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How to change your career when you don't know what you want to do

Updated: Feb 9

You’ve got a good job but it doesn’t light you up. Something’s missing. You’d love to do something that feels more meaningful, that makes you want to go to work in the morning.

But how do you figure out what that thing is?

First, know that you’re not alone. Many people feel like this. I spent the first 20 years of my career feeling like this. I was desperately bored in my work but just didn’t know where to start. How could I figure out what I wanted to do?

It was after my 2nd career break to go travelling, when I found myself back in that so dull (to me – other people loved it but we’re all unique) career that I decided I’d finally had enough. I couldn’t stand the thought of another 20+ years being bored, living just for the weekends and things I did outside of my day job.

So here’s what I did. It worked for me and doing similar has worked for many of my clients.

Identify what you really enjoy doing at work.

Write down all the things you enjoy doing at

work. Anything that makes your day go faster and gives you a sense of satisfaction and achievement.

I didn’t go deep into this initially, I just dumped a load of words onto a piece of paper. Things like:

Problem-solving / Collaboration / Making things happen / Starting new things / Improving processes / Being part of a fun team / Enabling people to learn / Learning new things and putting them into practice.

Identify what you’re really great at.

Think about the things you know you do really well. When other people tell you you’re clever, or you’ve done something fantastic. When you know you’ve achieved your goals and more. When you know you’ve made a difference.

My notes were something like this:

I’m really great at: Helping people learn / Explaining complex topics in a simple way / Analysing information to make good decisions / Having ideas that improve the way we do things / Getting things done, on time and to a great quality / Leading and developing a team / Starting new projects / Influencing people / Building relationships

Identify your biggest achievements, how you did them and how you felt about them.

If you’re struggling to think of your achievements, ask other people (your manager or colleagues). Often we impress people without realising, and they notice and remember things that we don’t.

Once you’ve identified your biggest achievements, thinking about HOW you did them gives you additional insight into what you’re great at.

Thinking about how you felt about your achievements gives you insight into whether you’d want to do them again.

Identify what matters to you at work.

This one is about Hertzberg’s Motivation to Work (motivation-hygiene) theory.

Motivators are those things that give us positive satisfaction, arising from the elements of the work that give us intrinsic satisfaction such as recognition, achievement, or personal growth.

Hygiene factors are the things that don’t lead to prolonged higher motivation, though if they’re missing will cause dissatisfaction. They’re extrinsic to the work itself, and include things like your working environment, being micromanaged, company policies and salary.

What matters to you outside of work?

Think about what you’re passionate about. Do you have hobbies that you wish could be your job? Do you volunteer for something that’s close to you heart? Do you want more time with your family and friends, to learn, etc?

This will probably take you deeper into your values and my blog: How to align your career with your values may help you.

What would you do, if you were guaranteed success?

Imagine you literally can do any type of work you want. You don’t have to worry about earning a certain

amount. You don’t need to get qualifications or experience.

Everything is in place for you to make the change tomorrow and it will work out for you.

Thinking like this can open up your ideas, bringing to the surface things you’d love to do but have always suppressed because you don’t believe it can happen.

Bringing it all together.

  • Look back through all your notes and ask yourself these questions:

  • What themes are coming through, repeated in most if not all of the sections?

  • What skills and strengths have you identified that you want to use in your work?

  • What are the things that are ‘must haves’ in your new career?

  • What are the ‘definitely don’t want’ things in your new career?

Use your answers to create an ‘Ideal job essential criteria’ guide

What if you’re still not clear?

Be curious!

Talk with people who love what they do. What do they love about their work? How did they get into it? What skills and strengths do they use?

  • Browse job boards. What appeals to you? If anything causes a bit of excitement – or even interest – take note of what causes it. Then think about how you can explore this more.

  • Are there people in your existing network who do things you’re interested in? Arrange to ‘job-shadow’ them if possible to get more insight.

  • What can you try out? Maybe on a voluntary basis, or part-time.

  • How else can you learn more about something that interests you? Maybe a course, or join a networking group?

  • What ‘steps’ can you take? By trying out different things you can learn as you go.

There are so many different jobs and types of work.

What will really light you up may not yet have come onto your radar.

By trying out some different things you can build a fully informed idea of what you really love doing.

My free download How to make a change in your career may also be useful.

If you’d like help to make the change in your career you're dreaming of check out my career change success services or get in touch to talk through how I can help you.

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About Karen Felton

Karen Felton Leadership Career Change Success coach and mentor

Karen is a Strengths coach and career mentor, enabling people to find work that makes them happy!

She has over 25 years’ experience in HR and Financial Services, leading teams, coaching and mentoring people, developing leaders and enabling people to achieve their career goals. She is passionate about enabling people to be their best selves so they can perform at their best in work and in life.

Read more about Karen here.

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