How to choose your career path

Steps to help you discover who you really are and what your purpose in life is

By Angela Civitella

Previously published May 20, 2020

How long has it been since you asked yourself what you want to be when you grow up? If you haven’t considered the idea since high school, then you may have settled into a job that is not fulfilling your professional aspirations, or your purpose.

Each of us has particular talents that, when expressed or exercised, make the world a better place. Most likely you enjoy doing these things, and you find that people respond well to you when you do them. Perhaps they’re things you gravitate towards during out-of-hours activities, and that people respect you for.

When you develop these talents as far as you can, you can make your greatest possible contribution to the world and enjoy personal and professional satisfaction that goes along with this.

Your career direction journey

The process of uncovering what you are meant to do, that is finding a career direction, is a journey. It starts with discovering the essential “you”: the person who truly resides behind the facades, defences, and stresses of everyday life.

Once unmasked, your journey continues with specific career exploration and identification of a career that allows you to make good use of your talents. And it moves on with a focused job or career move, in which you identify the jobs you want and put yourself in the best possible position to get them. In fact, this journey never really ends because work itself is all about change, growth, development, and reinvention.

The process of uncovering what you are meant to do, that is finding a career direction, is a journey.

By taking a talent-based approach to your career search right from the start, you keep yourself heading toward the right career even when the actual direction shifts over time. This approach consists of sequentially answering three questions:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I want to do?
  3. How do I get hired?

1. Discovering who you really are

The first question to answer is “Who am I?”

We’ll take two approaches to answer this – firstly asking you to explore your talents, and secondly using psychometric tests to explore your preferences.

Exploring your talents

First of all, consider your answers to the following questions:

  • When have you been most committed, passionate and enthusiastic?
  • When have you been most creative?
  • When have you been most sure of yourself and your decisions?
  • What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?
  • When have other people considered you to be most successful?
  • When have you enjoyed your work most?
  • What talents were you relying on, and using, in these situations?
  • For what would you take a very strong stand?
  • What about the world puzzles or disturbs you that you could make an impact on?
  • What jobs do you like to do at work when you have a choice?
  • What activities are you drawn towards out of work?
  • If money were no concern, what would you be doing?

Brainstorm each of these questions, and then use your answers to identify the top 3 talents that you most use when you’re successful. Rank these in order.

Personality inventories

Next, we’ll look at using personality inventories as a way of looking at your preferred way of working relative to other people.

With personality testing, you learn what you have in common with other people. You also discover potential points of friction with people of other personality types. While no personality type is good or bad, it does help you discover what motivates and energizes you. This, in turn, empowers you to seek those elements in the work you choose to do and avoid the things that frustrate and demotivate you.

‘While no personality type is good or bad, it does help you discover what motivates and energizes you.’

As you explore your personality you come to realize that who you are is really determined by the choices you make. You choose to react one way over another or to prefer one thing to another. You can take this self-awareness one step further by examining why you make the choices you do. In psychological terms, what is your payoff for making the choices you make?

When you know the “why” it is easier to see how you can become fulfilled through the work you do.

Write a “Who I am” statement

Now draw this together into a simple written statement of who you are. This is an important step toward self-discovery and defining your purpose. Use it to answer the following questions:

  • What your talents and strengths are.
  • The talents you achieve most with.
  • The activities you get the most satisfaction from.
  • The type of activity the psychometrics you’ve completed guide you towards.

When you’re doing this, be careful not just to look back nostalgically at simple jobs where you performed well – after all, many different people could perform well in these situations, and this gives you little information.

Focus instead on more difficult areas where you made a positive difference, and where others didn’t.

2. Finding out what you want to do

Now that you know who you are, the next stage is to think about what you want to do.

For your life to be balanced and fulfilled, your career must be aligned with who you are. Otherwise, you’ll be unhappy with work, and you’ll probably underachieve. After all, ill-fitting jobs demand different talents from the ones that you have. If you try to pursue a career path that is at odds with your values, your beliefs, and your way of seeing the world, then you’ll struggle constantly and be under a great deal of stress and pressure.

‘For your life to be balanced and fulfilled, your career must be aligned with who you are.’

The starting point is to do some brainstorming on the jobs that you think would suit who you are. You then need to spend some time researching the top careers you’ve identified.

Be careful when using career trends to identify career possibilities. The desire to pursue an up and coming career may overshadow your mission and purpose. This will only lead to dissatisfaction down the road.

Also, be aware that there’s a natural desire from people within an industry to inflate its prospects (to ensure a good supply of new recruits in the future). Take official figures with a pinch of salt!

3. Answering “How do I get hired?”

In this last phase, you answer, “What am I going to do to get hired?”

With your “Who I am” statement and your research as your compass, now you need to actually map your progress. Many people tend to move from their purpose right into job search mode. This is a mistake because unless you have a plan, it is far too easy to get derailed by a lucrative job offer, an opening that Uncle Vinny has, a job that sounds really glamorous, or a whole host of other distractions.

Develop your plan first and you’re more likely to get where you want to go, faster.

  • Start by writing down the career you want. What is your long-term vision for yourself in terms of your career?
  • Write down the steps you need to take or the things you need to accomplish, in order to get there. What qualifications should you get? What experience should you build? Which organization will give you the best start?
  • Go back and identify contingency plans: Do a “what if” analysis on your goals. Ex: “If you don’t get accepted to grad school this year, what will you do?”

The more contingency plans you have the more likely you will be able to survive the inevitable setbacks. You will also have much more confidence in yourself despite the bumps in the road.

Recognize that the more opportunities you have, the better the job that you’ll be able to choose. Concentrate on creating as many opportunities as possible!

Now you are free to pursue your dream career with confidence. There are certainly no guarantees but with the right amount of planning and a sufficient dose of reality, the career that you are meant for will materialize.

Signs a career direction evaluation may be in order:

  • Your job lacks challenge and excitement for you.
  • You are feeling unappreciated.
  • Your promotional and/or development opportunities are limited.
  • You are no longer having fun.
  • Learning is replaced with routine.
  • You sense that your skills and talents are being wasted.
  • You are suffering from stress or depression.

‘Uncovering your true self and your purpose is heavy, emotional work and you may have to go through this process a few times in the span of your working life.’

Key points

Finding career direction is a process. The more effort you put into the planning stages the better your results. Uncovering your true self and your purpose is heavy emotional work and you may have to go through this process a few times in the span of your working life. The effort, however, is certainly worth it when you end up with a clear sense of the direction your career should be taking.

Image: Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via

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Angela Civitella, a certified management business coach with more than 20 years of proven ability as a negotiator, strategist, and problem-solver creates sound and solid synergies with those in quest of improving their leadership and team-building skills. You can reach Angela at 514 254-2400 • •

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