Let’s say you’re in a job or career you don’t like and you know you need to make a change. But there’s one problem: you don’t know what you want to do next. You know you’d like to do something you enjoy, but you feel like you don’t have a clue what kind of work that would be for you.
So, how do you figure out what kind of job/work you want to pursue? How do you figure out what would bring you true enjoyment in what you do every day? Well, in my opinion, it’s not so much of a process of “figuring it out” as a process of getting in touch with and truly listening to ourselves (perhaps for the first time). To “figure something out” tends to imply a mental or logic-based approach. And perhaps this is why so many of us end up in jobs we dislike. We were leaning too much on our mind’s logical arguments and “shoulds.” To find what work lights us up we need a different approach; one where who we are, what we like and don’t like, what we truly desire is front and center and comes before opinions of the mind.
I was right where you might be now. I felt pretty lost and like I didn’t have a clue what I wanted. We are all different and so I understand this may not resonate with everyone, but what helped me most to find my way was to get out of my head and more in touch with myself. It opened the door to uncovering what brings me joy.
One of the many things that could help you to connect with yourself, find what excites you and get clarity on what you want is to take a look at your thinking; specifically, all the “shoulds” you might be telling yourself.
Following all the “shoulds” can make us lose touch with ourselves
From birth, through society or family, we’re often taught to be a certain way and to strive for certain things. As a result, in my own life, in an effort to obediently follow the script, I had shoved away most of my own desires. When we do this for years on end — shove aside what we actually want in an effort to do what we think we “should” — over time we can lose touch with our true inner desires. They stop speaking up. This is how we come to say we don’t know what we want. If we were in touch with ourselves we would know.
For me, my wants and desires had been bulldozed by “shoulds” for years. I was disconnected from myself and lost touch with what I truly wanted. I did know enough that it wasn’t what I was doing, but again, I tried to push that aside. Following along with what I thought I “should” do seemed like the “right” and “safe” thing to do. So I tried to play along and pretend I could keep doing what I was doing. But then I learned the hard way it’s actually pretty risky to play pretend. When I wasn’t being my true self and honoring who I actually am I was building my life as a house of cards. And as we all know, they collapse eventually, one way or the other. My implosion came when I reached a miserable low, but so scared and attached to the “shoulds” that I developed a chronic illness to force me to change my ways (you can read more on that and a very honest story of how I found my way to becoming a career coach here). In the big picture, I’m grateful it happened, but now I’m here to help you not have to go through that (or help you through it if it does).
Identify all your “shoulds”
To help you get in touch with yourself and what you really want, take a look at those “shoulds” that run through your mind. What are the thoughts that roll around in your head when you think about work and the next steps in your career? What are all the things you tell yourself you “should” do, achieve, be? In addition to “I should,” they can also begin as “I need to,” or “I have to,” or “I can’t.” Or sometimes even masquerade as “I want” when we’re thinking we want something, but deep down it’s only because we feel we “should.” Personally, I have convinced myself I wanted a job because it was a “good job” and since it looked good on paper and I thought I “should” want it. So, “shoulds” can be sneaky.
Drop all the “shoulds” that aren’t in alignment with and serving your happiness
We fill our minds every day with “shoulds” from the external world; voices expressing others’ ideas, opinions, expectations. Some of them we might genuinely agree with. For example, “I should be treated with respect” is perhaps one we can all get behind. But other “shoulds” don’t feel so good when we say them to ourselves. We can feel what “shoulds” we don’t agree with it. They don’t align with who we are or what we want (even if what we want is fuzzy — we know it’s not that).
If we can identify what those “shoulds” are for each of us and then let go of them, we can create the space for our true desires to come to the surface. Holding on to them only serves to make us doubt ourselves and silence that inner voice that knows what’s right for you. When we drop the “shoulds” that inner voice that has been quieted for so long can come through. It’s going to let you in on or guide you to discover what you enjoy and want for yourself. This may take some time or it could be that you realize you already know what you want, but have been putting all your “shoulds” in the way.
Your mind will resist
I know it can feel scary to just drop the “shoulds.” You’ve likely been carrying some around for a long time and it can feel uncomfortable to let them go when you’ve been using them to navigate your life. Your mind is going to want to resist and argue why you need to keep them – after all they brought you this “far.” But, what our mind is telling us – both the “should” and/or what will happen if you let it go – is usually not based in facts, contains a lot of conjecture or is a projection into the future which we just can’t know. So take a closer look. And from deep inside see if you can feel what’s really true for you.
Also, to throw your mind a bone, remember that many of the most (conventionally) successful people took steps in their career that did not appear “logical.” They dropped the “shoulds” and blazed their own paths. If you read the biographies or even the Wikipedia pages of some of the people you admire you might see this. And just like you may experience if you drop the “shoulds” and follow what’s in your heart to do, they had others questioning their decisions. So, if you meet others resistance remember this too. You’ll be in good company.
Translating what you enjoy into work
When you drop the “shoulds” for some it might become clearly apparent very quickly what they want to do and it will line up nicely with a job or form of work they’re aware of. For others, it might take a bit of time to explore what’s coming to the surface as things they enjoy and how that translates into potential work. In this case, we can brainstorm, research, ask around etc. to learn of occupations that might include these things. Or if you’re inclined you can always create your own thing. We live in a time of endless possibilities for what you can create for yourself.
Your life is for you to enjoy
Your life is for you to enjoy. I feel like we are so “should”-ed on as a society this seems radical to say. But I believe it’s the truth. I believe you have the right to live your life any way that pleases you and everything you do ought to be in service to your happiness and what you want. If not, we have to look closer and ask ourselves why we’re doing it.
When we think of things this way there’s nothing to “figure out” really. There’s only listening to ourselves and following what brings us joy and makes us feel good. By dropping all the shoulds that don’t feel in alignment we free ourselves from the boxes and limitations we’ve (often subconsciously) placed on ourselves that limit our access to happiness. I’m not saying to be reckless or to throw all caution to the wind, but rather to see past the “shoulds” to uncover what your heart and soul are really calling for.
Originally published at www.forbes.com
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I’m a career coach. I coach individuals one-on-one to find fulfillment and happiness at work. I would love to help you. Visit my website at syoungwang.com
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A friendly little note: This information is being provided to you for educational and informational purposes only. It is to be used at your own risk based on your own judgment. It is not health/mental health advice and it does not create a coach-client relationship.