What we wanted in our twenties doesn’t always hold true a decade or more later. As our lives change, so do our career plans. Use these three exercises to modify your long-term strategy for success. You can choose the exercises that make the most sense for you and complete them with a loved one or a group of girlfriends—they’ll often pick up on patterns you might miss otherwise.
Billboard Top Hits
(Adapted from The Five O’Clock Club® “Seven Stories” exercise)
First, take some time to consider your key strengths and passions. When you find a role that plays to your strengths and speaks to your interests, your job will no longer feel like work. Think back to your most rewarding and satisfying accomplishments over the course of your career and life. If you’re new to the workforce, consider what you accomplished at school and during your internships. Brainstorm at least 10 accomplishments, and then choose which 5 you are most proud of.
Answer the following questions for each of your top 5 accomplishments:
- Why were these accomplishments most important to me? What about them did I enjoy most?
- What was my involvement? Was I tasked with a project, or did I initiate it on my own?
- What was my key motivation? Was it for recognition? Was I helping the greater good?
- What was the working environment like? Was it entrepreneurial and fast-paced? Slower but controlled?
- What was the focus of the project? What skills did I get to utilize?
- What core values drove my work? i.e., collaboration, accountability, innovation, service, efficiency…
This exercise will help you identify the underlying skills for your dream job and help you pinpoint the right company cultural fit, given your work style and core values. Use this information to brainstorm possible career paths and associated job goals.
(Adapted from Karen James Chopra, LPC, MCC, NCC of Chopra Careers)
Have you ever caught yourself saying, “I wish I could do_____, but ______.” Sometimes we’re our own worst enemies when it comes to pursuing our dreams. We focus too much on the challenges and forget about our ambitions. This exercise removes all the barriers—the “but ” statements—so you’re free to explore professions that truly interest you.
- You have 9 different lives.
- You must work in all 9 lives.
- You will not win the lottery, marry rich, or receive a huge inheritance.
- Whatever skill set or experience you need to do the job, you have it.
- However much money you need to make to be happy, you make it.
- Every job has equal prestige.
What 9 jobs would you hold?
Take a step back and review your list of jobs. What do you see? Are there any themes (i.e., nature, autonomy, creativity—or lack thereof)? What don’t you see? The absence of certain jobs is just as telling.
Nitty-Gritty Career Rundown
(Adapted from career counselor Karen James Chopra, LPC, MCC, NCC of Chopra Careers)
Do you often dread going to work in the morning? Do you truly dislike the type of work you’re doing, but don’t know where to go or what to do next? This exercise is a way for the pragmatic professional to pinpoint where to go next with her career. While you won’t love every task involved with your job, the goal is to identify opportunities that leverage the skills and work you enjoy most.
This exercise is best suited for the more pragmatic professionals who find the “9 Lives” approach too open-ended or idealistic.
Make a chart:
- Column one: Make a list of every job you've held in your career.
- Column two: List (in nitty-gritty detail) what you liked about each of those positions. Be as specific as possible.
- Column three: List (in nitty-gritty detail) what you disliked about each of those jobs. Be as specific as possible.
Once you’ve finished, take a step back and look for themes in what you’ve loved and been passionate about, and what type of work or working environment you did not enjoy.
Analyzing the Results:
Depending on your career stage, you may approach the results with a very different strategy.
Not everyone knows what they want to do from the start of their careers. Most entry-level jobs will require a bit of grunt work. If you’re still on the fence about your career trajectory, take a look at what the person two levels up from you is doing for the organization. If her role appeals to you, then you’re on the right track.
If you’re still unsure of your career direction, use the aforementioned exercises to brainstorm particular career paths.
Mid-Career At this point in your career, you may find yourself at a crossroads. It’s not uncommon to get so caught up in your day-to-day work that you lose sight of your original goals. Or, perhaps traveling 75% of the time has lost its luster now that you’re starting a family. Before jumping ship, ask yourself what you like and dislike about your role. Clarify your job goals and identify which criteria are priorities. This will help you determine if you need to have a heart-to-heart with your boss or if it’s time to switch to a new role or company.
It may be too late in life to become a prima ballerina, but that doesn’t mean you can’t look for a job within the performing arts industry that leverages your key strengths.
As a seasoned professional, you’re likely to have worn many hats over the course of your career. If you’re considering a job change, it’s important to focus on your key skill sets and strengths, particularly in the past ten years of your career. The jack-of-all-trades approach is rarely effective, as today’s job market requires subject-matter expertise. If you’re nearing the 60-year mark, consider pursuing something other than a traditional full-time job, such as part-time, consulting or freelance work.
If you’re in a comfortable financial situation and would like to transition to a role that makes a difference in your community, consider an encore career.
Transitioning to a new career is never an easy process. However, finding a career that you love is well worth the effort.
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Amanda Augustine is the job search expert for TheLadders. Follow her on Facebook and @JobSearchAmanda on Twitter.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.