Choosing a career is not what usually causes working professionals to lose sleep at night. Rather, it’s choosing the right career.
There’s no shortage of articles out there giving us feedback on what to do to find, evaluate or change our career paths. It can feel overwhelming trying to find the job that perfectly aligns with your passions and skills.
And for college students, well, unless you start on a very specific path (engineering, anyone?) and stay on it, it’s really hard to say whether or not your major will guide you in the right direction. Case in point: I majored in sociology, and ended up working in web design and marketing.
If I had a time machine and paid a visit to About-to-Graduate Me, one of the many things I would do is impart some lessons based on the things I’ve learned about what a career really is. I had a lot of misconceptions about choosing my career, and I had to change my mindset about what was in store for me after graduation.
More than I believe in circumstance, luck and my own relationship building abilities impacting my career growth, I believe that God has guided me through my unique (and at times tumultuous) professional journey. If you’re currently feeling stuck in your career, or struggling to get it off the ground, then perhaps these lessons may provide you with some guidance as you fight to determine where you see yourself in five years.
1) Make a humble assessment of your abilities
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.
Most people don’t like admitting that they see themselves more highly than they ought. Being humble sounds great, but the reality is that when we’re only out for ourselves (as we tend to be when blinded by the relentless pursuit of our dream careers), true humility is not easily attained.
Recently, a person I respect with an established career told me that the most important place to start when choosing your career is making a humble and honest assessment of your abilities. This means that before you hit Craigslist and start shooting your resume at all the job listings that you feel you deserve, you need to take some time sorting out what it is you’re actually good at.
It’s also important to find what you are actually passionate about. This can be a bit harder than it sounds – it’s easy to spend an hour writing out all your favorite hobbies and not be any closer to discovering what direction to go in career-wise.
Consider the following resources as you assess your abilities:
2) You need to be willing to start small
“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
As a follow up to the last point, it’s crucial that we understand this biblical concept when it comes to our careers. My first job out of college was not glamorous. I worked as an Internet Product Support Specialist and assisted small business owners with the challenges they faced day to day using our products and services.
Or, to put it bluntly (and truthfully), I worked in a call center. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?
I’ve talked to a lot of people who believe that they need a career change, and that’s fine, assuming they’ve really thought through whether or not they need a change, or are simply bored/tired of the drudgery that can come with having any job (more on that later). However, these same people also tell me that they’re not willing to settle for anything less than a mid-tier position. Entry level is out of the question.
If you really want to make a dramatic change in your career, or are reaching for something you’re not quite qualified for yet, you need to set your mind to the notion that you won’t make it to the top if you never learn to appreciate the bottom.
In my case, I started in the call center, paid my dues, and eventually moved my way up in the company to other more exciting opportunities. Starting small helped me make connections and learn the fundamentals of the company, which made me a much more attractive candidate for internal openings because I had proven loyalty and a willingness to work hard.
3) Being friendly really matters
34 So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. 35 Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”
John 13:34-35 (NLT)
This one may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people don’t realize how disinterested they can come across in conversation. One of the best interview tips I ever got was to smile often (did you know that smiling relieves stress and has been shown to even help you get promoted?) and to express a lot of interest in my interviewer (how they arrived that their position, why they were passionate about the company, etc).
Jesus knew that the best way for us to make an impact on the world was to be friendly to people. People are attracted to friendliness. As you’re trying to figure out your career, don’t get so lost in your thoughts that you neglect to be interested in the people around you.
One of the promotions I mentioned earlier came from making a number of friends in a department I wanted to be a part of. I wasn’t that targeted or intentional in my pursuit of their friendship; they just happened to be the people I found to be most interesting and fun to spend time with. Eventually, when a position opened up, I was the first to be recommended for it simply because of how many people I had to vouch for me as a person (despite lacking a number of requisite skills). That job was a game changer for me. I am where I am now because of the experience that came from that role, and it was a job I didn’t even know to look for initially.
Be interested in people. Be curious. But above all, be friendly.
4) Learn to stick it out
3 We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
Romans 5:3-5 (NLT)
In your search for the right career, you will encounter a number of rough patches. Rough patches include jobs that you have for a short term that you don’t enjoy, bosses who aggravate you, workloads that are more than you feel you can endure. It’s during these times that God wants to develop your character.
Character is not something you can get from reading a blog (not even this one!). It’s something that comes from enduring difficult circumstances, or pushing through challenges. I like this scripture in Romans a lot because it details an exciting progression:
Problems/trials –> endurance –> character –> hope
It reminds me a lot of our career searches. It’s difficult to endure challenging positions, but the result of doing so will lead to you ultimately becoming a better person.
This is not to say that you should stay in a job you absolutely hate. Rather, it’s acknowledging that no job is always going to feel like your dream job. By definition, work is work. You’ll have hard times. You have to do a lot of soul-searching and serious thought and prayer before deciding to jump into a new career.
Get excited about developing endurance and character before moving on to your next role, because learning to stick it out when it’s hard is definitely something you can take with you to your next job.
5) Your career is not what makes you secure
15 Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. 16 For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. 17 And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.
1 John 2:15-17 (NLT)
One more important thing to keep in mind as you hone in on your ideal job: you are not your career.
I see this a lot living in Silicon Valley – people move here for a startup or to join one of the big tech companies, dropping all social activities and free time in order to give 100% to what they’re building. While it’s admirable that they are so passionate, it can also be a dangerous precedent to set for the rest of us.
This is one area where we really need to fight to believe in the Bible more than what we think we see around us. If you approach your career search with the mentality that your career is what is going to fulfill you and finally give you that feeling of security you were looking for (that “ah, everything is going to be ok!” feeling), then you’ve got another thing coming.When you measure yourself by the world’s standards (when you should be debt-free, when you should have a house, etc) you will constantly find yourself feeling like you don’t measure up.
Instead, let faith guide your job search. Don’t let the world’s standards (Silicon Valley, tech blogs, name your vice) influence where you think you should be in life. There will always someone with a better position to make yours look less worthy. Trusting God means trusting that he cares for you, has your best interest in mind, and will lead you to where you need to be that’s best for your life.