Many of the people who hire me as their coach aren't struggling with a lack of career options. Rather they are stuck because they have too many ideas and don't know where to start to narrow them down.
This reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me who moved from the U.S. to New Zealand for a year. She lived in a town in New Zealand where the local store had four kinds of cereal, two kinds of soap, one kind of lettuce - you get the picture. Decision making was easy.
Fast forward to her first trip to Target after moving back home. She made it to the laundry detergent aisle where she was bombarded by twenty different choices. Powder or liquid? Spring-fresh or no fragrance? Big jug or little box? It was paralyzing. She had to leave the store, she was so overwhelmed by how complicated it seemed just to wash clothes.
Of course laundry detergent choices aren't exactly life-and-death. All of those products are going to get your clothes clean - it's hard to go terribly wrong.
But it would have made my friend's trip to Target less overwhelming if she had thought a little bit beforehand about what she wants in a detergent. Then she could have filtered out all the products that didn't match her needs. She could have made a beeline for the high efficiency fragrance-free powder and gotten the hell out of the store.
Obviously we want to take a little more time and care with our career choices than our laundry. But there are tens of thousands of different jobs. O*NET lists over 55 different job titles just in the "Healthcare Practitioners and Technicians" job family alone.
Career option overwhelm doesn't only happen to twenty-somethings who are still exploring. Even if you've been in one career for years or have had a succession of careers, there will come a day when the question, "Now what?" starts nagging at you, and you can think of ten or more options to consider.
Many of us "go shopping" in the job market before looking inward to decide what our career priorities are. We end up feeling like my friend at Target. We become dazed and confused from all the possibilities and have no idea how to choose. We end up having conversations with ourselves that go something like this:
"I could stay here and go for that promotion."
"Maybe I could try to do something with my photography."
"Microsoft has great benefits, and they are less likely to lay off people in my kind of work."
"An MBA is probably something I need if I want to keep going with this career."
"I've always wanted to make a difference the world - is it too late to consider the Peace Corps?"
The key to getting unstuck is to become clear about what you want.
Although this sounds pretty basic, most of us don't spend much time thinking about what we want in an ordered or systematic way that helps us make good decisions.
What do you enjoy doing? What are key priorities for you now? What elements are non-negotiable? What kind of work environment do you know works well for you (or is terrible for you)? Sometimes the answers are easy to reach, and sometimes they are surprising or even painful.
I help people ask and answer these questions about themselves so that they can make key decisions about their careers that are a good fit.
We live in a time and culture that overwhelms us with options. Clarity helps us stay calm in any context that presents us with multiple choices, whether it be creating a career plan, deciding which book to read next, choosing a cell phone plan, or buying laundry detergent.