Forget the soul search; just do something

When it comes to finding a career, the huge soul search is hugely overrated. At some point — usually much earlier than people think — you should just start doing something. Anything.

While the soul search is routinely touted in the self-help section of bookstores, it is not the most practical approach. The first problem with the soul search is that it takes forever. Literally. Knowing oneself is not an end game; it is infinite. So there’s no point in waiting until you “know yourself” to pick a career. The other problem with the soul search is that it assumes a soul mate. But with career choice, “there is no one right answer,” says Jennifer Floren, CEO of Experience.com. “The concept that there is one right job for someone is ridiculous.”

Take the pressure off career decisions by reminding yourself that there are many types of work each person could do and be happy. “People have multiple selves,” writes Herminia Ibarra, a professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD in France. Different jobs will address different parts of ourselves at different periods in our lives. “In any of us there’s a part that’s very pragmatic and there’s a part that’s very creative, and there are times in life when we give more time and space and energy to one side than the other. But if it’s in you, eventually it kind of bubbles up, and it wants some airtime.” No one job can satisfy our whole personality, so stop aiming for that.

People coming out of college today will change jobs every eighteen months. That’s a lot of jobs, so choosing one is not that big a deal. If you don’t like it, it’ll be over soon. “It’s a waste of energy to focus on the negative consequences of a job search because there’s no such thing as a wrong choice,” says Floren. “Every step of a job search is a good step because you’re going to grow and you’re going to learn more about yourself and the world around you.”

Another argument for action over analysis is that sticking with the first job you pick is not as beneficial as moving around a bit. So making a choice you don’t like could be good for you. “The trend today is to get a broad perspective from working in different industries. This is a way to build a more layered network that will work for your future,” says Catherine Kaputa, a branding consultant.

When it comes to career schemes, we simply do not have accurate imaginations about what life will be like for us in different situations, said Daniel Gilbert, professor of psychology at Harvard University, when I interviewed him. Our most accurate information about what will make us happy comes from snooping in on other peoples’ lives to see if they are happy. And the best way to watch other people is to be in a variety of offices. Gilbert calls the informal process of judging other peoples’ happiness “surrogation,” and he says, “surrogation is the best way to predict if we’ll be happy. Observe how happy people are in different situations.”

So what DO you need to know before you make a decision? Figure out what was bad about the jobs you’ve already had so that you don't duplicate the problem. Then just start testing the waters — put a toe in the current to see how it feels. Then take a leap, and if you don’t like where you land, reframe your landing pad as just a stepping-stone. And start putting your foot in the water again.

Gilbert says, “We should have more trust in our own resilience and less confidence in our predictions about how we’ll feel. We should be a bit more humble and a bit more brave.”

Posted in Fulfillment, Job hunt, Knowing yourself, No image
15 comments on “Forget the soul search; just do something
  1. Andy says:

    “When it comes to finding a career, the huge soul search is hugely overrated. At some point – €“ usually much earlier than people think – €“ you should just start doing something. Anything.”

    Good advice. I got there eventually after spending, approx, 2002-2004 just thinking and not really doing. Doing stuff and being able to change is much better than waiting to do the right thing.

  2. Erik says:

    Soul search is not just my cup of tea but neverless your article was very interesting to me. My credo is that you do something which satisfy you. For example, you will not keep your job (even well paid), if it is something what you do not like. Another thing is that everyone should have dreams – I call it dreams or visions. But only visions alone are not good, you have to apply them – applied visions :-) It is bad when you keep your visions in the head and don´t try to life them. Just do something ;-)

  3. Wynne Lewis says:

    Thank you for this grounding advice. I’ve saddled myself with the idea that the soul search to find exactly the right job is something I should be doing. Therefore, I’ve felt pressure, and guilt (self-inflicted) for staying where I am.

  4. Lee says:

    I often give different people advice about their career when they are searching for something to suit them.

    Some people have no idea what they want to do, so for these people I always think it is best for them to do as many jobs as possible, in many different types of organisations. Along the way people will find something, or see a role that they may not be doing themselves but can aspire to do in the future.

    For others who want a more specific role, I suggest that they gain experience in their free time. Create a portfolio and focus on things that deliver physical results, these results can then be explained or displayed to a potential employer.

    Personally I have found that not staying at a job longer than just over a year is beneficial. Especially if I could not see any promotional prospects on the horizon. But I am a target driven individual who needs to see developing results in his role and salary.

  5. people says:

    Regarding Erik’s post:

    “Therefore, I’ve felt pressure, and guilt (self-inflicted) for staying where I am.”

    This is exactly how my wife feels about her job. I’m sending her a url to this post to read, she really isn’t happy in her current occupation.

  6. Google People says:

    The career that you choose to go into will effect the rest of your life. So you better choose one that will make you happy and prosperous in the long run.

  7. Bruce says:

    What if I have no soul to search and nothing interests me? Why do you think life is valuable when it isn’t?

  8. google people search engine says:

    Finding a way to be happy is what every one is looking for. It can be in your hand or just steps away, you must find it.

  9. google people finder says:

    I had to let you know, I really enjoyed you post, even though I am leaving a link, I did read your story, and wanted to let you know, I feel you very much so, I am so glad you were able to make the choices you made for you self.

  10. googlepeoplesearch says:

    Thanks for the great information, your blog is very well done. It has been hard for me over the last 2 years, and reading this made me feel that things could go right if you try hard.

  11. Forex Programming says:

    Soul search is not just my cup of tea but neverless your article was very interesting to me. My credo is that you do something which satisfy you. For example, you will not keep your job (even well paid), if it is something what you do not like. Another thing is that everyone should have dreams – €“ I call it dreams or visions. But only visions alone are not good, you have to apply them – €“ applied visions :-) It is bad when you keep your visions in the head and don´t try to life them. Just do something ;-)
    Forex Programming

  12. Jade R says:

    Thankyou for this post.  It is very informative.  More posts like this would be wonderful; keep them coming.

  13. Jade R says:

    Thankyou for this post.  It is very informative.  More posts like this would be wonderful; keep them coming.

  14. best notebook says:

    my soul is empty lol

  15. Kimberly Sewell says:

    Thanks for the great post! I am currently on one of those ill-advised soul-searching missions. I have dropped out of college twice, enrolled in five universities and explored three different majors.

    Your advice to “reframe your landing pad as just a stepping stone” was particularly valuable to me. When I left school the first time, I felt like I had completely failed at life because the thing I had wanted to do didn’t make me happy anymore.

    I agree that action is necessary and sampling careers is an effective way of gathering knowledge about yourself, I also believe that a little self-reflection and quiet meditation on one’s thoughts is also valuable.

    I hope you don’t mind if I mention your post in my own blog?

    Thanks again!

    -Kimberly

In Archive