Most of us follow a career path that has little to do with our true talents and dreams.
Growing up, I can remember countless people asking me, “so, what do you want to be when you grow up?” The questions started when I was around seven or eight years old. In those days, I responded with what I knew and liked, invariably an all powerful and fanciful future where I was the protagonist in an ideal and fair world. At that time I still believed in Santa Claus.
As I grew up, the questions kept coming, and I felt I had better have a good answer to the “what do you want to be question” before 12th grade, and especially as I knew I had to choose “something” to do. So I went to university telling others I knew what I wanted to do, without really knowing it or even feeling it myself.
Looking back, I can see that there are many careers for which I would have been suited. My eventual career path was a winding one, first trying to get a foothold in the job market with no experience, then, like everyone, fighting to maintain that foothold as I travelled the well-trod road of economic success and social acceptance and status.
I can remember an aptitude test we were given in high school that was supposed to tell us all for what careers we were destined. I can remember feeling unhappy that some of the things I loved and felt I excelled at weren’t careers on that list. I was disheartened to see others that I had no interest in whatsoever.
I suppose the teachers in those days, that system, was trying to do its best to help us understand our aptitudes and career possibilities. Now that I know a lot about personality and career assessments, and that the science of this has come a long way in three decades, I question those early high school tests as being the dangerous crystal balls they were, at that age. Some people took those findings as the gospel about their potential and their choices. And the teachers who administered those tests no doubt found the limitations in their students because of the findings of these tests. I remember feeling that the test itself determined what I was good for in the eyes of others. Part of me rebelled against that. Part of me was forced to look at the short-list of career options as a terminal sentence.
Those days and the careers I’ve had between are well behind me now. But I still have this gnawing sense that most of us, me included, did what they thought was right or what they loved. Maybe those two things were the same for some. But for many of us, we went to post-secondary school out of mixture of feelings of obligation and fear of being left behind. We choose what’s responsible instead of what makes us feel alive. We choose security over risk and personal development. In other words, we settle for less.
I’m one of the lucky ones. I am doing what I love today. But it wasn’t always that way. I struggled through careers and ideas of myself until I finally found myself in recruiting, training, coaching and mentoring. I knew that helping other people find their dreams was my calling. I love helping people. And that didn’t show on my high school aptitude test over 30 years ago.
I’ve been fortunate to be trained on modern career and personality tests, which with the improvement in computing and the aggregation of data over decades, has come a long way in really helping people understand themselves and their career options. Every week we walk career candidates and coaching clients through our career and personality assessment tools, which we use to help people identify what it is they really love, and what they are good at. Most people are very surprised, some are surprised to find that what they do for a living now really isn’t what they should be doing at all. Others are surprised to find that the career they’re in exhausts them totally, because their personality isn’t fit for the role. Many find that there are career options for them that are better fits for them personally, but no one has ever told them. They might have walked around life with the feeling that they are unhappy, anxious, tired, and chalk it up to things other than the career they are in. Outwardly, someone might look like a career success, meanwhile, inside, they feel miserable. Happiness doesn’t only come from the career you choose. But it can. Unhappiness most definitely has its roots in careers we don’t love, or even outright fill us with dread everyday we have to go do that work.
As an adult, if you have never done a career aptitude or personality assessment, I encourage you to do it. It will help you understand yourself in the career you’re in, help you understand your basic and adjusted personality at work, and help you understand what other options might be out there for you that better align with who you are. Everyone has what’s called “transferrable skills”, but transferrable to what? And what does that really mean? Transferrable to something else that also doesn’t bring you happiness or satisfaction?
Life is obviously more than a paycheque. When we were young enough we knew that, wanting to be princesses, and cowboys, and superheroes. Along the way we were trained out of our dreams and we became accountants, middle managers, and support staff. I encourage you to find the passion for your dreams again. Finding out about yourself all over again is a giant first step.
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