So, work is going well. You think. But in those moments, those Tuesday evening stuck-waiting-for-the-Tube crises of confidence, you sometimes wonder if there isn’t maybe something better out there for you. I mean, the grass is always greener, isn’t it? What if this career you’re carving out is not the right track, after all? How would you know?
Is your career a vocation, a calling, something you could not imagine not doing? Or is it your passion, so much so that you never felt like you worked a day in your whole life? No? Join the club.
For the vast majority of us, our careers are a result of trial and error, luck as much as judgement.
But are you settling for second best in your career? It’s hard to know if it’s really worth pursuing your dream job, even if you have one. So, how do you know if your career is on the right track right now, and if it’s got enough going for you to stick with it for your working lifetime?
Try these common sense checks.
1. Your Basic Needs Are Met
It’s a question so obvious that you might wonder why you need to think it over. But being in a rut can sometimes be confused with being on a career path. If you have been doing the same sort of work for a long time, then you stop questioning the oddities, the irritations. They can become background as daily life unfolds each day like the last.
Does your career as it currently is meet your basic needs? Are you confident that you will be paid at the end of the month, that your role has some security, and that you’re treated with respect by those around you? Do you have the tools, training, and skills to do your job? Are you able to achieve a decent balance between work and private life, without workload, commute or money troubles impinging on your enjoyment of life?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then stop reading, and start looking for alternatives. If you don’t have this basic sense of your needs being reliably filled, then there is little hope of patching up your career path in your current job so that you can get more from it. It’s Maslow’s motivation theory 101.
2. You Find Meaning in Your Work
Once you’re assured that your career path will meet most of your regular needs, then you have the luxury of thinking about the meaning you get from your work.
Do your values align with those of your work? Are you proud of the business you work in, the role you do, and the type of daily work you’re completing? What do you tell people when you’re at the pub and they ask you about your job? Are you happy to talk about the job you do, or would you rather change the subject quick sharp?
It is not necessary for every one of us to be passionate about our jobs. For many of us, it’s enough to have some fun during the working day, feel satisfied at what you achieve in a regular basis and be able to look back and see the progress you’re making in tasks you complete. It is worth, however, pondering a little on your reasoning if you find yourself unhappy talking to friends or family about your work. What is it that makes you feel uncomfortable?
If the job, business or industry is not enough for you to feel proud and share your working life with others, then you might want to think about the longevity of your chosen path.
3. You Have a Plan
In Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, she describes careers as “a jungle gym, not a ladder”. That is to say that an average career these days goes up and down like the ladders, monkey bars and slides of a piece of kids’ play equipment, rather than running directly from A to B in an orderly fashion. This is doubtlessly true. There’s little to be said for standing on a career ladder, looking up at the derrière of the person in front, while standing on the fingers of the poor soul following you. Few of us choose this path these days, leading to much more circuitous career trajectories.
But what both the ladder and the jungle gym model have in common is some movement and some idea of where you’re coming from and going to. If you’re worried about whether or not you’re on the right career path, consider what your longer term plan is: do you have a career that you can see yourself still working at in five or 10 years? Do you have an outline of how you might move from your current point to experience other roles, working environments, and teams?
Does your plan include some contingency and flexibility? The employment landscape is unpredictable. Having a career that is set in stone, with little room for manoeuvre doesn’t work for many people. Things change, but if you can see how the skills and experiences you’re gathering right now might contribute to you finding alternative roles in future, even outside of your immediate sector, then you’re probably on the right track.
4. There Is Room for Growth
A final check on your career choices is whether or not there is room for growth. Particularly if you are personally ambitious, then a career with headroom is important. This is not necessarily about growing in status or salary but more about finding new challenges and experiences that will keep your career fresh.
An average working lifespan can be 40 or more years. Doing the same thing every day is a terrifying thought to most of us, so finding a career path that will take you down different routes is useful.
If you don’t think this is likely on the trajectory you’re currently on, then don’t panic. It’s expected that most millennials will have at least one complete change of career over the course of their lives, so there is no problem with viewing this as a career stage rather than a “forever” decision. As long as you’re interested in what you’re doing from day to day and you are learning new skills, then you still might be on the right career track for now.
If you have doubts, then it might be time to start trying to learn new skills outside of work, which might ease your way into that second career at a later stage.
If you’re worried about whether the career choices you’re making right now are right, then join the club. The only good news, perhaps, is that this is perfectly normal!
We all worry, and a little bit of angst, if it prompts reflection and action, is probably a good thing.
Think about how you want to see your career looking back at your retirement party (or on your deathbed if you’re more morbidly inclined). Would you be happy to reflect on a lifetime working in the same field as you’re in now? What would you want to achieve to feel proud and satisfied at the end of your working life?
If the answers are clear, and within your reach, then you’re definitely on the right career path. If it’s a little murkier, then it might be time to adjust your course a little while you still can.
How have you ensured being on the right career track? Share your tips with us in the comments section below!