Finding Your Perfect Career

Random Observation/Comment #278: Greed is such a terrible thing – especially greed for money. It causes so much pain and suffering around the world for no reason.  Money is such a terrible thing, except when you have a lot of it.

Pensively looking out... looking forward... always forward

When I refer to the “perfect career”, I mean the path you take through your life giving back to society what you’ve learned. It’s not a cookie-cut path you follow or even one that you can predict. A career is more of something you sit down when you’re 50 and reminisce about with your other 50-year-old friends.

Our generation (the Gen-Y) believes that you get a new and better job every 2 years with 30% raises and ultimate ruling power over everyone in the firm.  They like gadgets, technology, and everything instantaneous.  They’re impatient because they grow up in a generation that is always connected and never truly needs to work to find information.  Don’t get me wrong – it’s a good thing, but there is something to be learned from going to a library and spending an hour reading tons of books and looking through those wooden catalog boxes at public libraries to get an answer.  Anyway, I digress – I can rant about the generation gap in another blog post.

I’ve organized this so that you can choose your side on all of these factors that come with each career, and then hopefully you’ll be able to narrow down your choices.  Here are the four main considerations for a career:

  • Money – Yes it’s shallow, but you need to figure out for yourself “how much is enough?”  Some people have big dreams of weekend trips to Miami clubs or multiple houses in exotic foreign countries.  If this is the lifestyle you aim to achieve, you’ll probably need a lot more money.  Actually, even a regular person’s dream of owning a moderate-sized house and having their kids grow up in a nice neighborhood with a good school system are having trouble saving up for this future? What about their college tuition? What about your college loans that you’re still paying off? What about saving money for your kid’s first house down payment? What about that yellow Porsche you want when you’re 40?
  • Recognition – Believe it or not, some people like to follow a career that does some good for society.  They sacrifice pay because they know they are making a difference in the world when they wake up every day. Take teachers, for example: bad pay, terribly ungrateful children, and teacher drama (or at least from what I watch on those TV shows… like Glee).  If you want that warm fuzzy feeling when you tell someone what you do for a living, you should really focus on this part.  An addendum to this would be meaning and fulfillment in which you may not be able to speak about your career, but you still find this intense belief in personal contribution.
  • Work/Life balance – A stable 9 to 5 is okay, but this could swing both ways.  You could either want to work yourself crazy because you’re super ambitious and would like this career to be the essence of your life, or you could want to work flexible hours so you can have enough time to indulge in your side projects and hobbies. If you can’t tell by all the side projects, this is rather important to me. I’ll work hard so I can play hard.
  • The Challenge – How much do you like to face new problems and use that creative brain of yours? Maybe the job is physically challenging and you’re just pushing your limits as a human being. Regardless, you need to ask yourself if you’d like to work outside your comfort zone and try to stretch your abilities.  The other route would be to believe in a cushier job that requires less than what you’ve studied in college.

On top of all of these 4 considerations, you have the choice of working lifestyles that fit your personality best:

  • Teamwork VS Individual Contributor – Do you prefer working in teams or working by yourself? Coders typically code by themselves for stretches of time, but there’s a level of teamwork that’s required to bring a big project together. It may seem obvious that you need a team-based system to survive in the new world projects, but I find many designers, artists, or writers need their personal space to build their master pieces.  It may be a team based effort with the end product, but it takes a lot of little individual contributions to make it all work.
  • Strategic VS Tactical – Do you prefer creating something new or maintaining/improving existing systems?  Everyone likes to build new things, but it’s a very hard job to find something that doesn’t already have an existing system. You can have projects to consolidate existing applications to be strategic, but most projects are just maintaining something that works.  It takes too much money and effort to rebuild something to get the same functionality 3 months later.
  • Leading VS Following – Are you brave enough to lead a group to victory or failure? Can you take ownership of projects and see its result through patience and vigilance?  Are you the one that wants to be second in command so you don’t take all the fall?  It may sound biased to build a bunch of leaders, but you can’t have too many chefs in a kitchen.  I’m just saying that it’s okay if you rather follow because you know someone is a better motivator or strategic planner than you are.

Lastly, everyone has specific strong points about themselves that can be honed:

  • Numbers – Are you comfortable analyzing spread sheets? Do you work well with patterns and extrapolating data from different relationships? If you are, you have probably reached this far in the text.
  • Writing – Are you good at conveying ideas on paper.  It’s a very difficult skill to organize thoughts and really make someone understand your point of view from a clear perspective. When writing in business, it’s difficult to be concise and informative to your audience.  You can actually be lacking in any skill except for this one.  It is imperative you are able to at least write politely and informatively to your co-workers or clients.
  • Design/Creativity – Are you an artist and do you think outside of the box? Most start-up tech companies look for this quality above all else because you’re contributing with the randomness of interesting approaches to problems. They don’t want someone who will give the textbook answer because they’re all regurgitations of existing ideas.  They want someone who will give new and interesting alternatives to answers and bring this creativity to their product/service.
  • People Skills – Are you good at reading people and knowing which buttons to push?  This is less about being a good communicator and being social in a networking setting. You MUST be good at being a little bit social to be effective in any job (see every post I’ve written about networking and toastmasters). The people I’m talking about that really have people skills are those that are just fun to be around and can manipulate you without you knowing you’re being manipulated. It’s so subtle and incredibly useful to be able to speak with that suave and swagger.

These are very generic questions, but one should be able to answer these and cross out career paths that do not fit them.  If you’re good at all of these, chances are that you have found a good job and you’ll be set to looking into other things to make you busy. I’ll write another blog post for those who have too much time on their hands.

Now that you’ve considered these questions, I really haven’t told you much of what you already don’t know.  That’s because I can’t tell you what you should do with your career.  It’s a decision that you have to make on a personal basis and come to terms with what’s important to yourself.

Dream and ask questions. Network with people and ask what they’ve done with their lives. Everyone’s career story is different and everyone is always looking for improvements on their current situation. Their story may provide insight on what you find “cool” or “exciting” or “badass.”  Whatever it may be, remember that your journey will be different and you’re doing something wrong if you’re following someone’s footsteps.  Unless you just want to be this idol of yours, you’re not going out of your comfort zone enough and you’re not embracing change to see a whole new world.  Design your own career and make the best out of the cards you’re dealt.

~See Lemons Design his own Career