Before You Make Any Big Career Decisions…

career decisions

By Yvonne Milosevic

Your life will be marked by many career decisions. From your first job out of college until retirement, you’ll be assessing your professional progress periodically to figure out when a turning point is near. In some cases, clear signs will show you it’s time for a change asap. But more often, major career decisions trigger hesitation and doubts that you’ll have to work through before making a move. Today we’re sharing strategies to make that decision-making process a bit easier.

First, thoroughly assess your interests, values, and personality.

Our interests change over time, and that can initiate a career pivot. What transferable skills do you have, and how can you connect them to new areas of interest? Next, think about your personality. Do you prefer lots of interactions at work or flying solo? Are you interested in creative tasks or managing practical matters? After all, one person’s dream job can be another’s nightmare scenario.

Finally, consider the causes you care about and what activities bring on the bliss. Nowadays, most people want their work to have a meaningful impact on the world. When you define your values, you can make career decisions that connect to them in a way that offers greater life satisfaction.

career decisions

Next, consult your whole self.

Timothy Butler, director of career development programs at Harvard Business School, has a new book on navigating significant transitions. In The Four Elements: Finding Right Livelihood in the 21st Century, Butler guides readers to tap into their ‘full self” when making career or other major life changes.

“Most of us, when faced with a life decision, fall back on our analytical intelligence,” Butler explains in this HBS Working Knowledge interview. “We try to use the brute force of thinking to push the situation forward.”

Instead, he offers a different framework to help people handle career transitions. He labels these vital elements as Identity, Community, Necessity, and Horizon. Butler also homes in on the relevant questions we can answer to illuminate the path forward.

Identity. Think about personal qualities, interests, skills, and our place in the world. Ask yourself: “What work roles will allow me to express my deeply embedded life interests?” and “What are the signature skills that I bring to any life situation?”

Community. Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. Ask yourself: “What types of people and what organizational cultures will allow me to thrive and make my biggest contribution?”

Necessity. This reality check acknowledges that our decisions need to make sense in the real world. And allow us to pay the bills. Ask yourself: “What are the nonnegotiable obligations and constraints that bear upon my current work and life choices?”

Horizon. This is the bigger picture element that touches on our most profound sense of values, meaning, and priorities, Butler says. Ask yourself: “How do I understand and move closer to life in its fullest?”

Finally, put your life and career decisions to the “Regret Test.”

Whether you’re contemplating a career switch, a return to school, or other important life decisions, the regret test can help. Basically, you ask yourself if the future you would regret that you didn’t take that leap of faith when the opportunity arose. There may be a risk of failure, but what will you regret more: trying and failing, or always wondering what could have been?

Because as Sydney J. Harris once said: “Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable.”