Assessing Your Career Direction

To Avoid Burnout, Our Career Choices Need to Develop and Evolve With Us.

By Donald J. Strankowski
[email protected]

We are currently in a world of more choices than ever with more career options available to you now than ever before.  The possibilities and opportunities afforded to us are almost limitless.

Reassessing your career direction is a smart choice. Smart-thinking, dynamic companies reassess themselves continually. Another term for this is “reinventing” yourself. Considering we spend almost 60 percent of our adult life engaged in work-related activities (commuting time, breaks and take-home work all count), we should choose a career that is consistent with our values, strengths, interests and desires.

When we stay in a particular position for too long, we may grow as individuals, but the position can seemingly remain static. Like other things, we can outgrow our career too.  The usual result is that we begin to get bored; our level of productivity drops as well as our level of job satisfaction.  We have in fact reached our level of competence in that particular position and are now in need of new challenges.

People lose their jobs each day due to a shift in the corporate business model of making more with less.  As companies come under more and more pressure to report rich bottom lines and pump up their stock prices, they must also increase their profitability.  In many cases, this quest for profitability can mean layoffs and downsizing.  With so many people on edge each day at work, worrying that their position may be eliminated tomorrow, it actually comes as a surprise then that some people are voluntarily leaving their jobs in pursuit of something different.

In spite of national employment anxiety, we are hearing a new buzzword pop up across corporate America: “downshifting.”  Many people latch onto to jobs for security reasons.  At the same time, other people are leaving their positions for lifestyle reasons.  People are leaving their jobs after reevaluating their careers, activities, and priorities.  This “downshifting” group accounts for a growing percentage of today’s workforce.

Everyday, people just like you and I are making career changes–for the better.  For most people, the career change is not about more money or a fatter stock option plan. For some, it’s about the pursuit of lifelong creative endeavors, while for others it’s perhaps taking a position with a smaller company with a less tiresome commute and work schedule.  Either way, it boils down to making a career choice that is more consistent with who you are and what you stand for.

Knowing that you are ready to leave your current situation and embark on a career change usually involves a certain level of pain.  Only you can decide when this pain level has reached the red zone.  Most of us actually have an internal need to be more adventurous and to be challenged.  However, very few people actually go on to reach their true potential or perform in the career that is most fulfilling to them.  For most of today’s workers, it’s about a steady paycheck and the standard 40-hour workweek.  This may be the norm, but remember, your opportunities today are almost limitless regardless of what the media reports.  The decision to change your career path is a courageous one indeed.  However, even as the newspaper headlines are plastered with stories of more layoffs and corporate bankruptcies, pulling off a successful career change is still within anybody’s reach.  It simply takes time, patience, and a detailed strategic plan for getting you from where you are now to where you want to go.

There is a philosophy that says if you enjoy what you do, it really doesn’t seem like work at all. Keep in mind, to make a career change usually means that when you’re starting out, you’re close to the bottom or in a lower paying position than the one you just left.  So how will a lesser income change the way you view the material world?  For many, the monetary sacrifice is just too great.  They will linger and hang on to similar positions in similar industries even though their happy meters are almost on empty.  For others however, the reduction in pay and prestige is worth the excitement of doing what they really want to do.

Don’t dismiss the career change as something you cannot handle.  There are many people who look back on their lives and regrettably think, “I could have or should have, but I didn’t.” Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “Most people go to their graves with their music still inside them.” The hardest part in starting any new career venture is just that—starting.  Take my advice: Do something, do anything, but get started if this is what you want!

Your main responsibility to yourself in your career is to become absolutely clear as to what you want to achieve professionally.  Clarity is positively essential to your success.  Actually becoming clear as to what you want and what you have to accomplish to get it will dramatically increase your chances of realizing your goals exactly as you imagined and right on schedule.

Every great work of art is completed first in the mind…then on the canvas.  So the first step in the entire job search process is career assessment.  You must become absolutely clear in your mind as to what you want before you can construct the success map to get you there.

When you feel it’s genuinely time for a career change, start by asking yourself these five questions:

  1. What would I do if I knew I could not fail?
  2. What would I do if money were not a factor in my career choice?
  3. What are my top ten “dream job” titles?
  4. What are my favorite subjects or fields of interest?
  5. Which skills in my current skill set could be transferable to another field or industry?

By simply asking yourself these five questions and writing down the answers, you will begin to become more clear about what you really want and will begin to stimulate your mind into action.

We worry constantly about making a living but rarely about making a life.  Eventually, if we stay in a position that is not truly consistent with who we are, burnout is the final result.  You may find yourself heading down a career path that doesn’t offer much growth, either financially or personally.  It’s not fun anymore, it’s not moving you toward to your goals, and you no longer look forward to going to work.

Assessing your career direction all begins with the premise that you must know yourself.  This may sound a bit strange to you at first, but the fact is we all need to continually reassess who we are and on a regular basis where we are in relation to our goals; both personal and professional.  Are you doing want you want to do or doing what you think you should do?  We should continually be asking ourselves: Am I utilizing my true strengths and natural abilities, working in the field of my choice, and involved with an organization that interests me?  60 percent of your adult life is a long time to waste in an occupation you simply don’t enjoy.  If the answer is NO to any of these questions, you may need to reevaluate your present career situation.

Donald J. Strankowski is President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC. He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at