Choosing to embark on a new career path is a difficult decision that can be confusing and frightening. I know; I’ve done it several times now. After graduating from college, I spent years bouncing around varying fields that interested me, never landing anywhere that made me feel happy or fulfilled. Luckily, I found Career Path when I was considering my fourth career change, and finally realizing that I needed help identifying what I really wanted. I was afraid of picking yet another occupation that didn’t suit my skills or interests. I recognized that I needed to approach my next career change differently, but was overwhelmed with the seemingly endless possibilities. I felt both helpless and hopeless. It was as though I were lost in the woods; I knew that I was in the wrong place but was unwilling to move for fear I would merely end up deeper in the forest.
Finally, I became frustrated and desperate enough to call for help. I didn’t know what to expect from a career counselor, and was hesitant to get my hopes up. I didn’t understand what a stranger could tell me about my interests and skills that I didn’t already know. What I quickly found, though, was that my counselor wasn’t interested in telling me anything. Her process was to help me discover new things about myself through careful analysis of my personality. Rather than focusing on what field I wanted to be in, for the first time I was focusing on what work environments I could thrive in. I learned that while some people work best in a highly structured environment with detailed direction, I instead need a flexible environment in which I am free to get the work done in my own way. I began to see that although some people are highly motivated by the opportunity to make more money, others seek jobs that allow them to meet a wide variety of people or stimulate their sense of adventure, and I can only be happy in a situation where the work I do aligns closely with my own values. Counseling helped me envision what my ideal workday would look like, and then helped me find a way to apply that routine to something I love.
This, to me, is the part of choosing a career path that is most important, and also most often neglected by those of us who are in unhappy work situations. The field we choose and the work we do are secondary to the style of work we enjoy. Each of us is unique, and each of us prefers working in a certain way. Going against that preference can exhaust us and make us miserable, no matter how much we love the end results of our work.
What is most integral to the joy I’ve found in my new career as a freelance editor isn’t that I get to indulge my love of reading. It’s that I get to be my own boss, working with clients and projects I pick, in a quiet, solitary environment. My new career is just taking off, and now that I’ve finally taken the first steps away from my spot in the woods, I’m starting to see more light between the trees. I know that this time, I really am headed in the right direction. Getting career counseling wasn’t like finding a sign to point me down a certain path, a map neatly highlighting my possible routes, or even a tour guide to walk me out of the woods. Instead, going through the counseling process was like taking a course in outdoor survival skills; it gave me the tools and confidence I needed to choose my own route out of the woods.
Laura Kendall Zimmermann is an editor and owner of LKZ Publishing Services