Finding your dream job is a daunting task under ordinary circumstances. Add in a global pandemic that has created record unemployment and upended industries overnight, and it becomes a seemingly impossible task. Stuck at home, social distancing from the world, your dream job likely feels a world away.
Daunting as it might be, it’s still possible to find the job you love or at least be on the path towards a more fulfilling career. As springtime transforms the earth from barren grays and browns into tapestries of green and carpets of wild flowers, we are reminded that life is about renewal and reinvention. It’s in the cycle of the seasons and our DNA as human beings. We are constantly evolving to find new ways. We grow. We adapt. We push forward.
So how, in this unprecedented era, do you find the job that’s actually right for you? Start with these four thought-provoking exercises.
1. DEFINE YOUR CONTEXT
The first step is to define your context and understand your needs. Pull out a pen and paper and get clear on your current situation. Are you the primary income earner for your family? Do you have a job with a decreased salary or have you lost your position? Are you in your twenties and back home with your parents? Are you in your forties with a family and struggling to cover your mortgage?
I have some clients who have recently lost their jobs but thankfully have received solid severance packages that have given them the breathing space to really think about and possibly push the envelope on what they want to do next with their career and lives. However, plenty of people who have lost their jobs recently don’t have that luxury. There’s no point in dreaming about the future if you’re not prioritizing your physical, mental and financial wellbeing in the present.
The job that’s actually right for you right now may be driven more by finances than it would have been if you had done these exercises three months ago. Don’t feel alone or shame in that. Everything has changed. To figure out how you want to or need to adapt, start by defining your context and work on building a plan that either regains or sustains your personal stability.
2. GIVE YOURSELF AN AUDIT
Once you have your context, it’s time to do an experiment. Think back to your days in high school chemistry or biology. Today, the experiment is you. You need to unpack yourself and investigate what you find inside — your core drivers and values, character strengths and personality traits, and your belief system, both the limiting and expanding aspects of it.
As with any proper experiment, you should set an aim: perhaps to understand yourself more fully and figure out what job would actually be most satisfying. You also will need a hypothesis: an educated guess as to what you expect to find. But remember that the key to being a good scientist is to make sure that as you go through the steps of experimentation, you are objective and unbiased. Have an open mind as you explore who you are and get feedback where needed.
As for how you explore yourself, you’ll need more than a pen and a blank piece of paper this time around. There are many different tools and assessments you can engage with to learn more about who you are and what you want. With my clients I like to start broad with a holistic life exercise (for example ‘The Wheel of Life’) and then go into more details to determine what their values, character strengths, personality traits and belief systems are. Two of my favorite assessments are the VIA Survey (to understand your character strengths) and the Enneagram Test (to understand your personality traits) that anyone can do online. These tests however are only as useful as you make them — you need to spend the time and energy to think about what they are telling you and how you can apply them to your life and decision making. It is helpful to have a sounding board as you explore so I recommend finding a friend, family member or professional to help you create the space to experiment, discover and reach some conclusions.
3. FIND YOUR HAPPY PLACE
Even the most powerful of salt-water fish will struggle and fail in a fresh-water lake. Once you have a clearer sense of your internal environment — what motivates you, what your strengths and weaknesses are etc — it’s time to figure out what external environments support you and what environments are detrimental to your stability, confidence, and growth.
An environment isn’t just about physical space but also has aspects of time and energy. There are various exercises you can engage in here but without a coach I would recommend simply going back to a blank sheet of paper to start brainstorming and taking notes. Ask yourself questions like what are the aspects of the environments I like to be in? What do these environments look, feel, sound like? Do they need to be visually stimulating? Are they fast-paced? Are they time pressured, high energy and noisy or do they tend to be calmer, more quiet and relaxed? Think back to times when you felt stressed and times you felt confident. Are there any emerging patterns you can see here?
Start getting specific and see if you can visualize your ideal environment or at least list out the aspects of the environments that suit you. You can also do the same for the environments that hinder your ability to thrive. Once you have done this you can start thinking about how these environments — the good, the bad and the ugly — show up in your life. Are you currently in a work environment that gives you or takes away your confidence and energy?
If the environment you have visualized seems out of reach right now, then you will need to think outside the box and bring aspects of that environment into your current reality. For example, if you love nature but work in the middle of manhattan, maybe you could invest in some indoor plants, nature photography and spotify playlists that bring the sounds of birds and the ocean waves into your workspace. Creativity and imagination are paramount for you to empower yourself to build the reality that you want.
4. DETERMINE YOUR AUTHENTIC INTERACTIONS
Once you have an understanding of the mechanics of your internal environment and the types of external environments that suit you, it’s time to consider the kinds of activities and people you want to engage and interact with.
As we all know, we can’t only be around people we like and relate to, but we can at least increase our knowledge of the kinds of people who inspire us and help us grow and then seek them out. Workplace culture is highly influential on a person’s happiness and success, so it is paramount to know the kinds of cultures that you are more likely to grow and be successful in. There are emotional intelligence, team and leadership assessments that can be taken to help you navigate cultures and teams. But for the point of this exercise, it is enough to just give yourself the space to think about the relationships you have been in that worked for you and those that were challenging. Similarly to your work on understanding suitable external environments, you can ask yourself a series of questions to determine what kinds of cultures work best for you.
And finally, as you look to find the job that is right for you, spend quality time thinking about the actual tasks you want to be engaged in day-in day-out. Growth and success at the end of the day is about repetition, stamina and perseverance. If you actually want to find that job that is right for you for the long run, you will want to be clear on the tasks and activities that you won’t give up on the minute times get rough or boring. Here are some questions to ask yourself to be crystal clear on the job that’s right for you:
- What activities am I doing when I feel most alive?
- What activities give me energy?
- What am I doing when I feel in flow?
- What activities are meaningful and purposeful to me?
- What are the tasks that if I had to do them every day for the rest of my life won’t drive me crazy?
5. SUPPORT YOURSELF TO TAKE ACTION
Once you finish these exercises, you will be in a good position to start looking for roles that exist in the industries that interest you, have constructive conversations with friends and colleagues, and consider whether your ‘dream job’ exists or is something you’ll have to create for yourself. You may need to make a wholesale change in industry and profession or more simply retool the job you already have to better fit where you would like to go. Either way, it is time to focus on creating an action plan and instilling a support system of people (and environments!) that can help you to execute. At a time when everyone and everything is changing due to the pandemic, you may have more power than you realize to become a leader in your company’s — and your own role’s — reinvention.
Seize the day. That is what springtime is all about!
Amelia Kruse is a Certified Leadership Coach based in New York working with professionals and entrepreneurs globally.