Careers move in cycles. And with professionals averaging seven or more careers over a lifetime, chances are you’ll find yourself moving through another cycle soon.
The question, “What do you want to be?” is no longer reserved for high school seniors, but comes up again and again – early career, mid-career, pre-retirement and many moments in between. With the market changing so rapidly due to technology advances, globalization and economic shifts, even if you don’t intend to pivot, you may be forced to switch fields, industries or companies at some point.
So, the real question may be, “What do you want to be NEXT?” However, this is pretty limiting today. With hybrid roles, portfolio careers, side hustles and a variety of other work structures, it’s less about “being” something and more about “doing” many things.
This question has a lot of benefits over the old standard:
- It doesn’t box you into a title. The structure that a title seems to offer can be seductive, but often misleading. Much depends on the industry, company size and market for a title to be an accurate description of any set of responsibilities. Yet, humans prefer organization and labels, so titles often become a go-to staple when in a career hunt. By asking yourself what problems you want to solve, you step out of the box and can focus on tasks and outcomes versus titles.
- It forces you to consider the current market. There’s no way you can know what you’ll be doing 10 years from now. The market shifts too quickly and many roles available today will either be much different or eliminated altogether a decade from now. When you’re focused on solving a particular problem, there’s a good chance it’s a current (or ongoing) challenge that has viable job opportunities.
- It removes status as a consideration. Since careers are so tied into identity, it can be tough to separate our interests from our desire for approval. Whether it’s your own ego tugging at you or external pressure from loved ones or society, targeting a specific problem can take level, pay and other status factors out of the equation when making a career decision. You may ultimately decide to choose a role for the money over your interests, but at least you’ll have considered all options in the early stages of your career exploration.
- It encourages you to think outside of a traditional path. When making a career change, many get stuck in the mentality of “what can I do with my skills” versus what do I actually want to do. Chances are, you have many transferable skills that translate into many different careers, so don’t limit your exploration to traditional career ladders that are becoming less relevant. It’s more effective to consider what skills you want to use in your next role, and what outcomes you want to produce, rather than just “what am I good at?” Practicalities have their place, but even if you end up in a peripheral role to your ideal job, you’ll still come closer than you would have if you remained stuck in a rigid trajectory.
- You don’t need to know every career to come up with options. When exploring careers, it’s common to get stuck early on in the process by convincing yourself that you have no idea what roles even exist. With over 12,000 titles in the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, there’s little chance that any one person has heard of even a fraction of these positions. When asking yourself what problem you want to solve, you don’t need to know what job titles exist to start exploring where your interests lie.
- There’s usually more than one answer. Many fear making a mistake when choosing a career, which puts a lot of pressure on you to get it right. When you focus on the problems you want to solve, you realize there are a lot of possibilities that fit your skills, interests and the market needs. Don’t fall for the “follow your passion” advice. You likely have many passions – some that are better suited as a profession, and others better left as hobbies that you can enjoy instead of being tied to the stress of a paycheck. The question “what problem do you want to solve” generates ideas without being as intimidating.
- It gets at your values. Our values are the guideposts of our behaviors. Being in a job that clashes with what we value can lead to unnecessary stress and ultimately, burnout. While no job is perfect, a role that aligns with (or at least doesn’t go against) what’s important to you, will be more sustainable and satisfying. When asking yourself “what problem you want to solve,” your values will automatically come into play in your answers.
Selecting a new career can feel overwhelming and ambiguous, but understanding there isn’t one right answer and that you only need to focus on your next career (as opposed to the next 20 years) helps to alleviate the pressure. While there won’t always be a need for FAX machine repair technicians, there will always be problems in the world to solve that create interesting job opportunities.
Reposted from: Forbes.com