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How to Know What to Do with Your Life (and why two-thirds of people make the wrong job choices)

“Most of us go to our graves with our music still inside us.” - Oliver Wendell Holmes

Why do so many middle-aged men suddenly realize that their lives feel completely meaningless and have no sense of direction? Why do so many students graduate from college without a clue about what they want to do?  Why do 2 out of 3 people change from job to job and still say they’re not happy with their situation?

Sound familiar?

Today’s job market is like a revolving door. Let me explain…

  • The average person has 3 careers and 10 different jobs in his or her lifetime. (source: Department of Labor)
  • Employee turnover shot to its highest levels in nearly two decades last year. (source: BNA)
  • 60% of the workforce plans to change jobs in the next 12 months. (source: Workforce.com)
  • 75% of workers surveyed say they are dissatisfied with their work-lives.

The secret to having it all and knowing what to do with your life comes through your Natural Vocation.

Your Natural Vocation is, above all, a career that leverages your greatest natural talents. In addition, it elegantly fits your personal style, rewards your core values, is intrinsically meaningful and helps lead you toward your most important goals. A Natural Vocation is what you want your next career should be.

Q: How do you find your Natural Vocation?

A: Through a Personal Career Vision.

Recently, authors Bob McDonald and Don Hutcheson asked a number of people, "What made you happy and successful?" Virtually all of the respondents, they say, cited two factors: First, they knew about and used their natural talents. Second, they created, and are guided by, a clear personal career vision.

A Personal Career Vision is a blueprint for exactly the type of work you should be doing, based on information about your natural talents, what you want, and what you think is worth doing. It fuses and reveals the particular skills, talents, and passions that make you unique.

Your Personal Career Vision provides a specific and accurate roadmap for important life and career decisions. People who have a Personal Career Vision are sure of themselves.

"Most people think they know what they are good at. They are usually wrong." - Peter F. Drucker, Renowned author and speaker on management and leadership

How do you create your Personal Career Vision?

Step 1: STOP. The usual person lives on a virtual treadmill. We keep busy following the wrong priorities all the while building up our stress level.  This treadmill will keep you focused solely in the here and now, all the while you waste your potential for happiness. You must stop and give yourself a concentrated time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go.

Step 2: REFLECT where you’ve been and where you are now. There are times in our lives when we feel compelled to evaluate our situation to see how well it matches our expectations. I call these times "turning points." While many of us assess our jobs and lives on a daily basis, there are certain milestones that naturally lend themselves to deeper evaluation. At this and other turning points, we need to ask ourselves if we are heading in the direction of our true nature and towards our true potential.

  • Career Starters (17 to 23 years old): Students and college graduates can easily get caught up in external sources of satisfaction. Their focus is on getting into the working world and being a productive, money-making adult. They're asking questions like "what job pays the most?" and "what industries are hot?" They should be asking "who am I?" and "what do I want from my career?"
  • Age 30 Assessment (25 to 33 years old): Maybe you jumped into a job right out of college. You worked like crazy. Now, you begin asking some predictable questions like, "what do I really want in life," "is this taking me in the right direction," "can I see myself doing this for my whole life," and "what else should I be doing?" 
  • The Mid-Point (38 to 45 years old): Around 40, we might make an invisible turn as we realize half of our life has passed. We begin to wonder - really wonder - if what we're doing is worth doing. It becomes increasingly important to feel that what we're doing is meaningful.
  • Age 50 Assessment (50 to 55 years old): We focus even more on the time left to us, and realize pursuing a meaningful life is the only way to live. We begin to assess and integrate our experiences into a revised career vision, often deciding to make a last push to a career goal.
  • Pre-Retirement Transition (60 to 65 years old): For many, retirement feels without direction or purpose. In that case, the challenge is to find elements that add to our lives, compensating for the losses that begin to occur in work, relationships, and health. We have to focus on staying connected and feeling that we're making a contribution.

With all that said, ask yourself:

  • What decisions did I make at my previous turning points? Did those decisions take me closer or farther away from my true talents and dreams?
  • Which turning point am I at now, and am I making the right decisions?

Step 3: ASSESS what your hard-wired, natural talents are, what you most need, what you really want, and what you want to offer the world.  A Personal Career Vision comes through the structured exploration of 7 critical Personal Career Vision factors answering 3 primary questions.

What is my CORE? (How am I hard-wired?)
Your CORE defines how you are essentially hard-wired – your natural abilities and personal style traits. Using these traits are the requirements of a fulfilling work life. If your work makes it impossible for you to express these essential aspects of yourself, self-actualization will be just about impossible.

The best way to understand your CORE is through a “triangulation” of objective testing, reflection, and external validation.

  • Objective Testing: Results from a sound instrument, such as the Highlands Ability Battery, Johnson O' Connor testing, and an interests/personality assessment, such as CareerFitNow, can help you identify your “role in life”. Are you supposed to be a “Doer” or “Creator” in your work?
  • Reflection: Look over your job history and identify themes that run through the jobs you’ve loved and those you’ve hated? Does the objective testing help to explain why those themes exist?
  • External Validation: What do others who know you well suggest are your greatest, natural talents?

What is my AMBITION? (What do really I want?)
No Personal Career Vision can exist without getting intimately in touch with what you really want now and in the future. Your AMBITION builds off of your CORE and paints a picture of your ideal destination.

If you know where you want to go, you'll have a much easier time getting there.

Make a list on paper:

  • What time do you want to start work? What do you want to wear to work? What organizational style do you find most compatible? What setting? Profit vs. non-profit? Summers off?
  • What are your lifetime goals? Retiring early? Becoming a homeowner?
    Imagine being on your death bed. What are the things you must do or achieve in your life to feel satisfied? Becoming prominent in your field? Write a book? Make a difference in the world somehow?
  • Then ask yourself, which of these are important enough to wait, create, or fight for? Which of these will be a part of my Personal Career Vision?

What are my TRADEMARK ASSETS? (What do I want to offer the world?)
Your assets make up your competitive advantage. They are your source of success and meaning as well as your greatest value to the world.

Think about:

  • What are you really interested in? Do you look forward to reading the trade magazines for your job? Or dread it? If you were stranded on a desert island and could get one magazine subscription (maybe delivered by a pelican?), what topic would you choose that magazine to be about?
  • What gift (or gifts) do you have that you haven’t fully acknowledged?
  • What makes you more naturally suited to a profession than 95% of the population because you bring a unique passion, experience, or talent to the table?
  • What do you know a lot about, or know a little about and want to know more about?
  • What do you really love doing? Think about those tasks where time flies by and you don’t even notice because you’re in a state of “flow.”

While the tools and information for achieving answers to the above are the core of the Oxford Program, this article will get you started. Armed with this knowledge, you will be able to have a direction for your life and recognize, attract, and attain your Natural Vocation.

How would you like to no longer need that morning alarm clock since you're excited about leaping out of bed to do what you love?

Learn More about our Career Change Counseling Program for adults

About the Author: Steve Bohler is the founder and head coach of the Oxford Program career programs. 

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