Curious about what to do next with your career direction? Feeling vague about your strengths and interests? Looking for a few guideposts to get insight into a career path you’d feel connected to?
One tactic you can try is to reflect on your past. This strategy does have flaws, because it assumes that you are currently engaging with an element of your future career path.
In reality you probably have not encountered the vast majority of types of work in the world, and a great path for you could be something outside of your current sphere of knowledge.
But, as a starting place, consider the following areas of reflection:
1. Where are You Spending Your Time?
Go through the last week and write down what you’ve done with every hour you were given in which you were awake and not at work. How did you spend your time? Were you huddled over a model train set, anxiously trying to figure out why your steamy wasn’t steaming? Did you spend a few nights at a yoga class? Were you taking the lead on planning a trip with a group of friends? What underlying themes do you notice in your choices about where to spend your leisure time?
If you notice that you are spending your time decompressing from work with leisure activities that don’t have much relevance to the working world or tending to household needs that are more of a ‘must do’ than a ‘want to do’, then consider what you would do if you had a week long vacation, followed by a full two week period to pick up a project.
For many people, two weeks without responsibilities would mean working on the house. For others, two weeks off would mean throwing a bikini and flip flops in a bag and heading to the airport, while others would invest in learning a new programming language.
None of those answers are wrong, by the way. The point of this exercise isn’t to make you feel guilty for how you spend your time, just to give you a chance to look at things that could be under your nose in terms of ideas for your career path.
Perhaps some of the elements present in your free time could correspond to characteristics of work you’d enjoy. For example, the person who serves as ‘social chair’ of their friends’ activities could do well with work that involves organization and an orientation to details.
2. Where are You Spending Your Money?
Next, go through your bank and credit card statements and see where you spent your money (not including the things you need to live, like groceries or your mortgage). What have you purchased in the last month or two? Are you buying tons of concert tickets? Are you spending on the latest and greatest tech gadgets? Or are you regularly spending on the admission price of meditative retreats?
Each of these purchases points to a specific interest that you have. You may take for granted that part of your monthly budget is goes towards attending a foreign language class, but taking a step back and looking at this purchase could indicate a yearning for work that involves international travel or a hefty dose of conversational interaction.
If your bank account is tight at the moment, again, take this exercise as a hypothetical. What would you buy that relates to activities you enjoy, if you could afford it? (Look at what you would spend after you were in a financially healthy place.)
For many people, we take our spending patterns as a given. Bring some attention to where you spend your money. Not every purchase holds deep insight into your career path, but you may notice some trends about yourself that were previously hidden from view.
3. Where do You Put Your Mental Energy?
Lastly, look through your RSS feed, your podcast subscriptions, and the websites you frequently go to. Do you notice any themes? Keep in mind that at the start of 2016 we are the most literate society in the history of planet Earth: we read more words per day than ever before. We’re constantly consuming articles, tweets, and blog posts.
Services like Spotify and Apple Music give us access to just about all of the music ever recorded. You could wallpaper your living room wall with HDTV screens, each of which is playing a different video stream, and still never catch up to all of the viewing options available to you.
So pause for a moment and notice the types of content you are choosing to regularly consume. Are you drawn to personal development, scientific research, listings of cool events, or financial news? These themes could play into the general career path you choose next. For example, if you love keeping up to date with political news, it could be that working in a field that has a political focus could be a natural fit for you.
If you feel like you don’t have time to see or read what you want to see or read, take a moment and consider what you used to enjoy in the past. You could go as far back as childhood. What caught your interest and held your attention? What do you have an unusual amount of knowledge about?
The media you consume works just like your time and money: figuring out what you spend your attention on helps you figure out what matters to you.
Are You Happy with Your Results?
You might fool yourself sometimes, but we’re usually better about being honest and introspective when we can look at concrete elements, like where we’re spending our time, money, and mental energy. And if you lack awareness about these three areas, this exercise is a good way to increase your understanding of what you are drawn to in the world.
Once you’ve figured where you spend your time, money, and mental energy, you’ll potentially be closer to pinpointing an area or type of work you might want to pursue for your career. Not every interest will translate into a career decision, but looking at yourself through these objective lenses can point you in some general career directions. For today, finding a way to be honest with yourself is a great first step.
About the Author
Alison Elissa Cardy of Cardy Career Coaching is a career coach who helps people to have better workweeks. She has capably and calmly guided hundreds of men and women around the world to innovative and functional career solutions through speaking, workshops, and one on one coaching. Alison is a practical advocate for achieving your heart’s desires, improving your workweek, and making a difference, all while keeping an eye on your financial success.