A CONGRUENT CAREER VERSUS A PERFECT CAREER
Written by Hannah Chism
Demystifying the Idea of a Perfect Career
Have you ever gotten really excited about something (e.g.: upcoming trip, date, or event), only to find yourself disappointed by the actual outcome? Is the anticipation better than the reality? This is exactly how it is with careers. It seems we can be prone to the illusion that ‘perfect’ exists in the career world.
For example, if one desires to achieve complete autonomy and steps into entrepreneurship by launching their own business… Then yes, they may gain autonomy, however, they may lose camaraderie, gain administrative tasks, and exponentially increase fiscal responsibility. This may result in increased anxiety and isolation. Thus, it is important to assess the rewards versus the losses and weigh them accordingly. Do the downsides of one’s frustration of being managed by another outweigh one’s sense of isolation and anxiety?
The reality is there is no such thing as a perfect career or job, as there will be weaknesses or downsides to any job. When one has the mindset of searching for the perfect job, this can result in a sense of restlessness occupationally, where one may jump from job to job. This can leave a feeling of confusion, frustration, and discouragement. Thus, it is important to measure one’s expectations and find the best option available. Reality or perspective involves establishing a set of priorities and getting past the illusion that a perfect career exists. Instead one’s expectations can be measured by finding a congruent career.
Congruence Without Compromise
In order to secure a satisfying career, it must be a congruent one. This means a career that does not compromise one’s values, beliefs, passions, interests, experiences, strengths, skills, and personality. It means finding one that aligns with these areas to the extent possible. The most important part of determining best career fit is self-awareness. One must have insight into their values, beliefs, passions, interests, experiences, strengths, skills, and personality, in order to determine what type of career suits them best (see "Identifying Unique Competencies and Passions"). Within these areas, it is important to decide which hold the greatest importance and how this impacts one’s overall quality of life. Often one’s quality of life is determined by one’s lifestyle. One’s lifestyle is determined by one’s set of values. These values may shift in each season of life; thus, it is important to pay attention to what each season beckons for and adapt accordingly.
Adapting to Priorities
One must be adaptive to life’s ever-changing priorities. Most individuals spend more waking hours working than anything else. This is why it is important to consider both personal and professional ramifications when undergoing career exploration. In one season, it may make the most sense to work 60-hour weeks as you are establishing yourself as a professional. But that may only last while you are single or without kids. The next season, could require working a normal 40-hour week and setting aside climbing the ladder for a short time in order to take care of a sick family member or a newborn. Each season calls for something different and sometimes our priorities must shift and adapt. This is why it is crucial to identify the present season’s priorities and have a willingness to be flexible.
Within this, know that there is more to you than your career. There is more to life than a career. Moreover, certain seasons call for sacrificing relationships at the expense of one’s career, while others call for the reverse. Both take a certain amount of courage and sacrifice. Sometimes the greatest courage one can demonstrate is an honest reflection on whether one is living congruently with one’s values, beliefs, and self.
There are various facets of a job that contribute to one’s lifestyle, thus impacting one’s overall quality of life. As aforementioned, these components may hold various weights in different seasons of life. Some of these aspects include: finances, flexibility, health benefits, paid time off, schedule (evening/day/weekends), geographic location, clock-in/clock-out, growth potential, or company culture. One’s personality should also be factored into the equation; however, this primarily impacts one’s consideration of company culture in job seeking. The weight given to each of these components is often dictated by one’s family structure, roles, and set of priorities.
There are various motivating factors when selecting a career, aside from lifestyle considerations. Here are two primary motivating factors in career selection. The first is competency, which includes one’s strengths, skills, and background experiences. The second is passion, which includes intrinsic motivation, values, beliefs, and interests. Each person assigns a different value to each of these motivating factors; thus, it is important to assess your primary motivations in selecting a career.
Strategies for Identifying Priorities
So how does one go about establishing a set of priorities in their career quest? First, one must determine their priorities. This can be accomplished by reflecting on how one spends one’s time (actual) versus how one would like to spend their time (hoped for). Creating a pie chart is often a nice visual representation of this. Next, create a list or mind-map these priorities. Second, one must assign a weight to each priority. This can be accomplished by simply rank ordering each category to determine its priority level. Another option is to create a pie chart of one’s priorities in life and assign a certain percentage to each area. Creating a spreadsheet is also a viable option.
Again, most individuals spend more waking hours working than anything else. One’s career touches everything. Extensive stress at work, a highly demanding job, or job dissatisfaction greatly impacts one’s mental health and relationships. For example, anxiety and depression can arise from a dissatisfying or stressful job. This is why one’s career cannot be everything. If it is, then one will not be a whole, well-rounded person. It is imperative to incorporate elements of self-care into one’s daily life. Self-care can also be an avenue of incorporating the deficit areas of one’s career (e.g.: if one’s career aligns with competency yet lacks alignment with passions or interests).
What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?
This has been a difficult article to construct as it nearly feels like a cynical perspective. It shakes off beautiful innocence. The question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” starts as soon as we are born (e.g.: parents wondering what their child will be when they grow up, children playing with certain toys, etc..). And, as the years go by the answer becomes more and more pragmatic based on societal roles (see Linda Gottfredson’s work), expectations, and other inhibiting factors. So, in an effort to not undo everything I have written above, I implore this: Yet do not forget to DREAM. Part of securing a satisfying, congruent career, involves dreaming. The pragmatic work occurs after the dreaming. The nuts and bolts get worked out after we have dreamed and takes shape into the best suited career.
Do Not Be Afraid of Shifting Gears
Intentionally changing jobs, may be an avenue for acquiring intel… It is just as important to know what we do not want versus what we desire. This often requires experiencing what we do not enjoy first. The key is to not chase something illusive. Do not let the shame of changing jobs, hold you back from seeking a congruent career. Though embarrassment may be had, do not let this rule your career quest. Seek and search for a satisfying, congruent career not a perfect one.
My conceptual understanding of job and career theory has primarily been derived from theorists/theories mentioned in the text below. These theorists include John Holland (person-environment), Duane Brown (Values Based), Linda Gottfredson (Circumscription and Compromise), Frank Parsons (Trait N Factor), and Donald Super (Career Development Theory).
Niles, S., & Harriw-Bowlsbey, J. (2017). Career Development Interventions, 5th Ed. Boston, MA: Pearson.