I hear a lot of unfounded ideas of how to find a job that is right for you. Nothing breaks my heart more than people accidentally getting in their own way! And that’s exactly what career myths are: lies we’ve been told that are keeping up from achieving happiness.
So far I’ve dispelled several myths about careers: changing careers is risky, you can’t make a living doing what you love, you always need to have a backup plan, you can get your dream job through a job site, and others. Today, I tackle a new one.
Myth #9: The important question is “What’s the best thing for me to do?”
Once we realize that we are unhappy at a certain job or career, we often turn to the question, “Well if it’s not this, then what’s the best thing for me to do?” Here “thing” could be organization, job, career, or another path altogether.
We’re so focused on said object that we completely skip over the adjective: “best.” What a sneaky word. Humans love it. We want the best option—why settle for less? With the goal of finding the “best,” we’ve added extra weight, stress, and work onto an already difficult task. Humans tend to lean toward optimizing, but it’s been proven again and again that seeking the best actually stagnates decision-making, often leaving us in worse positions—and we feel worse about it.
Here are a few reasons why fretting over the “best” option is holding you back:
- Too many options. When “best” leads the charge, we’ve switched to decision-making mode. We consider too many options in our search. We’ll sit at a table with a pen and paper and come up with a list of our options. And the list keeps growing, as does the anxiety. Too many options creates a panic and dread, and I don’t know about you, but I don’t make the best decisions while panic, stressed, and full of dread.
- Flawed answers. While we’re in our list-making mode, we’ll start mining for clues in our past for answers for our future. “Well, I liked coloring as a kid, maybe I should go into graphic design? But I’m also good at keep teams on task, so maybe I should be a project manager? But I also like working one-on-one with clients, so maybe I should be a consultant?” And on and on. But this isn’t how we should make our decisions. Our memories and feelings are flawed.
- Decision overload. We make, according to some studies, about 2,000 decisions every hour. And when we’re making big decisions, it’s actually a bunch of little decisions as well. That’s too much! Humans have a sweet spot of having too much information and too many choices.
- There is no such thing as best. It makes you cringe a little, doesn’t it? No, there’s no one perfect way to live your life. You’re too complex for that! But sure, you have a handful of potential paths that would make you equally yet differently very happy. Good enough really is good enough.
Here’s what to do instead:
- First, don’t ask yourself anything. Asking is thinking, and thinking isn’t action. Take notes first. Get into problem-solving mode, not decision-making mode. Track where your energy, engagement, and states of flow come from throughout your days—before, during, and after work. Do this for a couple of weeks, three if possible, including weekends.
- Limit your brainstorming. Once you see what keeps you energized, engaged, and focused, then create three—and only three—roles based off what you already experience. Once you’ve laid out what career would energize and challenge you, go bigger. And then create three—and only three—possible life plans. Sketch them out, and include big life plans too (vacation, moving, volunteer, family, progress, etc.).
- Then start doing. Okay, so you’ve come up with three possible paths to take. Start taking them! Find out what it would actually be like to switch to another organization—ask to meet with someone who works at a company that’s piqued your interest. Or see if you’d actually enjoy the work—volunteer, audit a class, or shadow someone you know. Leaving the fretting and panicking for another day. Focus on doing and then evaluating, doing and then evaluating some more.
Most importantly, know that you’re not alone when it comes to knowing what your best life could be. None of us knows. It’s unknowable. But we can take the steps to create a pretty damn good life. Now that’s doable.