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Three Steps to a Well-Designed Career

Three Steps to a Well-Designed Career

If you asked a roomful of professional women whether their current job is in a field related to their major, odds are that only a handful of them would say yes. It’s statistics like this that are both comforting and troublesome for people in the early stages of their careers.

On the one hand, it’s reassuring to know that it is normal to branch out. On the other hand, if your major doesn’t set you on a career path, then how do you know what the right path is?

Some people will tell you to “follow your passion” or “find a job you love.” That sounds great, but not everything you love or have passion for translates into a job that will pay the bills. And even when it does, you may find passion fades when coupled with tasks that don’t inspire the same sense of purpose. Passions also can change over time – this can reflect shifts in the other areas of our lives or growth as we become aware of new ideas and have new experiences.

Your values and needs will evolve over time. And your career will evolve, too. You can fear these shifts or you can embrace them, understand they are normal, and be mindful about the changes you want to make.

[Related: The New Way to Create a Fulfilling Career Path]

Your career is more than a job, it's an experience.

Think about the difference between an upscale restaurant and Denny’s. It isn’t just the price tag that is different, it is the entire experience. You don’t expect Denny’s to have a valet service and you don’t expect to pay at the cash register on the way out of a fancy restaurant.

This is because both restaurants have designed the dining experience around their customers’ needs and priorities. You can do the same thing with your career – you can design it around the experience you want to have.

When you’re considering your options, be mindful of how you phrase the question – often, asking “What job do I want?” or “What kind of ____ do I want to be?” can limit the scope of possibility. I know I mentioned earlier that following your passions may not be the best advice, but to the extent your passions reflect your values and priorities, they can help you ask better questions.

For example, if you are passionate about eating a plant-based diet, then working for the Beef Council probably doesn’t work. When you frame your question in terms of your values and the impact you want to have, it opens your mind to jobs and careers that you may not have considered before.

Dream a little.

Even if you do find a job that matches with your values and needs now, it’s important to pause now and then to assess whether it still feels right or you need to make a course correction. Before you hand in your notice, however, it’s time to generate some ideas about what that correction might look like.

I like to use mind-mapping – which is basically word-associations done quickly so your logical brain does not have time to censor anything. Starting with one word in the center, you make a ring of related words – the first ones to come to mind – and then make an outer ring filled with words related to each of the words in the first ring.

Looking at those outer words – which usually have nothing to do with each other or even the first word in the middle – you may see combinations that spark ideas. Underwater basket weaving, anyone?

How many ideas did you generate? If you have more than five or so, you may want to shorten the list a bit. Sometimes having too many options makes it harder to choose.

If you can’t identify your top three on your own, it may be time to enlist some help. This could be from people who know you well and who you trust will be honest with you. Ask them which of the ideas sound the most like you. Have them help you decide which ideas are viable, feasible, and fit in with the other parts of your life. If all else fails, get out a dartboard.

[Related: Want the Career of Your Dreams? See it First.]

Testing, testing, 1, 2, 3.

You have done your homework and you have a few ideas that you are excited about. But it still is not time to hand in your notice. You need to do a bit of market research first.

I don’t mean surveying strangers at the mall. I mean going out and gathering as much real-time information as you can about the job or field you have in mind. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Get into conversations with people who work in that area.
  • Read, watch, and listen to books, shows, podcasts, and anything else that relates to what you’re interested in.
  • Find a way to do an in-house experiment with a different department – remind your boss it’s just a try out and find a way it will benefit her, too.
  • Create a mini-experience for yourself. Attend a conference, shadow someone for a day – there are lots of ways you can experience “a day in the life of ______.”

These are just a few ways you can test out a new career without totally disrupting your current life. When you are doing your testing, keep in mind that you are searching for information, not necessarily answers. It’s almost impossible to have perfect information on what it might be like to do something different, but if you take the time and do the work, you can increase your chances of finding something that works for you.

You’ve got this.

There just a few other tips to keep in mind.

First, stay curious – it prevents judgment and keeps you open to whatever happens. Even if an experiment (or a new job, for that matter) doesn’t work, you will still learn.

Second, make sure you measure success by your own yardstick and not anyone else’s. This is your life, and you get to choose how you want to show up.

Finally, take that first step. It can be as small as listening to one episode of a podcast or reading one article. It all counts; the main thing is to take action and start.

[Related: Three Ways to Gain a Clearer Picture of the “Future You” (Yes, Even Now!)]


Katherine Porter is a teacher turned lawyer turned entrepreneur. She believes we should all be able to show up to work as our whole selves. She coaches high-achieving professional women so they feel ready to handle whatever comes their way with ease and energy.

Have more questions? Follow up with the expert herself.


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