Most people spend the greater part of their lives working. Work has always been a big part of human existence. A few thousand years ago, to work or not was the difference between life and death. If you were lazy and didn't build a shelter or find food, you died.
Today life is different. Instead of working to survive, we can now work for personal fulfillment. Abraham Maslow did great research on this subject with his model, "Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs." It states that humans have different levels of needs, which are usually depicted in a five-level pyramid with physiological needs at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. People must climb this pyramid in order to reach the top and achieve "self-actualization." In other words, until we get our basic needs met we cannot move on and grow.
Today we are more in control of selecting our careers than in the past. Obviously some people have it easier than others. We may not all start at the same place, but we can all end up where we want through hard work and determination.
But the picture of success looks different to different people. For some, it's having a high net worth. For others, it's about honesty and for still others it's giving back to the community. There are many definitions of success, but all require these three basic traits: making good decisions, working hard and being determined.
Unhappiness in one's career often comes when one's definition of success is not being met. The puzzling thing is, if we each get to define success, then why wouldn't all of us become successful? The basic answer is poor decisions, laziness and a lack of dedication.
It has always amazed me how little time individuals spend researching their career options. If we are going to spend most of our lives working, wouldn't it make sense to find a career that is exciting and rewarding?
Here at the Rummage Group, we speak with countless financial professionals who fell into their careers by accident, most of whom admit they had no plan after graduating college.
A career is such an important decision, yet so few people end up in careers that make them happy. Most end up in careers or jobs by accident. Often they have a friend who works at a company with an opening. After securing the position, this individual then spends the next 40 years doing something that he or she may dislike.
THE RIGHT FIRST STEPS
For those choosing to go to college, there is no excuse for not researching careers before starting.
If you are going to put in the time, money and effort of college, then career planning is essential. Most colleges have career centers to help prospective students select the career path best suited to them. They usually have the tools to give you a full assessment based on individual needs and goals. However, the vast majority of college students never use these services. What's more, many college students also don't seek out internships.
Many Americans are often not motivated because of their career choices. If a person is driven by money, but enters a career with little pay, they will become unhappy. If they are in a job they don't find interesting they will quickly become bored. Oftentimes an introvert finds herself in a career best suited for an extrovert and becomes overwhelmed. Others may be entrepreneurial, but work in a career that doesn't foster the entrepreneurial spirit. These are just a few examples of why some people become miserable in their chosen profession.
Here are six questions everyone should answer before selecting a career. Answering them thoughtfully and honestly will likely set you on the right path to the career that will offer you the fulfillment you seek.
1. What are you interested in? Not everyone can enter the "perfect" career based on interests, but most can come close. Before entering any career, ask yourself if it's something you're interested in doing every day for many years. Make a list of interests. Would you rather work with your hands, your mind or both? Do you want to work inside or outside? Do you want a career that is fast paced or slow? What are you passionate about?
2. How important is money? This is an extremely important question. How much income do you need to be happy? Money is a necessary evil that can't buy you happiness. However, if you are already happy it sure does make life easier and more enjoyable. What is the minimum income you will require in 10, 20 and 30 years? Be realistic when answering this question: Lack of money is one of the biggest causes of struggle, divorce and family breakups. But if money truly doesn't matter you will have more career choices. Think long and hard on this question or you might become one of the millions of workers constantly complaining about money.
3. Are you an extrovert or an introvert a leader or a follower? In all careers you will have some interaction with coworkers. There are some jobs, however, that require more and deeper interactions. How do you wish to spend your days? Would you like to spend it dealing with people or sitting in a cubicle? Are you more of an analyst or a salesperson? Think about how much human interfacing you can handle before making a selection.
4. How many hours per week are you willing to work? Be honest with yourself about how much time you want to spend working. In some careers you will work no more than 40 hours per week. In others you will be required to work 40 but expected to work 50. Some individuals are overachievers and are perfectly happy putting in the hours required for success. Others want to know they will be going home every day at the same time. Be realistic.
5. Are you entrepreneurial by nature? How much time do you spend thinking about starting a business or improving on an existing business? True entrepreneurs are never happy working for someone else. However, there are many individuals who are, what I call, entrepreneurial-lite. These individuals should find a career where they have more freedom and flexibility; their compensation should be more incentive based. If you have entrepreneurial tendencies, you should start a business or go into sales a regular type job will not hold you.
6. Are you willing to travel or relocate? Think about your current situation as well as your future. If you are single now, but plan on having a family in the future, your willingness to travel might change. How important is family to you? Many folks say their family comes first, but pick a career that requires a lot of travel and often relocation. Children want and need to spend time with both parents. They also don't like being ripped away from their friends to move across the country. So if you are the type of person for whom family comes first, select a career that doesn't require a lot of travel or relocation.
When planning for your life's work think about this quote by Lewis Carroll, "If you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there." Happy trails!
Rick Rummage is the founder and CEO of the Rummage Group, a consulting firm for advisors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.