When you no longer want to work in your current career but you don’t know what you want to do, you may ask your friends for advice, or Google “exciting jobs” or turn to pros/cons lists of each job, after all, it was good enough for Benjamin Franklin. Perhaps you decide to invest in an assessment such as MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) or Clifton Strengths (formerly Strengths Finder) to help you figure out what career you should pursue. With so much information out there trying to guide you, it’s hard to know how to make the right choice. But what if I told you your new career can be found inside of you through your values?
Why are values the key to career choice?
If you determine your next career or job based on your values, you will be happy and fulfilled, more engaged, and productive. Why? Simply, values are what is important to you. Have you ever moved from one bad job to another? You made the move perhaps because “anything will be better than the current job.” But shortly after you moved into the new job, you realized you are in yet another bad situation. That’s because without fully defining your values, you can’t truly evaluate the next opportunity.
Think about a time when you were really frustrated at work – usually that frustration stems from a value being violated. For me, I have a very important value of transparency which I define as knowing why decisions are being made at a company. You may define transparency as having trust with your boss. (I want that too! But that is a different value for me – Trust). That’s why it’s important to not only identify your values but define what they mean to you. Values will not only inform the type of career you want, but also the type of company, and boss.
Values v. Strengths
Knowing your strengths will help you inform some of your values, but strengths assessments are limited because you could be strong at something like math or coding, or data analysis and have no interest in doing any of them for a career. For example, I love watercolor painting and I consider myself quite good at it, so it is a strength. That said, if you told me to pursue being a watercolor artist, I would bristle. Why? First, I have no interest in doing it full-time. Second, my top value is stability, which means having a steady paycheck. Stability would never be identified as a “strength” and therefore, I’d be missing a major value that is important in informing my career choice. If you focus on your values; however, you will not only capture the specific strengths that are important to you, but everything that is important to you in a job, career, and workplace.
Values v. Preferences
Assessments like MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) focus on preferences, categorizing the assessment takers into one of 16 personality types which Myers Briggs says can inform career paths. There are dozens of articles and published books on aligning your personality type to a career. Besides the fact that some books have debunked the personality assessment, it’s still taken by more than two million people a year – so, why do I believe this is not the way to find a new career? It gives you suggestions that, again, don’t cover every aspect of what is important to you and don’t allow you to “dream.”
To illustrate, I am an “INFJ” and some suggested careers include counselor, psychologist, scientist, graphic designer, librarian and professor, writer, and human resources. There are numerous types of psychologists, multiple areas of HR, and dozens, if not hundreds, of writing careers. So, the suggestions are broad and not specific enough to know what to pursue. In my case, I once pursued screenwriting because I loved it so much. But, when I was screenwriting and not working in another job, I was anxious all the time. Why? Because that other strong value – stability – was pulling at me daily as I was watching my savings account dwindle. Maybe if I continued screenwriting, I would have become one of the small number of writers who broke through and became a consistently working screenwriter, but my anxiety over the lack of stability would have taken a mental and emotional toll in the process.
My INFJ profile also didn’t suggest my dream career - coaching. Maybe that fits as a subset of “counselor,” but coaching and counselor are very different. Without identifying the value of helping people and defining it as “helping people find their passion and develop in their careers,” I may not have landed on career coaching specifically.
Values = Fulfillment
When you identify and define all of your values, you will be able to compare any job or career against what is important to you so you can be confident you are making the right leap to a new job or career that will fulfill you. If you end up in a great job but in a few years realize it’s not for you – chances are, your values have changed. What was important to you before you had kids may change after you had kids. Many people have seen their values change from before COVID to after COVID. If that happens, reidentify, redefine, reevaluate. It’s all inside you waiting to come out.