5 Reasons Why You Will Choose The Wrong Career


Consider two statistics.

Statistic #1: The average person spends 90,000 hours of their life at work.

Statistic #2: 80% of working professionals are dissatisfied with their job (according to Deloitte’s Shift Index survey).

Put another way, our plight looks something like this:

(A lot of time doing something) x (Not enjoying doing that something) = L

L is our life.

It seems we can do two things to improve our lot: reduce the amount of time spent working, or improve our satisfaction with our work.

Assuming we can’t work less, let’s find something more enjoyable to do.

Seems easy enough. Why is it so hard?

Reason #1: You don’t know yourself

When I was living in Japan I recall a conversation with a good friend about self-awareness. I was in the middle of one of my self-discovery experiments, this time attempting to write down every thought that entered my head over the course of a week.

The results were conclusive: I’m crazy.

My wise friend offered his advice: “If you want to get to know yourself, just look around your apartment. What kind of person lives there? What books does he have on his shelf? What photos does he have up on the wall?”

It’s often the simplest advice that hits hardest.

Billionaire “Shark Tank” star Mark Cuban has shared that “self-awareness is one of the most important skills for any professional.”

The problem is that we’re never taught how to be self-aware. Understanding ourselves takes a back seat to understanding Algebra and Economics, so we have to put in the work to make up for lost ground.

Get to know yourself.

Play detective.

Look around your home: what kind of person lives there? What do they like, read, watch? What matters to them?

Last week I made a list of all the times this month that I was “in the zone”: so engaged in what I was doing that I completely lost track of time. I noticed that a large percentage of those times was when I was creating something.

Like writing.

That’s a clue.

Keep picking up clues, write them down. See what kind of picture emerges.

Reason #2: Social pressure will get to you

There’s a famous psychology experiment that clearly shows how and why social pressure will get to you if it hasn’t already.

Ten people in a room were given the below two cards and told to state out loud which comparison line (A, B, or C) was most like the target line. The answer was always obvious, and the “test participant” sat at the end of the row and gave his or her answer last.

The number of times each participant conformed to the majority view was measured.

How do you think the participants fared?

On average, about one third (32%) of the participants who were placed in this situation went along and conformed with the clearly incorrect majority.

What does this mean for our careers?

I think it means that knowing ourselves and where we want to go isn’t enough. We have to be ruthlessly courageous in protecting those dreams from the tyranny of the majority.

What happens when you know you want to do “C” in your career but everyone around you thinks “A” is a better choice?

What happens when you know you want to do “C” in your career but everyone around you is doing “B?”

The first decision you have to make before you choose your career is to choose who it is that’s going to do the choosing.

It’s great to get input from books, mentors, family, but try balancing that with silent time by yourself to do your own reflection.

Or just do what everyone else does.

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path.

Joseph Campbell

Reason #3: You’re asking the wrong questions

Before my last career transition, I found myself asking what, where, and how much when I should’ve been asking who and why.

You’ll be spending more time with the people in your office than with your own family.

The who matters.

Who do you want to spend your life with?

Instead of making a pro/cons list centered around your job title and duties, make a list of the traits you want in your boss and colleagues.

In my previous life as an Executive Recruiter I interviewed and coached over 2000+ leaders at some of the best companies in the world, and one thing I noticed early on was that every time one of them lost sight of their “why” they came looking for a job change.

They had taken a role for the what, where, and how much, and after a few months or years came to realize that they weren’t happy because they were missing a “why.”

What’s your why?

Reason #4: Your lens is too narrow

In a recent career conversation, a member of our sales team asked, “Should I stay in sales or go into marketing?”

Well, those are two options.

I answered his question with a question, “Forget about sales vs marketing for a second. What would you do if anything was possible and you knew you couldn’t fail?”

“Hmm, I don’t know. I’ve never thought about that.”

If you’re thinking of making a change, open up a broader set of possibilities. There are endless ways to spend our working lives. Be creative, get them all out there.

Forget that you’re already 5-10 years down one path. It’s never too late to re-align.

Reason #5: Your goal is retirement

Tell me if you’ve ever heard someone say the following: “If I could just save XXX dollars, then I’d be able to quit and start doing what it is I really want to do.”

Tell me if you’ve ever heard yourself say that.

What does it say about a working society when the main goal of working is to get to a state of not working?

This spending of the best part of one’s life earning money in order to enjoy a questionable liberty during the least valuable part of it, reminds me of the Englishman who went to India to make a fortune first, in order that he might return to England and live the life of a poet.

Henry David Thoreau

The risk of focusing too much on getting to retirement is that you’re likely to let salary sway your career decisions.

If the end goal is retirement then the fastest means to get there would surely be the highest paying jobs, regardless of how much you enjoy them.

Which still puts us back here:

(A lot of time doing something) x (Not enjoying doing that something) = L

It seems to me that there’s something much better than retirement. It’s called doing work that you inherently enjoy.

(A lot of time doing something) x (Really enjoying doing that something) = L

So the next time you hear someone dreaming of retirement, tell them the good news: there’s something better than retirement.

By Ryan Paugh

Hi there!

With decades spent exploring the outer world and the inner world, I share some of the insights I have learned along the way.

Topics include mindfulness, spirituality, growth, perspective, and career.

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