Career Coaching Questions:
What Is a Career Path?
Career coaches toss the term “career path” around, but what does it really mean? Consider it this way: Do you have a vision for the ideal career growth you’d like to have? Maybe you hope to be a tenured professor someday or an award-winning author. Maybe you want to start your own business and be the type of great leader who can grow it into a large, successful company. Those are big, ambitious career goals and they may be absolutely attainable for you… but you have to chart a course to get there — and the path to it may be a long and windy one.
Sometimes people feel frustrated when they see where they want to go but do not see the career path that will take them from here to there. Their ultimate career goals seem unattainable, but they’re not really. The reality is that everyone with ambitious goals needs to embrace a “long game.” There will be twists and turns and layers of experience and professional development that will, over time, build towards your ultimate goal. To get there, you need to craft the path that will carry you, over time, towards your final destination. That’s what we mean by the term, “career path.”
Career Pathing: Where are you going?
Whatever the goal, you need a plan for how you’ll get from where you are now to where you’d like to be. This is the process of answering the question, “What should I do with my life,” and then designing the career path that will take you there. It requires a deeper level of self-awareness to create the clarity and motivation that will sustain you over the long haul.
To create a plan that honors who you are and what you want out of life, you’ll need to be not only practical and strategic, but also deeply aware of your personality, strengths, and values. You’ll need to consider why the work you want to do feels meaningful to you, how it fits into the larger vision for your life, what matters most to you, and what areas of yourself will need to grow and develop in order to make that vision a reality.
When you’re just beginning to plot your path, this can all be a bit overwhelming. If you’re feeling anxious or uncertain about the best way forward, you’re not alone — many people in your position seek out guidance from a Denver career coach or online career counselor to help them think through all the possibilities in front of them and make an actionable plan for building the working life they want. Doing a deep dive into who you are and what you want is a big part of the career exploration process and a big part of what career counselors do.
Here’s a look at the process of making informed career decisions, and some important questions to ask yourself as you’re designing yours.
Choosing a Career Path
When we’re choosing a career, we sometimes fixate on an end goal, a dream job, or some professional accomplishment that will demonstrate to ourselves and others that we’ve really Made It. Big goals like these are a positive thing. They give us something to aim for and help us stay motivated to set smaller goals that will bring us closer to our ultimate vision of success. Without this kind of north star to guide us, it’s easy to flounder until we find ourselves in some “good enough” career that isn’t really what we would have chosen.
But careers are about much more than holding a certain job title or reveling in a singular moment of triumph. They involve a lot more “doing” than they do “being” any particular thing, and that “doing” will take up an enormous chunk of your precious time. When planning your career, consider how you’ll be able to do what you love, and find meaning and satisfaction in the day-to-day tasks along its entire arc.
If you’d like to be an attorney at a particular firm, for example, think through some possible routes to reaching that goal. There’s no right way or wrong way, but there is a way that will better reflect your own personality and values.
Maybe spending some time as a public defender would give you the opportunity to hone important skills, and to serve others in a way that would energize and inspire you. Or maybe the massive caseloads, low pay, or the reality of working with disadvantaged defendants sounds absolutely depleting. To know which path is right, you first have to be in touch with your personality, what you love to do, and where you find the most meaning.
Before charging ahead toward an end goal, doing some thoughtful work in Denver career coaching or online career counseling can help you reflect on which paths would present you with the best opportunities for meaningful personal growth, emotional wellness, and positive life experiences. Then you can confidently choose the one that truly speaks to you.
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Career Pathing: How to Manage Expectations
No matter how carefully we plot our career paths, unexpected challenges are inevitable. Ultimately, professional development is about personal growth, and growth is, by definition, at least a little difficult — and sometimes very. Successfully moving down a career path oftentimes feels more like a series of new chapters in life, each building on the last.
You could find yourself managing a team someday, and the responsibility and pressure that entails may be overwhelming in a way you didn’t expect when you were first charting your course. To pull it off effectively, you may have to build your leadership skills, through developing emotional intelligence, improving your communication, or learning how to teach and mentor others.
The technical skills required by your chosen career — like coding, or editing, or using Photoshop — will have to be complimented by “soft”, interpersonal skills if you want to win at work. The skills you’ll need will evolve throughout your career, depending on the demands of the present role. If you can embrace this need for continued growth, your career path will give you the chance to raise your emotional intelligence and develop yourself to your fullest potential.
The ups and downs of a career can be unexpected, and can really derail us emotionally when things don’t pan out the way we’d hoped. You might even start going down one path, realize that you hate your job, and experience the angst of a “quarter life crisis.”
The traditional model of professional development may look like getting hired by a certain organization and then moving up through the ranks until you reach the top someday. In reality, most people switch jobs every few years, periodically need to get unstuck, and spend time “paying their dues” in positions they don’t find particularly exciting. Sometimes, we have to bounce back from major setbacks that no one plans for, like being fired or laid off.
Learning to cope with disappointment, uncertainty, toxic workplace experiences, and other setbacks is a necessary part of every successful career. By managing your expectations and cultivating the grit to persevere through hardship, you can keep moving ahead, even when the path isn’t linear.
Designing a Holistic Career Path
When planning your career path, take your whole self into consideration, not just your career goals. To design a career path that fits into the larger plan for your life, you’ll need to think about what you value, what you can offer the world, where you’d like to grow, and what you enjoy, not only in the context of your work, but as a whole person. Working with a Denver career counselor who offers holistic career counseling can help you dive deeply into your hopes, dreams, values and life’s purpose. That way you can get clarity on the career path that will support all of your life’s goals.
Maybe it’s very important to you to have opportunities to express yourself creatively. But would you rather live out this value through a creative career track, like becoming a sculptor or a musician, or would you be happier pursuing creative hobbies and following a career path that’s more stable and predictable? The answer will likely depend on your other goals, like where you’d like to live, how much time you want to spend working versus with your loved ones, or how much value you place on financial success.
Not everyone can or should place work at the center of their lives. We need to balance career and relationships. For some people, success looks like working a few days a week and spending the rest of their time with their kids, or saving every penny so they can retire at 45, or working a job that is by no means prestigious, but that brings them satisfaction and joy, and the opportunity to connect in meaningful ways with others.
If you’re not in touch with your own values, what gives you purpose in life, and what makes you happy, it’s impossible to set goals that are a true reflection of who you are and what you want. It can be easy to absorb messaging from the people around you about what you should think is important, or what goals you should set for yourself. Not taking the time to separate these messages from your own hopes and dreams when designing your career path would be a mistake.
Finding a career coach who can help you dig deep and answer these questions can help you craft a career path that is in alignment with your true self, and one that will bring you success on every level — both personally, and professionally.
What Is a Career Path?
A career path is the road that carries you where you want to go, step by step, over many years. It starts with clarity about yourself, then a vision of what you want, and then direction on which way to go and what to do next. Once those things are in place you can begin moving forward with confidence.
Just remember to be flexible and gentle with yourself along the way. It’s important to have a plan, and to consider how different career phases will fit into your life. But know that, at certain points, you’ll have to surrender control, bend and grow as unexpected challenges arise. As long as you remain dedicated to your own personal growth and professional development, you’ll keep advancing, and you’ll build know how to set yourself up for success, and build a career you love.
Career pathing is one part planning, one part introspection, and one part commitment to creating the life you envision for yourself, plus a lot of action and grit. It’s an exceptionally important and often exciting process, but it can be overwhelming and intimidating too. Career coaching with a therapist who specializes in career development can help you sort through all of it, and craft a solid career path that will carry you forward through the decades ahead, and beyond.
I hope that this discussion helped you understand what a “career path” is, and how it’s a little different from just choosing a career. It’s a long game, but when you’re on the right road you’ll have the passion and purpose that will sustain you. I’m grateful that I found my direction, and I have every confidence that with the right support, you’ll find yours too.
Wishing you all the very best,
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
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