativity. Conversely, if a problem is not challenging enough, boredom, apathy, and disdain can set in. Neither situation is desirable.
All of us thrive at varying levels of stimulation, and work challenges similarly must be a good fit for what is exciting to you. There is no one-size-fits-all here. The industry, employer, mentors, bosses, colleagues, team members, specific job duties, and your capabilities are all determinants of the challenges you will face day to day. The question to ask then is — will the challenges of your work sit at your optimal threshold for stimulation and learning without being overwhelming or underwhelming. Furthermore, will they continue to do so if you choose to have a long career in this environment.
Therefore, when assessing the job satisfaction of a prospective career choice it can be helpful to look at the information you have through the lens of how stimulating the work challenges are likely to be for you. Will the challenges you face add to your excitement or detract from it? Do you have the skills and capabilities to face these challenges without being overwhelmed or conversely bored? Is the gradient of the challenges likely to increase as your skills increase to continue to be stimulating?
These questions can help assess your current role as well as determine if a career change might be a good option for you and compare competing career opportunities.
2 | The Game That Can Lead to a Desired Reward
We all love to be rewarded for our work and success. The type of reward however, may vary greatly between individuals, professions, employers, and peers. For some the successful completion of a project is the reward, for others the paycheck, and for yet others the credibility or acknowledgment. What is important is that you are honest with yourself about the nature of the reward that drives you.
Obviously merely knowing the reward you desire is not enough. The work you choose must be able to support the reward you need. This includes the industry, the culture of the organization you work (or will work) for and the quality of your peers and mentors. Broader societal factors may play a role depending on the kind of reward in question. Furthermore, your skills must align with the reward. You should be able to see the growth of both your skills and the rewards of your work as an interdependent ecosystem. The rewards you seek may also take any number of creative forms — flexible work hours, a specific work-life balance, and freedom of creative expression to name a few. Employers everywhere are increasingly developing a holistic view of an employee and the impact work has on the well-being of an individual, family, and society.
Finally it’s always meaningful to assess if the reward you are focusing on will be worth the time and effort you are ready to put into the journey. As mindsets and life situations shift, it can be hard to predict what value our future selves will derive from a given reward. What seems glamorous and desirable to our younger selves often seems mundane and worthless when we are older. Supportive mentors and guides have a significant role to play in long term career planning and setting attainable short term rewards is important to maintaining excitement and passion for work.
3 | The Game You Choose To Play
What we choose to do is always at the cost of what we choose to let go of. This opportunity cost is a fundamental reality of decision-making that is often overlooked and assessing the value of lost opportunities is not as simple as comparing option A, B, C, etc. Remember when you choose a path you are not just letting go of the other immediate opportunities that were in front of you but the entire future potential to learn and grow in a multitude of alternate ways.
We may be aware of the immediate opportunity cost of our decisions but seeing the cascading effect of our choices in the future is difficult indeed. Still, this is an exercise worth doing to stimulate us to imagine and visualize what we are getting into and what we are giving up. Additionally, simply by acknowledging that we have given up a great deal to pick a chosen path adds to the responsibility and sincerity with which we can make our career choices.
Looking at your decisions through the lens of what you chose to let go of will also help evaluate the satisfaction with your chosen work at any given time and help decide if it’s time for a switch. If you can be at peace with the career decisions you have made, you will find a natural drive and passion to succeed on the path that you have chosen.
Above all else, respect the opportunities you are given.
In today’s world, not all of us have the opportunity to make decisions based on career satisfaction and reward. For many, the choice of a job is severely limited by socio-economics, race, gender, geography and education to name but a few factors. Access to fulfilling career opportunities is still a privilege enjoyed by far too few people on this planet. Acknowledging and respecting the privilege of having career choices can be fundamental to truly enjoying the work you do.