Have you ever wrestled with what do with your life? Maybe you had to face the dilemma of multiple job offers. Perhaps you’re sitting there right now looking at your passions and skills, wondering how you can put them together to make ends meet. The only thing worse than not knowing what to do, is having too many options.  When it comes to career choices, two or three viable options can be enough to generate a load of stress and indecision.  This isn’t a reason to complain. I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a space and time where your skills have the potential for success in more than one path.  It sounds like great insurance! Yet, many young professionals and millennials face this dilemma. What to be when you grow up, especially since you’re actually growing up!

I offered some thoughts on this in 2017 via Focus The Fire podcast, from the perspective of how the traditional world expects us to be one-dimensional. People get uncomfortable or slightly confused by people who purport to be good at many skills. So, the thrust is to make us choose a path. The number one networking question: What’s your name? Number 2: So, what do you do?

Since the enlightenment period and perhaps earlier humans have been obsessed with categorising things. Giving things names, order and neat boxes lets us feel in control. Being able to understand something or someone gives us a sort of control power. It sets us at ease.

“Oh you’re a [insert random profession here, followed by a quick recollection of all the standard preconceived notions around that profession]. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

But what they are meeting is not you, right? They are meeting your handshake and filling in the blanks with expectations, anecdotes and personal experiences they had with others in that profession. The real you is still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up. The real you is also a bit irritated that you may have to choose. Even with infinite creativity there is limited time, so becoming great at any one thing will mean sacrificing some time you would have spent on other areas; at least for now.

You can do anything. You just can’t do everything at the same time. So let’s talk about how to choose the right career. We’ll structure this around six (6) key questions.

What do you believe?

This is an important starting point where you forget about the money, jobs, other people’s opinions and take a look inside yourself. What are the core beliefs that shape you? What limiting beliefs do you have around money, success, love, family? What things are worth sacrificing in the pursuit of your goals? What types of things are you definitely not willing to do? Why do you even want to choose the “right” career? How does a particular faith shape your world view?

Take some time investigating these questions, because having a clear understanding of yourself will help you filter the type of jobs, people and companies that resonate with your soul. Skipping this step leaves you open to joining a team that moves contrary to the things that flow deep inside you.  Now, this may not always be a bad thing. In the process of investigating what you believe, you may encounter areas where you need to change or expand your thinking.

What problem do you solve?

The second question is find an itch you want to scratch. Money changes hands when problems get solved. Think about it. Almost every time you’ve paid money for something, it was to satisfy a challenge you had. Your car needs gas, so you pay a gas station. Your stomach has a problem being empty, so you pay for some food. You need to get from point A to B fast, so you pay a driver or airline to solve the problem.

Identify a problem where you can get excited to pour loads of time and energy into finding a solution. If financial reward is a major issue for you don’t feel guilty. Even the most altruistic ambitions require money. Here you have two (2) options: solve a small problem for a large number of people at a relatively low price, or solve a big problem for a small target niche with resources to pay a high price. So what’s the problem you want to solve. With this, you can join a team in that business or consider starting your own.

Who do you want to serve?

With the problem above in mind, let’s turn to your ideal client.  Who has that problem? If that’s a fairly general answer, let’s dig a bit deeper. Which segment of that group are you best suited to serve? Maybe there are points in your life story that would resonate with that audience. This another filter or layer in the filter helping you to narrow down the best options for your career.

How do you deliver that solution?

Next, consider how you want to deliver that solution. Are you more interested in creating or selling a product, or a service? What medium would you like to use? How do you imagine the distribution channels for getting your solution to the people you want to serve? If this is starting to sound more like starting a business than choosing a career, GREAT! You are a business, and approaching your career with this mindset will yield better returns. Reimagine the relationship between you and your “employer”. That’s not your boss, it’s your client. You show up each day to provide a product or service to the organisation, and your ‘client’ pays you in return. Sometimes the client will have unreasonable demands and you will have to learn the best ways to navigate that with your own objectives in mind.

Sorry, got a little passionate there. I can’t help it sometimes, because I believe (see step 1 above) that you can accomplish mind-blowing success.

What are your gifts?

It’s time to get even more specific. Life leaves us clues and suggestions on what could be our highest use. Each person has a proclivity to excel in certain skills. This doesn’t mean you were born a natural prodigy who amazed people with your talents as a child. It also doesn’t mean you can’t develop proficiency in other areas. It means there is some raw material in you that feels more fluid than the next person trying to do the same thing. You still have to work, develop and refine the gift, but it brings you a certain satisfaction. A good indication is something that comes easy to you, or a task that people often look to you to execute.

For example, you may be comfortable connecting with strangers or speaking in front of crowds. Things that terrify many people seem to energise you.  Perhaps you have an uncanny knack with numbers, or have the ability to rally people behind your cause. Think about these gifts and investigate the careers where they can be put to use.

How do you want to live?

Our final point circles back to you. How do you want to live? What does your ideal lifestyle include? Working from home, travel, fancy office, no office because you’re usually out with clients? Are you a stationary person who prefers the peace and predictability of a job that keeps you near home? Or do you favour the nomad lifestyle of airplanes and hotel rooms.  Are you after a full time job with benefits, or do you fancy the variety of taking a number of interesting gigs each month.

I hope this exercise brings you more clarity on how to choose the right career. Write down your responses and revisit them even after you choose a path.


Question: What’s the best advice you received on choosing a career?
Drop your answer in the comments below or let’s chat on twitter @dalanv.

Dalan Vanterpool
Dalan is a private banker, executive career coach and content creator sharing essential career advice for ambitious young professionals at dalanv.com. Catch him on social media @dalanv.