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3 things to try when you’re unclear about your career direction

Over the course of the past few weeks, I’ve had a flurry of phone calls from people who feel that they’ve lost their way. A few are in senior leadership roles and they feel that their lives are lacking purpose, a couple are people who own businesses who are unsure about what’s next and another is a lawyer who has come through an extensive period of study only to discover that she doesn’t love the career path she’s chosen.

If you looked at each of these people from the outside, you’d see them as very successful. I’m guessing that many of their colleagues and acquaintances don’t even know that they’re struggling.

Like all of my clients, they are intelligent, capable people. They care about finding work they love, doing a job well and they want to make a difference. They’re also practical and they know that it isn’t always possible to find a career path that meets every one of their needs.

When you’re not in love with your work and you watch a clip like this one (which I love, by the way), you end up feeling conflicted. In an ideal world, all of us would find our dream role and we’d flourish in it. But it may not be entirely feasible to pursue your ultimate role right now. If it feels like too much of a challenge to upend your career, try these tips for now instead.

1. Stop believing if it’s a cop out if you’re not completely in love with what you do

Many of us dream of living the life of an artisan or escaping to the country to live sustainably but the reality is that even the most ideal roles and the most idyllic sounding lifestyle choices have their downsides.

It’s draining being under financial pressure, it’s challenging to have to constantly self-promote when you’re running your own show and it can be very isolating working on your own.

If it’s unrealistic to pursue the role of your dreams right now, find a role where you enjoy a reasonable percentage of what you do (70% is good!), try to feel a sense of connection with the people around you and do your best to achieve a degree of balance so you have time for other things you enjoy in life. You may also find that this is a time where you can set yourself up financially to buy more freedom down the track.

2. Choose to live with purpose today

As I wrote in this article last year, you don’t need to be saving the world to be living with purpose, but at the very least, you want to know what your purpose is and find even small ways to engage in your life in more purposeful ways.

If you’re not clear about your purpose, start by thinking about your values, identify your natural strengths (these are the things you enjoy doing and that also energise you) and consider how you’d like to impact the people around you.

Then, regardless of what you’re doing right now, try to do it with purpose. Even if it’s only in small ways for now.

3. Be curious and keep exploring

Don’t give up on finding a role that you love more than what you’re doing right now. If you’re really uncertain about what’s next, make a commitment to stay curious.

  • Carry a notebook around with you every day and jot down ideas that grab your attention or spark your curiosity. Make a pointed effort to explore each of your new ideas a little further.
  • Get in touch with someone who performs a role you have an interest in and ask if you can chat to them about it.
  • Read up about emerging industries and learn more about opportunities that you might like to pursue in the future.
  • Consider how you can future-proof your career by committing to life-long learning.
  • Join Meet Up groups for startups, in the tech space or for creative entrepreneurs.

Maybe most importantly, keep at it. Consider the process of finding your career direction another masters degree in itself. It’s time-consuming and effortful but at the end of the day, it’s one of the most important areas of study you’ll embark on.

I'm Kate James and the owner of Total Balance. I work with people who care about living purposeful, creative lives. My clients want to clarify their personal values, identify their strengths and learn about how they can make a difference in the world in their own unique way.

I run workshops and retreats in Melbourne, Bali and Byron Bay to give you the chance to escape the noise of everyday to discover what really matters to you.