One of the most important career lessons I’ve learned is to pursue a career and not a job. At first glance, you might think, “What’s the difference?” I also didn’t get it for years.
That’s how I finally ended up in an IT job that I wasn’t passionate about. At one point, I was reflecting on my career and life by writing in my journal and thought, “How on earth did I end up in this job?” I didn’t have a good answer. All I knew was that I felt stuck and lacked any future perspective. If you have ever been in that position, or are in it right now, you know that it’s depressing.
How Conscious Are Your Decisions?
If you would ask me “how did you end up in your current job?” four years ago, I would tell you this: “It just happened.” It’s a common answer to that question.
Looking back, I realized that I never made conscious decisions about my career until that point.
We all believe we’re Independent and that we make our own decisions. But that idea about ourselves is false. The truth is that we chase things like money, status, job titles, promotions, corner offices, respect from our peers, you name it. All external factors.
We must stop putting our careers in other people’s hands. We must take control by making conscious decisions.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the most conscious thinkers of all time, said it best:
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
What Career Do You Want?
Most of us don’t know what we want. I also didn’t know exactly what I wanted for many years. At least, that’s what I told myself. Deep down, I knew damned well what I wanted to do. It’s what I’m doing right now: writing, teaching and speaking.
Until four years ago, I was simply too afraid to pursue this career because of one thing: creating a career is hard.
I believe that we all have something we love to pursue. Whether or not that’s something we actually end up doing for the rest of our lives doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we consciously decide to pursue a particular career. And that we don’t pick a job because we need the money. Or because our parents want to.
Just like Emerson said, you decide who you become. After successfully creating my own career, I’ve identified 5 steps that can help you to get started.
1. Analyze yourself
I’ve never met a successful person who did not build a career on their strengths. It simply does not exist. No one can perform well by doing something they are bad at.
Sure, you can improve your weaknesses. But it’s not an effective strategy. Like Peter Drucker says in Managing Oneself:
“It takes far more energy and work to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence.”
So figure out how you perform. Identify your strengths. Then, go to the next step.
2. Identify an industry that fits your strengths
This is a tough one. On one side, I believe that we should pursue a career we are passionate about. But on the other side, I think we should NOT do something we’re bad at.
So what should you do if you love something but suck at it? My opinion is to not pursue a career in that field. Treat it like a hobby instead. A lot of people love to make music, but they are not good enough to earn a living. But does that mean you should stop making music? Hell no! Go and jam with your friends—in your spare time.
The bottom line is this: Only pursue a career that fits your strengths. I know this is somewhat of a limited view. Some people even call it pessimistic. But I see it as realism.
We all have bills to pay and people to take care of. We can only do that by making a living. But that doesn’t mean we should do work we hate. There is always an industry that you love and that fits your strengths.
And you know what? Like Cal Newport argues in So Good They Can’t Ignore You; eventually, you will love the work you’re good at.
3. Improve your universal skills
Just being good at your job doesn’t cut it. To truly make an impact in the workplace, you need what I call “ universal skills.”
Skills like writing, leadership, personal effectiveness, and persuasion are helpful to all professionals. Whether you are a coder or carpenter, you want to provide value to others. To keep doing that, you need those universal skills.
The earlier you start improving your universal skills, the more likely it is that you will be ready when you get an opportunity.
Want to learn more about improving your skills? Watch this video:
4. Start at the bottom
I never understand why people are so impatient. No one ever became successful by starting at the top. That’s simply not how life works.
Just look at all the kids with rich parents who give them everything. Those kids often don’t understand the value of hard work and how hard it is to make a living. There’s no honor in getting a free pass.
“But don’t you want to take the fast lane of life?” Some people might argue.
Yes, of course. I’m all about personal effectiveness and achieving better results in less time. But I’m not about quick fixes and unrealistic expectations. For the first three years after I started my first business in 2010, I made virtually no money. And I even moved back to my parents for the first two years, so I had no expenses.
All the money we made went back into the business. And I worked on the business 7 days a week. It’s the same when you start or switch careers.
You might not see any benefits during the first few years. It’s a hard concept to grasp. Because you also don’t want to waste your time. That’s why I always warn people; if you’re seeing 0 results, you’re doing something wrong.
When I didn’t pay myself at our business, the business itself was growing. You see? I’m not saying, “Put your head down and work yourself to death.”
No, you still have to be smart. If you don’t see any results, be hard on yourself. But always be willing to start at the bottom. Forget about your ego. No one is good enough to do certain things. And at some level, we’re all students. It’s the only sustainable strategy if you want to achieve sustainable career success.
5. Keep developing yourself
One thing I always notice when I talk to successful people is how excited they are about the future. Have you ever experienced that as well?
And it’s true. There’s nothing more exciting than the rush you get when you get new ideas or when you daydream about the future.
At the same time, when you have no outlook on the future at all, you feel stuck and depressed. Am I right?
We’ve all been there. There’s nothing more discouraging than being stuck at a dead-end job. That’s why we must always keep learning. We should never, for a single moment, get comfortable with our current job.
Every day, we must learn and develop ourselves. And before you go out and say it, I will: “That’s hard!”
It’s much easier to work 9-5 and spend the rest of the evening on the couch, watching tv shows, movies or playing video games.
You and I both know that a fulfilling career doesn’t come for free. The price is hard work and effort. I’m willing to pay that; what about you?