Making a choice on what career options to pursue next is challenging. Here is a bit of career coaching on how to make a good choice.
I have the privilege of working with clients who are very talented, intelligent and motivated. The challenge they often face is that the world is their oyster: they have a lot of choices regarding what to do next.
In fact, a common refrain from clients is that they aren’t sure which of the options available to them they should explore.
I know I personally struggled with this prior to working with a career coach myself. In my head this endless loop seemed to go on over months and even years. It went something like:
I should start a business because….
No, actually, I should buy an existing business and that would be great because…
No, what I should really do is work to get that next promotion because…
What would be even better than that is if I partnered with John because…
But actually, if I’m going to do that I should just start a business…
And the loop plays over and over and over again, unless you find a career coach or someone else who can help you evaluate all the opportunities and figure out where to focus your time and energy, and actually make a choice.
For me personally, it felt exhausting and I was frustrated by my lack of progress.
This wasn’t the first time I had felt this. I remember graduating from business school over a decade ago and feeling like there were too many choices. Where should I focus my energy in trying to find something? In fact, I remember feeling this sort of envy for my friends who were doctors.
You see doctors have a very well worn path ahead of them. You study biochemistry in college, then you go to medical school for 4 years, then you do your residency and then you do a fellowship. After that you either stay in academics, go into private practice or work for a hospital.
I’m not saying it isn’t a lot of work, but other than picking schools, your only choices are what to specialize in and where to practice after you are trained. I always envied the simplicity of that. -A ton of work, to be sure, but a path with very little ambiguity.
Now look at those of us in the business world. You want to shift from technology to marketing? It can be done. You want to go from consulting to finance? It can be done. For profit, non-profit, employee, business owner…
In short, you can pretty much build a bridge to anywhere in the business world. –And that choice is overwhelming!
It is in this light that I find the work of Barry Schwartz (author of “The Paradox of Choice”) very interesting.
Here is what he tells us:
As more choices become available, we become less likely to make a choice AND less satisfied with the choices we make.
Here is an example: I want to watch something on Netflix, but I don’t know what. I scroll through a bunch of movies for 5-10 minutes. I get frustrated. There are a bunch of okay movies but none are calling to me. I can’t make a decision. I close Netflix.
Now, for those of you old enough to remember when we used to have 3 channels on TV: CBS, NBC and ABC, did that ever happen? No, you usually picked something and enjoyed it.
The point is that trying to compare a ton of options becomes quickly overwhelming at which point we are less likely to act. In fact, we are more apt to buy when there are only a few options vs. many… take that Baskin Robbins!
There is another phenomenon to consider when making a choice, and that is whether we are what Schwartz calls “maximizers” or “satisficers.”
The classic example of a maximizer: someone who turns on the radio, hears a song they like, and then presses every one of their presets to make sure it is the best song of the ones on the radio. (I do this.)
The classic example of a satisficer: someone who turns on the radio, hears a song they like, and then listens to it.
Here are a few tendencies of maximizers:
- Look at all the possibilities before deciding
- Always look for better opportunities
- Channel surf even while watching a program
- Enjoy rankings (best movie, athlete, etc)
- Never settle for second best
- Find it difficult to shop for a gift for a friend
…and satisficers are marked by a tendency to do this less.
The challenge? People with high maximization scores are found to be:
- Less satisfied with life
- Less happy
- Less optimistic
- More depressed
So, what if you are trying to make a choice about what career to pursue and you know you are a maximizer?
In my experience, both personally and with clients, the best thing you can do is put all the options on the table and evaluate them as objectively as possible. See my blog (How to evaluate a job offer).
Then once you make a decision try really, really hard not to look back and second guess it. –This is far, far easier said than done.
If you are trying to make the jump from maximizer to satisficer, the best thing to do is practice being a satisficer with small things:
- Order the first thing you like on the menu without looking at all the options
- Listen to the first song you like on the radio
- Pick the first option that looks okay on Netflix
- Buy the first gift that seems acceptable
What you will find as you practice this approach to making a decision is that it actually saves you a huge amount of time.
I actually find this a bit ironic. On the one hand, part of the way I justify being a maximizer is by saying to myself that I only have a bit of time so I don’t want to waste it on something that is just okay… In fact, what I am doing is wasting time deciding.
So, take back a bit of your time, make a decision about what to do in your career, and feel good about it. –And in the meantime, be satisfied with your choices as much as possible.
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