The days of working 40 years at one company with one job title are in many ways behind us. In her inspiring TED talk, writer and artist Emilie Wapnick describes the kind of people she calls multipotentialites, who range in their interests and professional identities over time. If you identify as someone who has found yourself in high school, college, early adulthood, or midlife, wondering what it is you really want to do or how you are going to do it, this piece is for you.
The job search can be overwhelming. While options A, B, and C might all meet your needs, they likely differ in subtle, difficult to prioritize ways.
This piece is meant to be a starting place to begin thinking about what is it you want and need in a job. This list is not exclusive. I encourage you to make it your own depending on your personal perspective and experience.
1. Start with the essentials
The logistics of what you definitively need to survive will make or break your retention in any position. Be honest with yourself. Review your most recent checking and credit card statements. How much do you spend per month? Do you want or need to be spending as much as you are in every category?
Create a simple budget like this, or create an account with a service like Mint, to better understand your spending habits. This will help you understand what you need in a salary. This clarity will help you decipher which options on your plate will better serve you logistically. You may also realize you don’t need as high of a salary as you thought, which may liberate you to pursue a previously discounted opportunity.
2. Assess your risk tolerance
Risk tolerance identifies how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with uncertainty. Some experience risk as adrenaline, which can be invigorating and motivating. Others experience risk as groundless, which can be paralyzing and debilitating. HumanMetrics developed a Risk Attitudes Profiler quiz you may take if you are looking for more guidance in assessing your own risk tolerance.
Risk varies widely from job to job. One example of a high risk route is starting your own company. You may experience very high highs and very low lows and will largely learn by doing. This type of job often calls for someone who identifies as having high risk tolerance, or the person experiences uncertainty in an encouraging and manageable way.
Alternatively, one example of a relatively low risk route is pursuing a 9-5 position at an organization that offers an attractive salary and benefits. You might not experience as steep of highs and lows day to day. You will have an opportunity to learn from the experience of those around you. When you leave work, you will likely experience more space to pursue other life goals and relationships in more depth. This type of position is ideal for someone who grounds in stability and prefers clearer expectations for the future.
Sometimes, your risk tolerance does not solely depend on your personal preferences. If you are going through a transition outside of the professional space that requires financial or time stability, you may not want to pursue an unpredictable professional space. For example, individuals experiencing health complications or anticipating family planning and pregnancy may refrain from taking high risks.
3. Reflect on your previous experience
Think about any previous job, project you completed with a team, or passion project you executed on your own in the past.
What did you like best? What did you like least? Jot down 5-10 bullet points of elements in a job you would love to be present, and elements in a job you would like to avoid. These will help reframe how you read job descriptions and decide whether you want to apply. In the next stage, this will also help you organize what to ask or learn more about in an interview.
Here are a few prompts to get you started:
- Do you prefer to work independently or with a team?
- Do you prefer consistency or variability in your responsibilities and hours?
- How much clarity do you want and need in the outcomes expected of you?
- Do you enjoy managing others?
- Is the content and mission of the work important to you?
4. Short-term vision
Often, the job search becomes the most overwhelming when we perceive the position will define us and our future.
I encourage you to view this next role as a one- or two-year commitment. Rather than what do you want to do with your life, what do you want to do for the next year? You may stay longer (or shorter) in the role, but framing the commitment this way is significantly more manageable.
Some questions to consider:
- Is there a skill or group of skills you have and would like to strengthen?
- Is there a skill you admire and do not yet have that you would like to learn?
- Does one year of exploration and high risk feel enlivening to you?
- Does one year of stability feel like a sigh of relief?
- When you wake up tomorrow, what would you be excited to get ready for?
5. Maintain your calm and perspective
No matter your risk tolerance or preferences, the job search is a stressful and exhausting process. Ensure you have the proper routines and systems in place to take care of yourself.
Eating well, exercising regularly, prioritizing regular sleep, and connecting with support systems are important elements in approaching the job search as the best version of yourself. Engaging in therapy during transitions can also be helpful as you can utilize the time commitment and objective third party to evaluate your many options, thoughts, and feelings.
Like many things, to find your professional fit, much of the work will be having the courage to try and try again. You may go through these steps and embark on a job that, on paper, seems perfect and promising, only to find it is not what you had hoped. Conversely, you may begin a position, anticipating you won’t love it but it will meet your immediate logistical needs, only to find that you have connected with a side of yourself that you quite enjoy.
As you ebb and flow, try your best to remain open and to view each experience as an opportunity to learn. You will learn new skills. Perhaps even more importantly, you will learn about yourself. Despite what mainstream messages try to convince you, there is no way you can know in your first, second, or third job exactly what you want in a professional experience. As you work, and as you grow, you will learn and adjust accordingly.
Thank you for your reading attention today. If you are interested in pursuing therapy and do not know where to begin to find your therapist match, I am happy to help. If you’d like to discuss the job search and its impending stress in more depth, comment below, or keep in touch on social media!
* This article was written by Alyssa Petersel, LMSW, founder of My Wellbeing.
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