What does it take to build a career for life? I'm not talking about a job for the next 30 years, a good salary, and a retirement plan. I'm talking about a career that showcases you at your best and carries you through the next 30 years. This can mean 3 - 5 different jobs, periods of unemployment, and accomplished highs and challenging lows. But what makes a career a career for life, and how do we build it?
Over the past year I've consulted with university students in the Faculty of Science at Ryerson University. They come to me to talk about their careers, or lack thereof. Most of them like what they study, and most of them started their degree thinking they would end up a doctor, a dentist, a vet, or a pharmacist. By their 3rd year they are perplexed by their new 'gut' reaction to these post graduation options. They feel doubt and uncertainity. This perplexity stems from what I identify as a difficulty in finding the 'sweet spot' between enjoyment and aptitude.
For most of us, what drives our motivation to pursue something is either our enjoyment of it, our aptitude for it, or both. Case in point: I enjoy exercise, so I swim. I also have a knack, or aptitude, for it. Yet I also enjoy beautiful artwork. Do I have an aptitude for it? Not so much. Since these are my interests, that's not a problem. I can deal with the fact that I'm not an artist. I will appreciate it from afar. I may even indulge in a painting class. Why not? I just know it's not going to be my job.
The thing is, when we are pursuing our career goals, what we are most often looking for, is both. That 'sweet spot' between enjoying something, and being good at it, is what makes our work feel worthwhile, or worth it. That's not to say that we can always work at a job we are good at, and pursue what we enjoy in our spare time. For many, that's an ideal situation. The problem though, is that most of us are using the 'sweet spot' prism to identify career pathways we can pursue. Especially if we've spent 4+ years in university. We feel we owe ourselves (and rightly so!) to find that 'sweet spot' in the career we choose.
So how do we make this work? Perhaps we need to shift our thinking here. Instead of searching for that one job that will satisfy both our sense of enjoyment and our aptitude, what if we start to think outside the box when it comes to our 'sweet spot' and our career development. What if we take the focus off of the career itself, and instead look at the skills we are developing and what we like about them. For the science students I consult with, this means unpacking their degree, and identifying what they are learning from it. It may be that they like, say, biology. It may also be that they aren't amazing at it. Let me tell you that most students who obtain a science degree are not going to go to medical school. Or veterinary school. It's too competitive. Yet that doesn't mean they don't have an aptitude for biology. But what does that really mean? What are they actually good it when it comes to biology? What skills do they excel at? If we unpack this, we find that it becomes less about 'biology' and more about the pieces that make up this interest that are both enjoyed and excelled at.
The same can be said for a career for life. A person who practices law is or medicine doesn't have an aptitude and enjoyment of 'law' and 'medicine'. Their 'sweet spot' lies in skills they've acquired, are good at, and enjoy putting into practice. That is what makes a successful lawyer, doctor, manager, teacher...the list goes on.
It's time we started to consider what our 'sweet spot' is in terms of our skills - what skills come naturally to us (aptitude) that we put into practice daily with enthusiasm (enjoyment). When we start here, multiple pathways open up and create the building blocks of our career. This it what makes a career, a career for life.