Weighing Options in Choosing Your Career Path

By Jeff Thirwell Goddard, Senior Consultant

It’s easy to feel trapped in a career which no longer fuels one’s sense of satisfaction, meaning or purpose. The pay may be great, and you appreciate the lifestyle you’ve created for yourself.  Or, perhaps, you’ve invested a great deal in your education and qualifications to be able to do the work that you do.  In such circumstance, we might fool ourselves into believing we simply don’t have any real choice but to remain in the unsatisfying positions we find ourselves in.

The reality is that, in many cases, the question is not “can I change my career?” but rather, “will I change my career?”

Ultimately, it comes down to the career math.

You might decide that the price of changing your career in terms of financial circumstances or family responsibilities is not one you’re willing to pay – that’s a good outcome.  It’s a good outcome because you’ve embraced your choice and that you’re asserting yourself upon the world rather merely falling victim to it.  In other instances, you may just need a ‘push’ to get you started in a new direction more aligned to your values and passion.

Finding inspiration in others can be a powerful motivating force to propel personal change, particularly with respect one’s career.  I can think of few others which I have found as personally inspiring as the following story.


“Doing the Career Math”

Gary had already had one career change by the time he was 30.  Growing up he had attended a prestigious private school following which he graduated from a top Canadian university at the head of his class.  The plan, laid out before him by family expectation and tradition, was to pursue a career in law.  The whole time, however, Gary was looking to the sky and dreaming of flying.

Interrupting his preordained journey was his decision to join the Canadian Air Force and become a fighter pilot. It was a choice his family could hardly object to given the value they placed on service and community. And, like everything he pursued, he was a successful and he earned his wings – at least until it was discovered that his eyesight was beginning to deteriorate.  While his visual deterioration was slight, it was enough to put an end to his aspirations as a military pilot. He completed an environmental transfer to the Navy where I first met him and we completed our training as Naval Warfare Officers.

Gary’s career in the military was never meant to be a long term one, and after a few years, he retired his commission and fell back onto the family pathway to becoming a lawyer, getting married and starting a family along the way.  As fate would have it, he secured a role as a highly specialized lawyer working for a firm in Edmonton where his office overlooked the runways for the municipal airport.  Day after day, he would stare out the window watching aircraft take off and land and imagine, “what if that were me?” until he could take it no longer.  He left the law firm, moved up north and began his career as a bush pilot, starting the same way every bush pilot does: loading bags onto small planes.   

Kind of a romantic story, eh?  Well, what is less romantic about Gary’s story is that his decision was not impulsive, ill-considered or frivolous in the least.  It involved a great deal of conversation and support from his spouse, a painstaking discernment of their family finances, research, and networking to find his opportunity – a kind of “career math”.  In Gary’s circumstances, he discovered his capacity to choose and thus was able to take the measure of the commitment he would have to invest to pursue he lifelong dream of flying.

A core competency, and a source of great satisfaction for career coaches, is working with people to help them reconnect to their capacity to choose and to evaluate the magnitude of the commitment demand of them, to help them do their “career math”.  While Gary’s successful career change story is inspiring, what’s truly instructive is how Gary arrived at decision, by taking the time to do his own career math.

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