Tips For Paving Your Path, Your Way
By Grace Chao
Such a critical question in a person’s life, yet one which we often fail to answer correctly.
Some of you may be thinking: this question doesn’t apply to me. I’m just trying to get by and make ends meet. You’re thinking what the actor George Clooney, who cut tobacco and sold door-to-door insurance and ladies’ shoes for a living before becoming an international movie star, once said: “People always think you manage your career. You don't manage your career when you're trying to get a job. You're just trying to get a job…it's much later in your career that you can go, Oh, here's what I want to do. Early on, it's just: Get work. Just survive.”
Or maybe you are one of those lucky ones who have already found success. You’ve worked extremely hard and attained that coveted position, reached that goal you set out to achieve. You’re thinking: I already know what’s right for me.
Regardless of what your current situation is, I hope you will take a moment to reflect on what kind of work you were meant to do. For those of you who are struggling, know that no matter what hand you’re dealt, there are ways to have a better career – don’t let the daily grind cause you to lose sight of that. For those of you who are cruising, never underestimate the importance of a reassessment from time to time – you don’t want current success to deprive you of the opportunity of even greater success.
For the rest of you who came to this post looking for the answer to the title question, thanks for standing by. I will now get to the heart of the matter.
Determining the right career begins with understanding your own interests and talents. If you don’t have a grasp on this yet, take time for some self-reflection and get input from people who know you well. You can also try taking career aptitude tests to get insights and ideas (but take their career recommendations with a grain of salt – no career test can fully assess all the factors that determine what path would suit you).
Once you’ve done a self-assessment and come up with a shortlist of possible career paths, it’s time to do these two things:
#1: Research careers by talking to people
Career guides and other published content can provide good overviews, but when it comes to getting details on the day-to-day work, insights into the latest industry developments, and answers to your specific career considerations, nothing beats talking to someone who has worked in the area you’re exploring.
Conversations can also lead to actual job opportunities (nearly 80% of positions are filled through personal referrals) and uncover options you’ve never considered. I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur. I started my career in finance, and my goal was simply to climb the ranks as fast as I can. But one day as I was talking to a friend about opportunities in finance, he suddenly asked me: “Have you ever thought about starting your own thing?” “Me? An entrepreneur?” I responded incredulously. “Yes,” he said, “Look around you. There are so many problems. You can pick one that interests you and solve it.” That got me thinking outside the box, which ultimately took my career into a wonderful new direction.
Talk to people. There’s no better way to learn about career options.
#2: Figure out the purpose of your career
Talking to people can also yield insights that will help you with your second task, which, I can’t stress enough, is of paramount importance: figuring out the purpose of your career. If your career holds no meaning for you, it doesn’t matter how successful you become—you will be left feeling empty in the end.
Early on in my career, I was invited to a meeting with a woman who immediately struck me as incredibly intelligent and accomplished. I was not surprised when shortly thereafter, Erin Callan vaulted into the CFO position at my firm and became one of the highest-ranking executives of my industry. Her meteoric rise was the kind of success one can only dream of. Yet, some years later, in a powerfully honest and instructive memoir, she revealed that she had fallen into an abyss after making it to the top, because despite being high-flying, her career held no purpose for her. She wrote:
“…really, in and of itself, my career had no purpose. I am not talking about a job, a means to survive and take care of others. I am talking about my career. The concept of career, for me, suggests a broader meaning of a life plan marrying your interests, passions, and livelihood. What meaningful goal or agenda was I accomplishing with all that effort and energy flowing into my career? My career was not a means to an end. It was the end. When I reflect on all the sacrifices that were made for that end, it strikes me as somewhat wasteful.”
Figure out your purpose. It’s the only way to have a fulfilling career.
I recognize that for many people (myself included), these two tasks are not easy to do. They will likely take a lot of time and effort, but if finding a career that you will thrive in is your goal, you must push yourself to do them.
And I will try to help you. I started KIP101, because I wanted to help change the fact that most people (including ~67% of employees in the US and ~87% of employees worldwide) don’t succeed professionally. I believe that part of the solution to this enormous problem is to improve access to information that will enable better-informed career decisions, information that often only come through private conversations. So we created a platform which facilitates one-on-one knowledge sharing (hence KIP101’s name: “knowledge is power, one-on-one”). I hope our platform will connect you to people who can give you valuable career insights, and in my next post, I will also offer guidance on how to make the most out of career connections and conversations. Stay tuned!
Grace Chao is the creator of KIP101, a new, free app that connects people for 1-on-1 conversations the drive professional growth. To try out the app, use the invite code "KIPblog".