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It happens to the best of us: sitting at your desk wondering if you’re in the right role, with the right org, or even on the right career path. No matter if you find yourself thinking this way in an entry-level role or the C-suite, it’s an incredibly frustrating place to be.
The easy response is to quit your job or pivot to something more fulfilling. But sometimes we can’t even envision what that greener pasture looks like or where to find it. We might find ourselves job-hopping or pivoting back and forth, only getting further away from a sense of fulfillment.
Beyond simply being confused, we might also feel we’ve lost our purpose, convince ourselves we don’t have “marketable” skills, or scapegoat ourselves into believing we’ve set “too high” standards for our career satisfaction.
Wake up call: everyone deserves to find joy in their work, and it’s entirely possible no matter who you are or what your assets and interests may be. To avoid burnout (and the risk of entering a repeat burnout cycle), consider this advice for the career-confused.
Define Your Personal Brand
If you haven’t already given some thought to your personal brand (i.e., your skills and passions), start there. When it comes to career direction, your personal brand should always be your true north. More so than being a highly impactful tool for sharing your potential with your network and higher-ups, it can also be a resource for proving that same potential to yourself.
If you’ve already defined your personal brand and it doesn’t feel helpful to you anymore, it might be time to do some introspection and reevaluation.
People change, which includes our capacity to develop new skills and passions, and even lose interest in old ones, despite serving us well for a length of time. Don’t hold on to a definition of your potential that doesn’t serve you anymore.
Instead, do some dreaming.
Without judgement, ask yourself what you’re most passionate about right now. It can be as big as stopping climate change or as small as optimizing your planner, but no matter what your instinct tells you, hold on to it for long enough to consider how you might be able to relate it to your skills.
Sometimes career confusion is just self-sabotage of the things we actually want to pursue. Allow yourself the chance (or at the very least, the consideration) to employ your super powers in a way that fulfills you.
Connect with Your Personal Values
However, sometimes we might feel dissatisfied or disoriented because we feel like we are staying true to our personal brands, and yet we still aren’t fulfilled by our work.
In this case, the culprit might actually be a values misalignment with your organization or industry (*a leading cause of burnout).
Knowing your personal values isn’t as cut-and-dry as it may seem. In fact, identifying what we value most (for both our personal and professional lives) can sometimes be as confusing as reorienting your career.
For example, many people underestimate how much they value positive affirmation, or even how much they value money (it’s okay to admit both). If you aren’t getting what you need from your org, despite the idea of the work being picture-perfect, you might find yourself questioning if you’re in the right place, or (worse) if you’re “good enough” to ask for more.
Question whether your needs or desires are attainable in your current seat (including the things you might feel you “don’t have control over”), and consider what adjustments you could make in your career to fulfill them.
This could take shape as asking for a raise, asking for more work that you’re passionate about, setting boundaries for a better work/life balance, or even quitting your org in search of one that supports you.
Friendly reminder: you don’t lose the accolades and progress you’ve accrued from your career when you pivot in search of fulfillment. NO ONE’s career trajectory is linear, but a little soul-searching can help it from falling static.
Enlist a Mentor
If you’re struggling to define a direction that feels meaningful or “right” to you, ask for help.
Oftentimes we have a warped view of ourselves and our potential, or we create blindspots over skills and passions out of fear of failure. Enlisting someone you respect who can look at your options objectively (and challenge you to pursue them) could fulfill the compass and nudge that you’re missing.
Important to note: a mentor is different from a friend. Who you are at work isn’t always the same as who you are in casual company and it is indeed possible to be too close to see someone’s true potential.
Reach out to someone more senior than you who you trust to listen, be frank, and offer advice. You might find by simply speaking aloud your passions, values, and skills, you’re able to see a more clear road ahead. Or, you might need to do some brainstorming.
While it might seem daunting to welcome another voice in the room when your head is already spinning, having a sounding board to ground your thoughts will more than likely be the call back-to-Earth that you need.
But whether you come out of the discussion fully clarified and determined or just as lost as before, remember…
There is no such thing as a wrong place to be in your career. There are only stepping stones and road signs on the way to finding more work you love.