Many people I talk with want careers helping others, but don’t know what to do exactly. It’s a frustrating puzzle; the desire is there without a clear focus. There may even be deep angst over a lost sense of meaning in life that will only be restored if one’s cause is revealed. Whether you have a vague notion or half-baked idea, this is how the journey to define purpose usually begins. But without a notion of how to develop these stirrings a person can stall out or just feel stuck.
Career assessment exercises are useful. Looking at your personal and professional interests, values, strengths, characteristics and skills, defining and addressing barriers to employment and tuning in to desired work settings clarifies a lot. If you can get to what truly matters, you’ve defined something worth building on.
If your sense of direction is still not yet crystalized after engaging one or more of the assessment pieces above, I have a few suggestions and questions to nurse while you explore further.
- What hurdles in life have you overcome? Don’t take this learning for granted. There are folks who could be helped by insights and skills developed while growing up in a dysfunctional family, overcoming a learning disability, physical challenge, eating disorder or surviving divorce.
- What do your friends and family rely on you to do for them? Who are you to them? Are you the host, ready to barbecue and entertain, the one who can balance a checkbook? The fashion consultant called before important events? Are you the one with advice to offer when a cold comes on or a neighbor’s house needs staging?
- What do you still want to learn to do? The desire to learn more can indicate a future career path. Consider any unfinished course work, degree or dream that got put on hold.
- What do you need yourself that no one can provide? Paul Hawken, author and promoter of socially responsible business, came up with this one. It’s a great way to conceptualize a new market.
- Look at your feelings as well as your thoughts. Meaningful direction is a feeling with thinking that supports it. What makes you feel alive? What do you obsess over? What can you not stop thinking about or doing? What do you fantasize about doing? What idea keeps resurfacing?
- Is there anything stopping you? Maybe you have clarity but there’s a barrier or conflict that stops you from moving forward. Figure out what’s in the way, ideally with a supportive person. Create strategies that will allow you to go beyond doubt, dismissal, and lack of confidence, training or resources.
- Perhaps your calling is unconventional. If you’re ahead of your time you’ll need support, contacts, education and patience to make it happen. Team up with people who share your vision.
- What worldly or social issue calls out to you? Ready to tackle global warming, homelessness, inequity in education or the need for mental health services in rural parts of our country? Find organizations that address these problems and interview staff to learn what you can do.
- Don’t try to figure it out from the sidelines, step in. Given you have an idea or topic to explore, do it in a hands on way. Take classes, volunteer; talk with people in your field of interest to get a taste of what it might actually be like to do what you’re considering.
- Notice when you’re positively engaged. Mindfully follow your daily experience wherever you may be; track and catch those magical moments of lost time, flow and contentment. (Hear something interesting on the radio?) Reflect on the interests and values at play in these experiences to help identify activities that are meaningful to you, worth exploring further and possibly building on.
One or more of your answers to the above could well serve as clues to how you might give of your talents and align your vision in the most meaningful way. The world needs your inspired contribution and gifts!
Gail Nicholson, MA, LPC
Gail is passionate about working with individuals who want to explore and connect with a more authentic sense of self as a basis for defining their lives, work lives and roles in the larger community. She offers a blend of personal and career counseling, as she has found that attending to personal issues or mental health concerns can reduce barriers to moving forward. Gail works with clients on defining purpose and direction, handling stress and tackling career exploration, job search and small business start-up.