Career Options: How Do We Choose?

A girl who wearing a graduation hat choosing from different career options

Coming from our previous article on why it so hard to choose a career in the early stages, what it was like for prior generations, and how the situation is more complicated now, we’d like to summarize the takeaways.

  • We’re spoiled for choice because we have a ton of options today.
  • Prior generations did not have as many choices and paying the bills was a major reality and criterion.
  • There is immense pressure on us (from peers, society, media) to find passion, meaning, and fulfilment in what we do.
  • Jobs are constantly changing and becoming obsolete thanks to technology.
  • Career mobility and transferable skills can help us navigate different roles down the line.

So, considering that all of the above are aspects involved when we are to choose a career, how do we go about it? What do we do to narrow down on our choices and move from there?

To choose the right career, follow your energy

As with most things in life, either personal or professional, one of the best strategies is to ‘follow your energy’.

A person jumping high against a sunset in the background.

There are all kinds of jobs and career paths we can choose. And it is up to each of us to recognize this universal truth:

There are some things we do in life that give us energy, and there are others that take energy from us.

When we say “they take energy from us”, what it means is that we need to put in additional effort and push ourselves harder to want to do them. We are not saying that we will never have to do things that we don’t like. But if a particular job gives us more energy than it takes, then it’s probably a signal that we are more inclined towards that path.

For example, Priya has a strong dislike towards numbers. And as a result, she knows that jobs related to accounting, investing, or heavily focused on math aren’t for her. At the same time, Ravi has always been a creative individual. He always found ways to apply his own creativity in music and art. He enjoyed deriving inspiration from the arts. Priya decided to pursue something in compliance, while Ravi decided to explore design.

These examples explain our point in a slightly over-simplified manner, but stay with us on this.

So, what is this ‘energy’ and how do I find it?

You might find yourself asking, “Okay, so where is this energy? And how do I look for it?”

The answer to this requires some level of retrospection and introspection. Look back and reflect on your past; create a journal or a brainstorming sheet and ask yourself questions such as:

  • What activities do/did I enjoy doing?
  • What topics do I like reading/talking about?
  • If I had some free time, what would I be doing?
  • What makes me lose track of time?
  • Do people ever come to me for advice? What do they usually ask me about? Do I enjoy giving genuine advice and being asked about it?
  • Ask people who know you well: “What according to you are my strengths and interests?”
Pensive Asian student looking through the window and thinking. Introspecting and reflecting on one's experiences is important for identifying the direction one's career should take.

These kinds of questions will help you narrow down to where your interests and energies lie. These are terrific green flags to identify and keep in mind when making decisions related to your career.

Remember that you are constantly changing and evolving

You will notice that when you review this list, they are usually the kinds of things that don’t require you to be pushed or forced to do. You are comfortable waking up in the morning or getting off the couch to get immersed in them.

Portrait of a woman working on her laptop on balcony. Choosing a career that gives us energy is the best decision to make.
Time flies when we get energy from our work

On the contrary, when some things take energy away from us, we drag our feet to do them. Or we postpone and procrastinate, and avoid doing them for as long as possible. This is because activities that take energy from us, require us to put deliberate effort into them.

However, our interests and passions change and evolve over time. So something that made the list a few years ago, may not be relevant today. Hence repeating this exercise every two-three years, and being mindful of how we change and evolve will be helpful over the course of our careers.

Looking for energy beyond the work itself

Energy sources do not always have to be related to the nature of the work. Sometimes we may derive energy from the greater mission of the organization and the impact that it delivers. Another crucial factor is the people and environment around us.

All of this relates to the ‘culture’ of an organization or team that is often talked about. Even if we love what we do and gain energy from it, sometimes the environment around takes up too much energy.

Many of us don’t recognize the importance of this early on, but this is a very crucial part of looking for the right fit when we are interviewing and considering potential jobs.

Happy mixed race people gathered in an office, looking at camera. Working in a culture that aligns with us and gives us energy is great for our careers.

All of these factors can either bring you energy or take it away. This is because each of them connects to the person you are deep inside.

Chasing one’s energy is a very powerful tool to identify what you think or feel, even if you can’t identify other hints that your mind is throwing at you.

The bottom line

Identifying the sources of our energy is a terrific way to help us narrow down which career to choose.

These signals however, are all internal. When we look at them holistically together with external indicators, they become an even more powerful combination. (We talk more about combining the ideas in the Japanese concept of ‘Ikigai’ (translation: reason for being) with your internal energy source to help with decision-making in our next article. Subscribe to get updates when it comes out).

Finally, it is important to reiterate that experimenting while we are in the early years of our career (including during college) is the ideal way to learn about ourselves and what really gives us meaning and energy.

Looking around, getting a feel for what we want, do not want, where we are headed, are all parts of this early exploration. So don’t be frustrated if you don’t have an answer right away. This stuff takes time. But the journey and what you learn along the way are all worth it!

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