Bad career advice: The 6 worst ways to choose career

Picture of a red stop sign against a blue skyThere are many different ways to choose a career direction.

Some are pretty predictable, others a bit bizarre… and then there’s the downright bad. I’ve seen lots of less-than-ideal ways to choose careers, with a handful of repeat offenders.

These are my top 6 pitfalls, if you’re choosing or changing career…


Career Pitfall #1: It’s what my family / friends / dog wants

Realistically, your dog is never going to tell you what career to choose… but bear with me. Your dog is clearly not you. Your dog does not have your skills, your abilities, your values or your personality. What would make your dog happy, proud or fulfilled is, I’m guessing, quite different to what you’d choose for yourself. And this holds true whether you’re 15 or 50.

My point? Wanting someone else to be happy is not a good enough reason to make yourself unhappy – no matter who they are. 

Career Pitfall #2: I think, you know, I could be good at it

This is one of my ‘red flag’ phrases. When I hear it – which is often – it typically sounds hesitant and half-hearted, and that’s because it is; it’s the ‘meh’ of career choice. Honestly, you could be good at many, many things… what I’m looking for is the overlap between good at and really enjoy. I want to see your eyes light up.

Fail to factor in your feelings, and you’re likely to end up being good at your job, but really unhappy – and there’s far too many people living that out already.

Career Pitfall #3: It pays really well

To choose a good career, you need to know what’s important to you – and if money’s a major motivator, then definitely factor that in. But money alone won’t make you happy. Studies find we quickly adjust to financial success, whereas lasting fulfillment comes from being engaged in something personally meaningful.

Want to be happy? Build positive relationships, figure out how you can make a difference that matters to you… and look for higher-paying careers in areas that hold some genuine personal interest. Aim for more than just money.

Career Pitfall #4: It looks really cool

There are lots of things which look great from a distance; long-haul air travel, my attempts at wallpapering, excessive botox. Close-up and it’s a different story…

When you’re choosing a career, remember that you’re not going to be looking at it – you’re going to spend years of your life in there, doing the work. If it looks glamorous, check your assumptions and test the waters, so you know the reality that lies behind the image. Looks alone will not keep you happy in the long run…

Career Pitfall #5: It’s all I’m capable of

Nothing is sadder than hearing someone limit themselves like this. We are all capable of so much more than we think, if we’d only take the chance.

Our expectations are enormously powerful (more on how our expectations affect our careers here), and If we’ve grown up lacking confidence, it can feel safer not to reach too high. If you recognize this, know that you can change at any time – it’s never too late to take a step and start building a career that stretches you.

Career Pitfall #6: I don’t know what else to do…

I’ve worked with countless clients who ‘fell into’ their career, because they simply didn’t know what else to do. It seemed as good a choice as anything else… at least until they realized it was making them unhappy.

Honestly, not knowing is normal when it comes to careers – there are thousands of options out there, and you can’t possibly know every one. It’s hard enough just to know yourself, let alone how that might translate into real career options.

Whilst not knowing isn’t a problem, not finding out is an altogether different thing.

Your career’s a major part of your life, with the potential to add immeasurably to your overall happiness… or to make you miserable.

It pays to take your time – and get help, if you need it – to ensure you end up making decisions for all the right reasons, and find a career that really works for you.

Looking to choose or change career? Make sure you get good advice!

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