The Challenge of Next

You are at a decision point in your career. You have to choose what’s next. Maybe you’re wrapping up college, trade-school, or graduate school. Perhaps it’s become painfully apparent that your current job will result in years of misery. Maybe you’ve gotten wind that your unit, your company, even your industry is headed for massive layoffs and restructuring. Where do you start?

This post begins a four-part series on the way forward for your career. This series is born of both personal and professional experience. First, I’ve changed careers three times.  Second, Part of the work we do at VOCA, the company where I serve as president, is to empower people to identify and achieve a tremendous next move in their career.

It’s a Mistake

We begin with the place not to begin; we launch with the mistake that many people make as they try to navigate their path forward.

So what is the mistake that everyone makes when navigating career?

Taking the path of least resistance.

 What is the path of least resistance, and why is it a mistake?

The Path of Least Resistance Defined:

  • The easiest way forward now
  • The choice that your friends and parents will applaud the most
  • The option that involves little to no risk
  • The plan that requires no additional learning, training, or certification
  • The career play that will keep you comfortable rather than challenged

Why is This Path Almost Always a Mistake?

Doesn’t God work through our circumstances to show us what his will is? If “he has opened the door, shouldn’t I walk through it?”

Just because a door is opened, does not mean we walk through it: sometimes God provides and guides us through opportunity (more on that to come) and sometimes he tests us with opportunity.

Every choice we make is a test of our values, priorities, self-awareness, and depth of clarity around our calling. Good is often the enemy of great. Do we have the centeredness and courage to say no? Easy options may be God’s way of seeing what really matter to us, seeing what we will settle for rather than his clear plan for our future.

The path of least resistance is often born of ignorance. We have not relied on a multitude of counselors or counted the cost of a given course of action. This approach is the “zeal without knowledge” that is frowned upon by the writers of Scripture. And while we cannot know everything there is to know about our capabilities, and we cannot know everything there is to know about every career track or industry, most of us can pull back the curtain a good bit further and move forward with verified facts.

Finally, the path of least resistance regularly leads to boredom, frustration, and nagging doubt.

When we fail to understand the depths of our talent and critical drives, we end up accepting work that is too easy for us, eventually suffering from acute boredom.

When we fail to develop a broad understanding of the market for our skills, we can end up in terrible companies or dead-end jobs, which feeds daily frustration. When we have neglected to engage in a thorough process of discerning our direction, we second guess ourselves to death, always replaying the clip, not sure if we’re where we are meant to be.

We see this all the time. Our clients are hitting the first job out of college and finding them less than inspiring. They are in the early ’30s and hate their jobs and don’t know why. They are approaching the age of 50 and wondering why some jobs and some seasons of work seemed to flow, and others were a grind. The path of least resistance ambushed all of them. That doesn’t have to happen to you.

RELATED: 3 Ways Millennials Can Lead Change Without Jeopardizing Their Career

How to Avoid the Mistake: Develop Three Kinds of Expertise

 There are three kinds of expertise you can develop to avoid the pitfalls of the path of least resistance: Personal Clarity, Real-World Savvy, and Connecting Expertise.

1. Personal clarity is about you.

Who has God made you be, specifically what talents do you have that are innate, and what skills have you learned along the way? The third dimension of personal clarity has to do with the question of attention: what kinds of work sustains your interest over time? Finally, knowing the lines you will not cross, is a critical data point in being an expert on you.

How well do you know yourself? Would you rate yourself an expert? Why or why not?

We’ll dig into this more in part 2.

2. Real-World Savvy is about the market for your talent.

What kind of careers do people like you pursue? Which ones are most rewarding? Which industries and companies are ascending, growing, and winning? Which ones are in decline? Are there “feeder” firms in the space you’re interested in, companies where working there almost always leads to other opportunities at other firms. When you find the people who are “winning” in your field of interest, what kind of credentials do they have? What kind of life do they have?

How well can you answer these types of questions? How many sources of data do you have to shape your answers? (A few causal conversations is not expertise). What is your next step on growing real-world savvy?

We’ll unveil the process for developing this expertise in part 3.

3. Connecting expertise is linking the real you and the real world.

This link is where a job happens. And a job quickly becomes a career (a series of work assignments in a company and industry). Where are the best jobs for you (what industries, companies, and cities)? What does it take to get those jobs?

How well do you do at making the match between the real you and the real world by knowing how to get in front of people who have the jobs that fit?

We will close the series by exploring connecting expertise in more detail.

Overall: How About You?

How about people you know: as you think of the people you know, how do they navigate their careers: the path of least resistance or path of clarity & savvy?

And on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being least resistance, and 10 being total clarity and savvy, how would you rate yourself?

Dr. Chip Roper is the President and Principal Consultant of The VOCA Center. VOCA’s vision is to rescue individuals and teams from the forces that would rob them of joy and effectiveness at work. Certified in Executive Coaching at Columbia University, Chip tackles the vocational challenge from 30 years of experience as a small businessman, a pastor, a career coach, and a business consultant.  You can learn more about VOCA’s faith-based services at www.vocacenter.org and more about their commercial offerings at www.vocacenter.com.