Have you ever asked yourself if the career you have chosen is really right for you? It is surprisingly easy, through peer pressure or simply by chance, to take the wrong path. That’s why people become teachers when they should have become accountants or lawyers and vice versa. Sadly, such people suffer from a sustained lack of fulfillment in their work, never feel genuinely successful, and always sense that their skills could be applied more effectively elsewhere.
Who is in control of your career?
The most important thing to realise is that you are in control. In some cases this starts at an early age when family and teachers recognise and encourage your talents and interests and help to steer you on a path that will fulfil your destiny. This will usually dictate your choice of tertiary study; your career path is mapped out ahead of you and you move steadily forward.
But many people aren’t so fortunate. They fall into a particular degree by accident, by default or because it was what their best friend did. They graduate with little understanding of the job prospects available to them and none the wiser as to what they really want to do. At this stage, the pressure is on to “get a job”. However, instead of rushing headlong into employment they should actually take stock of the situation.
In fact, self-assessment should be a continuous process. You should periodically re-evaluate yourself to ensure you are not engaged in a role for which you are clearly unsuited. At this stage you should also make a list of things that you do well – because of your capabilities, your interest, or both.
Next, find out more about the career or job you want to pursue and take time to define some realistic objectives that will help you achieve your goal. For example, a change of career may not only require that you gain new qualifications, it might also require you to gain more vocational experience or even voluntary work to show that your determination and commitment is genuine.
While guidance and advice from your parents and friends may be useful, you should make sure you are not turning other people’s dreams into your own. Just because your family boasts several generations of doctors, doesn’t necessarily mean that you are also destined for the medical profession. You should have a clear sense of what you want to do. Figure out who you are and recognise your strengths and weaknesses.
And don’t be tempted to just “follow the money”. You might think that you are prepared to do anything as long as the salary is high and the perks include a handsome bonus, only to discover that the level of commitment you are expected to give is too great. If the role becomes seriously stressful and impacts on your work-life balance you will soon dislike the job so much that you have to leave.
Finally, careers don’t always follow a smooth path from university to retirement. You may stay in your chosen field, but it is just as likely that you will have two or three distinct careers in your lifetime – particularly if you have opted for periodic self-assessment. Remember that it is never too late to change, even if you feel you are too old to switch careers or that your professional life has reached a plateau. Whatever the situation, a career counsellor or executive coach can be a worthwhile investment to help you evaluate your options.
Contributed by Matthew Hill, Managing Director of Ambition Hong Kong