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Advice / Career Paths / Exploring Careers

9 Questions That'll Help You Find Your Dream Career

You’ve had another rough day at work.

And as you’re talking about your lackluster job or about feeling lost in your career path, a well-meaning friend or relative responds with, “Well, what do you want to do?”

Silence. If only it were that easy, right?

Choosing a new career—whether you want to do a drastic 180 or just make a minor shift—can seem downright impossible. There are so many options. You don’t know what you’re qualified to do. Frankly, you’ve been so busy worrying about your current job that you haven’t taken half an hour to consider what you’d rather be doing. And when you do start to think about it? Your mind morphs into a cloudy mess of overwhelm.

Believe me: I’ve been there, too. And after I did find what I was looking for, I’ve spent time coaching friends and colleagues who are going through the same thing. While there aren’t any shortcuts when it comes to planning a big career change, I’ve found that breaking the big question down into a few simpler ones can be a productive way to get started.

Sometime this week, take the first step toward planning your dream career by filling in the blanks in the sentences below:

  1. If I could choose one friend to trade jobs with, I’d choose __, because __.
  2. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to do __. It’s interesting to me because __.
  3. If I had the right education or skill set, I’d definitely try __, because __.
  4. If I had to go back to school tomorrow, I’d major in __, because __.
  5. My co-workers and friends always say I’m great at __, because __.
  6. The thing I love most about my current job is __, because __.
  7. If my boss would let me, I’d do more of __, because __.
  8. If I had a free Saturday that had to be spent “working” on something, I’d choose __, because __.
  9. When I retire, I want to be known for __, because __.

Once you’re done, take a look at your answers. You may find clear-cut patterns—for example, that everything on your list has to do with designing beautiful spaces or playing sports. But at the very least, you’ll probably see some common themes. Maybe it’s creativity, or caring for others, or working outside using your hands. And no, those things don’t point to one single career path, but knowing what you value, what you enjoy, and what you want to be known for is a great way to get started honing in on what you want to do next (or, hey, eliminating possibilities).

As you’re thinking through your career change, I’d encourage you not to let fear or insecurities about your skillset hold you back and to think big about the possibilities that are out there. Sure—if you’re a communications professional who’s fascinated by the law, becoming an attorney can be a long and difficult road ahead. But why not consider it? The road might not be as long as you imagine (and it definitely can be worth it). But, also pay attention to specifically what about the law gets you excited. Is it in-depth research? Helping other people? Arguing a case? There are plenty of other professions where you could combine your current skills with your passions to do those things, sans law degree. By diving into your interests like this, you can start to open up a world of possibilities.

Oh, and if you get through the list and are still stumped? Share it with a friend or mentor. Sometimes an objective eye can see patterns you can’t.

Tell us! What did you learn about yourself and your future career by answering these questions?

Photo courtesy of Hero Images / Getty Images.