Careers develop from many decisions made over time. Some are made by default, and some are made by other people. The more of these decisions you can make, the more likely you’ll have a better outcome, as long as they’re based on good information and insights about yourself and about your fit with the careers of interest.

There are a few fortunate souls who realize quite early that they want to be a chef, pilot, musician or other professional, but most of us are likely to back into a career through happenstance, fits and starts. There are more career options now than in the past due to factors such as expanding technology, prolonged adolescence, the lack of mandated military or civil service and generally higher levels of affluence, to name a few. To complicate matters, the choices for college majors are broader than ever, vocational and trade career paths are not always apparent, and it is sometimes hard to see the connection between a major and a career that will deliver a good return on the investment in school. So they feel it’s back to square one.

Many people achieve great success by working in a seemingly disconnected variety of jobs before finding their true direction, assuming they have learned from these experiences and built a skill stack that will transfer to other roles. However, people will be most comfortable and productive when they develop a greater sense of clarity for a rewarding and meaningful career direction earlier than later in the process. Although this will happen naturally over time for many people, there are ways to speed things up process.

Picture three overlapping circles: the things you are good at; the things you enjoy doing; and the things you can make money at. If you’re lucky, you will eventually make it to that golden triangle where all three circles overlap. The things you are good at depend on your aptitudes. The things you enjoy doing are related to your interests and to some degree your personality traits. The things you can make money at depend in some measure on outside circumstances such as business needs and the general economy, but they are also related to your personality characteristics and psychological makeup.

Imagine the decision-making process to find a productive and rewarding career as a funnel. As it narrows, the issues and decisions involved become more subtle and difficult. The top and widest part of the funnel relates to a person’s aptitudes and abilities. If one does not possess the skills to perform in a particular job, the likelihood of becoming happy and successful there is minimal. However, if the necessary abilities are indeed present, the next most important factors to consider are patterns of interest. The more closely you can align your interests to your actual job duties, the happier you will be over time.

The most narrow bottom part of the funnel represents personality traits and characteristics. For instance, if you are naturally introverted, you may not be happy in a role that requires a high level of social interaction. Similarly, if you enjoy working in a structured environment, you may not feel comfortable in roles characterized by ambiguity and/or independent action. Personality is not destiny, but it affects our actions and behavior consistently over time, and it clearly affects the way we relate to the world. It also offers meaningful signposts and roadmaps for career success.

With self-knowledge and awareness in these three areas, people can make better-informed career decisions. Your life’s work does not have to be drudgery. In fact, it can be quite satisfying and rewarding if you make the right decisions and find a career that will be meaningful to you and others.

If you or someone you know are at a career planning choice point, there are tools that can help you find the right direction more quickly. Developmental career guidance that includes professionally developed and statistically validated aptitude assessments, interest inventories and personality measures is a proven and cost-effective way to jumpstart the development of a meaningful career, and to help people make midcareer adjustments. Get in touch with us to discuss your career situation and to learn more about the options that may make sense for you at this stage of your development.