As children, we hear it all the time — “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Yet the answer to that seemingly simple question is not always clear, even when we reach adulthood. Many factors influence our professional paths, including our natural strengths and talents, our families’ wishes, our own hopes and dreams for the future, and unexpected opportunities that arise along the way — or not. It can be difficult to distinguish outer pressure to succeed from inner ambition.
Even if you are firmly established in your career, you still might wonder if you’re on the right path or if there is something more you could be doing with your life. After all, an occupation and a career are not necessarily one and the same, and working hard toward a long-held professional goal doesn’t always bring the fulfillment you might expect. Have you found your calling — the career path that’s right for you? Or are you still searching for work that will satisfy your inner need to feel you’re doing something important with your life? Read on to gain insight and predict whether you have found your true life’s calling.
If you haven’t yet found the career that’s right for you, there will be clear signs that your current job is out of sync with your true personality, skills or interests. These signs might include one or more of the following:
· You have never stuck with a job for longer than a couple of years (or months).
· In college, you waited until the last minute to declare your major, and even then you kept second-guessing yourself.
· You’ve been reprimanded at work for slacking off — stretching lunch hours into full afternoons, for example, or spending on-the-clock time emailing friends instead of colleagues.
· You have dutifully completed an academic or training program geared toward a certain profession in order to live up to familial expectations.
· Your friends and family often comment, “I always said you should have been a lawyer,” or, “Your life is so colorful, you should write a book!” — and some part of you agrees with them.
· You have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning to get to work on time.
· When interrupted during the workday, you either welcome the chance to procrastinate or resent the intrusion since it’s so difficult to get back on track.
· When you were young, you knew just what you wanted to be when you grew up, but you gave up your dream for something more practical.
· When people ask what you do for a living, you answer with reluctance or plenty of qualifications (“Well, this is my current job, but someday I hope to do...”).
· When you think ahead ten years, the idea of still working in your current job or field feels distinctly unsettling.
· You think of your work as something you do, not something you are.
If you have, in fact, found your true calling, the signs are clear — even if you’re the only one who believes in the path you’ve chosen. These signs might include one or more of the following:
· You’ve stuck with the same company or occupation through thick and thin, despite other opportunities that have arisen along the way; you just can’t imagine leaving your current work behind.
· You’ve known what you wanted to do with your life since you were very young — exactly what you’re doing now.
· Your current work is different from what you used to imagine yourself doing, but somehow, it feels right.
· You enjoy your job enough that you would keep it even if you had to take a pay cut.
· You don’t consider your work to be “work” — it’s that fun.
· Even when you have a tough day on the job, you feel fulfilled, or at least confident that you did your best.
· You have a deep conviction that your work matters; you are contributing something important to the world or to your community.
· When people ask what you do for a living, you’re proud to tell them.
· You identify with your work, thinking of it not just as something you do, but who you are.
· When you think ahead ten years, you imagine yourself working in the same job or field you’re in now, and the idea brings a deep sense of satisfaction.
· You love your job — plain and simple.
If the information above has you wondering whether to stick with your current occupation or find something that is a closer match for your skills or personality, that’s a sign in itself that you haven’t yet found your true vocation. The next step in predicting which career is right for you is to consider your natural strengths and interests. Do you gravitate toward leadership roles, or do you do your best work when following someone else’s direction? What about teamwork — do you enjoy collaboration or do you need autonomy? Do you think of yourself as a creative type, a problem-solver, a people person? Once you have identified your gifts and your professional “style,” you can consider what type of work hours and environment you prefer. Relaxed, competitive, fast-paced, self-determined? The answers to these questions will steer you in the right direction, toward your professional destiny.
One last idea worth noting: It can be difficult to follow your true path when doing so might mean accepting a more limited income for your family or facing the disapproval of someone whose opinion you value. But when it comes to your life’s work, taking a risk — financial or otherwise — is sometimes the smartest thing you can do. Only you can predict whether that time is now.