How to follow your own career path

After my post last week I was chatting with my friend and we drifted into the topic of how to stand up for yourself with integrity and compassion and admit to yourself, and to other people, you love the thing that really makes your heart sing, and in doing so, you'll be much happier. In other words, how to follow your own path instead of what’s expected of you. 

Many people believe that they have to do things a certain way. They have to go to a good school, get a good job, settle down and have a family and live the life that has been set for them. Or at the very least, live their life the same way that everyone else does. 

The weight of career expectations

I see it a fair amount in career conversations. Someone might tell me that they wanted to be a painter, an actor, a dancer, usually something creative and how they didn't because someone in their life disapproved and so the person did something different e.g. became a doctor, accountant - often something 'professional', something that others 'approve' of, which can be bragged about to friends and family. 

I remember in my early days of being a careers adviser sitting opposite a client in a hotel meeting room and he burst into tears. He talked about the pressure upon him and how he hated his job and career. We explored what he might like to do instead and if it was a viable option. We left it with the possibilities that he could create. A couple of years ago he got in touch to say he'd made a change and was now loving his career. It hadn't been an easy journey but it had been worth it, he told me. 


Why it’s important to follow your own path

We all want to live a life that’s right for us. A life that is uniquely our own and feels right to us and enables us to be the best version of ourselves and to live our best life. I heard a legend the other day that the Knights of the Round Table all had to take a different path through the forest. They had to enter at the darkest point and if they found themselves on a path already trodden, they had to go back and start again. 

You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential. - Joseph Campbell

But following your own path in life isn’t always easy, especially if that path involves doing something different from what you feel is expected. When you start your journey of creating your own path in life, you may feel lost. You may not really even know what you want to create, just that you want something else.


So how do you follow your own path? 

I honestly believe that the most important thing you can do is tap into your intuition. You will likely already have a feeling that something isn’t adding up, you just might not know exactly what that is. 

It can be hard to hear our intuition at times, especially if you are not in the habit of listening to it. But developing a deeper relationship with yourself will help you to hear more clearly your intuition and make more informed decisions.

Get curious

One way to tap into your intuition is to get curious. Take some time to think objectively about what’s going on. I would set aside a day or even a weekend, given you will likely procrastinate before actually sitting down. Logistically it can take around three to six hours in total to think about this. Although you may spend more time mulling it over. This needs to be a time you protect, you could think as you walk, reflect in a journal or in meditation. You might do what I did and get a massive piece of paper and mind map it out. Whatever works for you. 

Consider the following: Why did you go into the job/career in the first place? What do you enjoy about it? What don’t you enjoy? What would you rather do? Do you just need a break? 

What skills do you enjoy using? This will help you think about the kinds of roles you could do, think about skills you can transfer over into a new sector. So for example, if you have trained as an accountant, you will have problem-solving, logical thought, data analysis, complex data handling skills etc. These can be transferred into other roles. You don’t need to know what roles they are - that’s where I can help. As a starting point, you can use this brilliant career quiz which has a load of occupational profiles attached so you can start to see the possibility of doing something else. 

Talk to a trusted colleague

Next is to talk to someone you trust, who supports you and cheers you on and who works in the same sector/job/career. This can feel like a difficult step as it requires you to say out loud what you're feeling. They could be a mentor or someone less formal. What experiences have they had? If it’s similar, perhaps it’s the profession. That doesn’t mean you should stay, but it’s information that you can use in your decision making. The purpose of the conversation isn’t to compare yourself to anyone else, it’s to clarify in your own mind what the issue is. You don’t have to tell anyone what you’re thinking or planning to do. The purpose is to give yourself clarity of mind in order for you to make the right decision for yourself. 

Give yourself permission to do something different

It’s OK to want to do a job that’s different from everyone else. It’s time to follow your own desires and create your own path. That’s how you will find out what you truly want out of life. But first, you need to give yourself permission.

This is really important because if you want to follow your own path, you need to allow yourself the possibility of what your path might look like. It might feel like you’re wasting time but you’re not. You’re putting your own desires and feelings first and that can feel hard. You might think that you’re being selfish or you might feel guilty for taking a few hours off to think about yourself. You might feel completely stuck or overwhelmed by choice. You might resent all the time you have spent following a path that’s not your own. It’s all OK. All feelings are valid in this process. 

All this will give a clearer idea of what your new career path could look like, including any retraining, what job prospects look like and what your life might be like. You might get in touch with folks already in this kind of career and ask them what it’s like. You will have opened the door of possibility - pay attention to how you feel. Excited? Scared? Hopeful? Ready? (all of those?!)


It’s OK to feel scared

Fear is a natural human emotion and it’s OK to be afraid of creating your own path. This work isn't about being fearless, it's being willing to face your fears…and then go for it anyway! Each time you face a fear, and there's always something new or different, it gets easier. All the work you've done up to this point makes those fears smaller because you are armed with information and a strong intuition. 

A big fear people have around following their own career path is "what if it doesn't work out?" 

Before you start working on finding your own path, whatever that may look like, make sure that you have the support you need on your journey. This could be financial support, a place to live, friends and family to rely on, or just a plan of action so that you don’t get lost.

Telling family and friends

So I started this post by talking about the weight of expectations. Often the biggest fear people have is telling others. You might worry about how the news will be received and if you'll be judged. Truth is, it might not be received well, there will definitely be people who judge, give unsolicited advice and tell you it's a bad idea to follow your own path. But those reactions come from their own insecurities and fears. You are neither responsible for their reaction nor their behaviours. You are ONLY responsible for your own. 

There will also be people who support and love you unconditionally. I would recommend starting with them. As I mentioned in my post about trusting yourself, once you start telling a few people you trust, your intuition and voice become stronger. Remember though, this is your path, you choose when and what to tell people and who you tell. 

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