It’s clear from the Great Resignation that is happening across industries that a lot of people are unhappy with their work and looking to make a fundamental change. But the question remains: How do we know what we are looking for?
Work that seems to appeal at a distance may not be what we think it is when we are immersed in it. Many of the assessment tools that are meant to help us make better career choices can leave us even more confused. And even if there are aspects of your job that you love, many of us experience plenty of monotony and boredom, too. Only a fortunate few seem to know early on what they want to do and are able to follow their dream.
Sadly, many go through their entire lives not being able to define—let alone find—the type of work that makes them come alive. Some people see their jobs as a means to an end, and that’s totally fine. But if you’re searching for a way to find more fulfilling work, you must become aware of (and listen to) what your emotions are telling you.
While it may seem like we are putting together a very difficult puzzle that we will never complete, trusting and paying attention to our emotions will eventually bring us the satisfaction of finding the work that brings out the best in us. Though finding what we want to do with our lives can be difficult, it can also be incredibly fulfilling. Here are some key attributes that will help in our search:
The basis of emotional intelligence is being aware of our emotions, what causes them, how they affect us, and how they affect those around us. Our emotions give us accurate information and will guide us to become aware of what feels right for us and what doesn’t. If we are able to tap into them, we can use our life experiences to guide us in finding the work that we love.
It was by accident, during a summer job while attending university, that I first discovered work that stimulated and moved me to do my best. Remembering that feeling allowed me to drill down and eventually find work that I love. Think of the moments, projects, or collaborations that brought you the most rewarding, exciting, and engaging interactions and feelings of fulfillment. These moments are clues to your innate talents and passions.
Curiosity, flexibility, and adaptability
Charles Darwin said that it’s not the smartest or strongest of a species that survives, but the most adaptable. I believe that his saying also applies to those who are most likely to find the work that is right for them. Many people discover their passion through trial and error while trying different activities. Summer jobs, volunteer work, and travel can also help us discover aspects about ourselves that may lead us to the right work.
The Sparketype Assessment, which was developed by author and Spark Endeavors founder Jonathan Fields, is a great complement to experiential learning. It reveals the deeper drivers of work that make you come alive. The more curious and adaptable we are, the likelier we are of finding something that speaks to us.
Between parents, relatives, and friends, there is no shortage of people who feel they know how we should live, and what work is most suitable for us. But in reality, there is only one person who knows you well enough to make those decisions: you. It takes courage and an independent streak to follow your own path and potentially disappoint those who think they know what’s best for you. But remember: In the end, it’s you that will have to live with your life choices.
The ability to be mentored
In addition to working to cultivate these critical attributes, one thing that can make all the difference is the right mentor or mentors. A good mentor can be a tremendous aid in helping us make the right career decisions.
Look for someone whose only interest is helping you find the answers for yourself. That means someone who is nonjudgmental, has no preconceived notions about what you should do, and who doesn’t give advice, but rather asks questions to help you discover more about yourself. Ideally, it should be someone who is successful and happy in their own life, and who has come through their own share of adversity, dead ends, and detours.
Lydia Henry, CEO of Vision Coach Dynamics, says that your mentor (or mentors) should be compatible with your key values and principles. “Ideally, we should have more than one mentor to provide a more unbiased and diverse view of our potential, contribute insights to recognize and navigate workplace social and cultural cues, and to offer different perspectives and guidance.”