Why You’re Approaching Conventional Career Decisions All Wrong

Career decisions are a big move, whatever stage of your career you’re at. The conventional wisdom on how to approach these choices has stagnated for many years, though half of all employees still report unhappiness with their career. By dissecting usual assumptions of decision-making approaches and comparing them with unconventional ideas, you may just learn a better way to achieve career satisfaction after all.

Conventional Approaches and Why They Fall Short

Conventional approaches to career decisions include reflecting heavily on your own skills, oftentimes taking tests and assessments to conclude your strengths, weaknesses and passions.

What’s wrong with this methodology? To start, many external and internal pressures can make us feel stuck, frustrated, static. Logically, we seek career counseling to help us with things like plan-and-implement tactics. Through these, clients typically take assessments to determine values, strengths and so forth, ultimately unearthing jobs they’re best suited for on the market. Ideally, this left-brained and logical tactic should work, but it’s often not the solution on its own.

Herminia Ibarra, author of Working Identity, is a champion of unconventional career management approaches. She claims that useful, introspective exercises for inventorying skills and interests are not the be-all-end-all, and that many seekers of happy careers still fall short by relying solely on these tactics.

Ultimately, these conventional and all-too-common methods ask decision-makers to think about what they’d like to do in their career. And if that doesn’t work, then go back and think some more.

Where Unconventional Approaches Come In

Unconventional approaches make use of smaller experiments. Take note of your list of passions, irrespective of prioritization. Then, try a range of more nuanced activities (one can consider these baby steps).

Comparatively, test-and-learn models base their approach on grand transformative change. Dissimilarly, unconventional approaches are a champion for trying things out, observing their impact, pivoting toward what works and revising the quest accordingly. Through these steps, you can meet different people—outside your domain of friends, family and acquaintances at the delineation of your network—granting you a fresh perspective on your career decisions.

We tend to be reluctant to take action before we know exactly where we want to go, but it really is all about the journey.

One True Identity? We Think Not

Countless self-help guides whose aim is to get you to switch jobs or careers assume you’ve got just one true identity in life. Therefore, you must have one true purpose. They task you with looking deep within yourself to discover this truth. This approach is not unlike the traditional ideal of a soulmate, that out of all the billions of people who inhabit this planet, only one can be your true love.

You plow through these books, doing endless exercises (think Briggs-Myers tests, or quizzes asking you to list your 10 favorite memories), all the while aiming for a magical solution that tells you just what makes you unique.

The truth of the matter is that people don’t have one true identity. People are often a conglomerate of passions, interests, strengths and values. Moreover, the change you’re seeking cannot be had in one fell swoop; it can take a long time, and that’s okay.

Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Trying different things and building new networks is far more effective than seeking some interior illumination. Really, you have to get outside of yourself in order to make tangible change in your career (or anything, for that matter). This means:

  • Learning on the spot, chaos and all (seriously, embrace chaos, for you are an ever-evolving person with many selves inside of you)
  • Being okay with unexpected turns and mistakes
  • Making room for experimentation (going back to school, freelancing or even hanging out with people outside of your circle)
  • Trying things out, then thinking them over (not thinking about things then trying them out—just do stuff, and see how you feel about it)  

Examples for How to Apply Unconventional Career Decisions Today

  • Start an internship
  • Take on a side job
  • Attend a conference
  • Tackle a weekend project
  • Set aside a time-limited sabbatical
  • Volunteer your time
  • Make sure you have spare time, and make use of it
  • Explore other options in your existing organization

Conventional VS Unconventional: Which One’s Best?

The fact of the matter is that the combination of conventional and unconventional career decision approaches is key.

Knowing what you know about your career and the direction you want to move in, how will you get started? Which of the examples above will you try out? Let us know!

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