Episode 294 How to Make Good Career Decisions: Tips and Strategies

how-to-make-good-career-decisions-anna-lundberg

Join Anna Lundberg on the Reimagining Success podcast as she explores the art of making good career decisions, from demonstrating self-awareness to taking decisive action.

In this week’s episode, we’re asking the question: how do we make good career decisions? Reflecting on the often lacklustre career advice we received in school, we’ll explore how, despite the twists and turns our careers might take, we can still find fulfilment and leverage our unique skills and strengths.

Anna shares her own journey, from pondering a future in astrophysics or medicine to ultimately choosing a path that aligned more closely with her broad interests. She unpacks the importance of self-awareness, recognising our own agency, and aligning our career moves with our true selves. Anna also offers actionable insights on how to take decisive steps and hold ourselves accountable to forge a more intentional and fulfilling career path. Whether you’re contemplating a career pivot, advising a recent graduate, or simply looking to enhance your professional trajectory, this episode is packed with practical guidance. So, let’s dive in and start reimagining what career success means for you.

00:00 Make intentional career choices for fulfillment.

03:55 Embrace challenges, learn, earn income, focus deeply.

08:48 Choose responsibility, be idealistic yet practical.

11:13 Outsource success, hold yourself accountable, seek guidance.

*Resources mentioned during the episode*
1:1 Coaching & Mentoring – If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring. www.onestepoutside.com/coaching

Making good career decisions

How do you make good career decisions? Well, if you’re anything like me and the people I speak to, you may not have had the best careers advice back at school. And most of us end up somewhere that’s not necessarily related to what we study. It’s not necessarily a good fit for our skills, personalities and so on. Now, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. And most of us find a way to post rationalise and make it into the right choice, which is what’s amazing. And any choice we make will bring us skills and experiences and network and so on. However, what we are missing out then on is being more proactive and intentional about crafting a career that’s really going to be fulfilling, that’s going to allow us to use our strengths and skills to their full potential, and that’s going to allow us to make the most of this, let’s face it, limited time we have on this planet. So my career’s advice in so far as I got any at school, I remember doing quizzes that, you know, are so much fun, aren’t they? A personality quiz, which friends, character are you, et cetera, et cetera.

But this one was a careers quiz that told me I should either be an actress or a librarian, so that was helpful. Another one gave me no insights at all, I think, because I was pretty much even across everything. So either they’re very much sort of dependent on what you happen to be thinking about or writing about then, or they’re, you know, yeah, leaving a lot to be desired. Now, to be fair, this was 30 years ago, demonstrating my age there. But nonetheless, I don’t know how much that’s improved over the years in terms of these quizzes. Maybe we shouldn’t expect a quiz to give us all the answers, but the careers advisor I had in my final years at school, and I’d done well at school and broadly across different subjects. So to be fair to her, there were different possibilities that I could pursue. I ended up with an application.

So in the UK, you have a UCAS application, it’s called I’m trying to remember a long time ago, and you put six universities you want to go to, and I believe I put three universities for astrophysics and three for medicine. So not only are these two very different to each other, but they’re also very different to what I did initially in my career and what I do today now. I love the stars. I was very good at maths and physics. I still kind of sort of want to be an astronaut, but that doesn’t really work because I’m claustrophobic and not quite fit enough or smart enough, I’m sure. I don’t know if I would have liked sitting indoors, just sort of doing equations and calculations and so on. But, you know, fine astronomy, astrophysics, I can see the interest there. Medicine.

No idea where that came from. I suppose it was that kind of expectation that if you’re academically performing, then medicine or law or that kind of career is the right path for you. Right. So it may surprise you, then, to learn that I did not study astrophysics or medicine. Luckily, I did not send off that application. Instead, I took a gap year, which was a very proactive, intentional decision that I made, and I ended up applying to, you know, as a sidestep, just to let you know how this story ended, or at least how it began. And I ended up studying philosophy, politics and economics, mainly, as I tell people, because it was broad and it allowed me to study multiple subjects and not make a decision. If I had been able to, I would have gone to America and done liberal arts, where I believe you can study almost anything you want.

Right. Which sounds amazing to me, if you’ve got an interest in learning and growing. And there wasn’t a really clear career path for me. So, again, most of us don’t get incredibly good support when it comes to making the right career decisions. And most of us end up somewhere that’s not necessarily related to our degree and our interests and so on. Now, the good news, as I said, is that we tend to, as human beings, post rationalise and make whatever choice we make into the right choice. And in any case, by the way, we can’t change it. Right? So I think that’s a pretty pragmatic approach, and we do find fulfilment.

We find interesting challenges, we learn things, we earn an income wherever we happen to end up. There’s a book which turned out to be by Cal Newport, who’s written deep work, which I think is really, really important focus, if not a really engaging book. It’s quite a long book to read, but the key insight there is really, really valuable. His book was so good, they can’t ignore you. And again, or perhaps conversely, I didn’t really buy into the sort of central tenet of this book because his idea is that, or at least in the book, was that rather than pursue your passion and find your purpose and your why and so on, you should do whatever you happen to be doing, but do it so well, that then I think it was Steve Martin who said that quote, initially so good that people can’t ignore you, and then you can start crafting and designing a more intentional career path. And of course, there is some truth in that. And there’s, you know, the kind of lazy, millennial Gen Z kind of approach that we often get criticised for, which is wanting to shock horror land on an interesting career. The first thing we do, funny story. 

I had a friend who told me his dad applied to be CEO straight out of university. So good for him. That’s a lot of confidence to have when you have zero experience. But all this to say that you can make an amazing thing out of wherever you end up, right? Be good. You might find that that is your passion and certainly it will open lots of doors. My corporate marketing opened doors in terms of the work I did, the network I have, calibre of the organisation I worked with and so on, all of that have been combined to be incredibly valuable in my career. So that’s the good news. The bad news is that it can be very accidental.

It’s not intentional, it’s not proactive. So what can happen? Well, you’re going to have some missed opportunities, which may lead to regrets or even resentment if you’re following a particular path because of other people, parents, society, whatever, how you feel you should be behaving. So you may well be missing out on opportunities simply because you’re not going for them, because you’ve ended up in this other area and you’re kind of staying there. You might also experience stress. And one of the interviewees, I remember in my original book, leaving the corporate nine to five, said she was a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. She’d studied law and it just didn’t fit for her. And she ended up pivoting into a career in media and entertainment. And she worked at the BBC, which is incredible.

At the time, that was even, you know, ten years ago or so we thought, oh, that’s, you know, a huge shift to make, but she’s now been there for a decade and doing an amazing job and seeing fantastic success, so, you know, it’s. It’s never too late, as they say. But if there is that poor fit with who you are, your personality, the organisational culture and the way people behave, the way workload works and so on, that’s going to be really difficult, especially over the longer term. And, you know, perhaps I sound naive and idealistic when I say this, but you may not achieve your full potential, because if you’re stuck in that, what gay Hendrix calls zone of competence or even your zone of excellence. You’re not getting to that zone of genius to do your life’s best work. Then you’re sort of wasting that potential that you have, which is bad news for you as well as bad news for the world, because the world is missing out on your true genius. And it might seem odd to think about yourself as having that genius, but everyone has their unique value and contribution they can make, and perhaps you’re not making that because you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be. So the question is, how can we make good career decisions? I don’t think it’s using personality quizzes, although I am a fan of using things like Myers Briggs Enneagram, strengths finder and so on, because that leads to my first point in how to make good decisions, which is having self awareness. 

Self awareness is the foundation of so much I’ve come to discover and understanding who you are, what your strengths and skills are. Soft skills, hard skills, yes, but they can be learnt. Understanding who you are as a person, your values, what’s important to you, the value you bring and so on. That is the foundation of any kind of career decision. And that also means that, you know, yes, other people, like a coach or an advisor, can hold that mirror up to you, but ultimately, that’s a very internal piece of work that you need to do to understand who you are as a person, as an individual. The second part of good decisions is recognising that you have agency here. So I know it can feel frustrating economically. You know, we’ve just built a big house, we’ve got a mortgage, you’ve got kids, you’ve got bills to pay, you know, caring responsibilities, whatever that looks like for you, and just the pressure of life, of adulting.

And it can seem, again, very naive to think that you can do anything you want, be anything you want to be. At this time in our lives, we feel like, ugh, there’s a lot we need to do and there’s a lot of adulting again. And also, it’s very easy to blame, you know, either, oh, my parents and the bad careers advisors, they got me trapped in where I am now, or the economic situation, you know, blaming other people and then ultimately, again, being resentful for not being where we want to be, that’s really disempowering. And so choose to be responsible, take ownership, recognise that you do have more freedom and agency than you perhaps have given yourself credit for, and then that will open up a whole host of opportunities. Next is aligning who you are what you want and creating that vision for you want to be. Now, I often say this, and apologies for ramming it home, but I suggest, I urge you to be really idealistic and ambitious over the long term in terms of your vision, and then pragmatic and practical in the short term, so we can take little steps, we can make small pivots, mini experiments and so on in the short term to get a little closer to where we want to be, have a bit more autonomy, a bit more flexibility, a bit more impact, whatever it is. And then over the longer term, we’re working towards that vision and it’s likely to be a zig zag path, right? It’s not going to be a straight path with no setbacks, but really aligning who you are with where you want to get to is going to be so motivating and inspiring for you to take action, which is the next step on making a good career decision. Because it’s all very well for me to sit on that clarity and have done all that work.

You know, you may have worked with a careers coach or someone who’s done all this work on who you are and your strengths and blah, blah, blah, okay, you get a result from the quiz, whatever they use. And then now what? You need to take action. You need to sign up to the thing, go and speak to that person, send the email, pick up the phone, whatever that is. You need to take decisive action to start moving in the right direction. It doesn’t mean you have to spend 10,000 or whatever it would cost now on an MBA or a new degree or whatever, but it does mean taking action. Often small steps, sometimes bigger leaps of faith consistently over time. And then finally hold yourself accountable. And that comes back to having that agency.

But again, it’s your life, your career. So whether you’re kind of blaming or leaving responsibility to your manager or to your partner or whatever that is, or even your clients with the economy, whoever, you’re kind of outsourcing your success to try not to find an accountability buddy, a coach, a mentor, a programme, whatever it is that’s going to give you that kind of container framework. And if you can do it yourself, amazing. Hold yourself accountable to take those actions, to align, to move forward with those decisions that you’re making. So, you know, it’s quite high level, but I hope that gives you an indication of where to start. And for most of us, that will start with an exploration, an understanding of our strengths, our values, what’s important to us. And then we can go from there so if you are, again, we looked at pivoting in the last episode. If you’re thinking of making a change at this point, if you want to guide your children, maybe if you’ve got graduates in your family that you want to advise, then, you know, give them some of these tips, tips as well.

It’s much harder when we’re young because we haven’t had all those life experiences. So it’s all the more important to explore, try things and then learn, but just urge them to not get stuck. Don’t think that just because they’ve chosen a particular role or company they have to then stay there forever. And I think they’re probably ahead of the game and they know that. So they probably have more to teach us than we can teach them. So self awareness, agency alignment, action and accountability. Best of luck with whatever career decision you’re going to make next. Bye for now.

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1:1 Coaching & Mentoring

If you’re looking for one-to-one support to help you achieve your specific life and business goals, Anna has a limited number of spots for individual coaching and mentoring.

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