What To Do When Your Career Path Is Unclear

By Julia Thomas|Updated July 29, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Rashonda Douthit , LCSW

Finding a career path is one of the most important tasks you'll ever accomplish. When you aren't sure where you're going with your life, it's easy to become demotivated, bored, apathetic, and disinterested in your job. Until you put choosing the right career path high on your list of priorities, it's difficult to set meaningful work goals. Once you find your ideal career niche, you can find success and add value to the world.

Choosing A Career Path Can Be A Daunting Task For Anyone

So, what does it take to find that career most suited to you? For many, the problem of how to choose a career path starts in high school or even earlier. You may feel pressured to make a career choice in order to take the right classes that align with your proposed career. Often, the brightest teens lose their way because of the pressure placed on them by adults to 'Choose a career path already!' They may resist as a show of rebellion or blame themselves for not being able to decide what to do next.

Others enter the job market without really thinking about a career path. At some time in their work life, they realize they're simply taking whatever comes without having a clear career path ahead of them. Still, others start out with career goals but find their career path doesn't suit them well. This means they need help with how to make a career change later in life. 

To make a wise decision about what career path to pursue, you have to know yourself well, understand the skills and personal qualities you need to be successful in different careers, and find a match between yourself and the right career. It all starts with understanding what a career path is and what it will mean to your life when you follow the best one for you.

What Exactly Is a Career Path, Anyway?

You aren't going to find a career path without putting some thought into it. That's because a career path is so much more than a job title. One basic career path definition is that it's an orderly progression from one job or position to another within a specific career field.

The career path you choose might also include self-development projects like obtaining additional education, learning new work skills, and enhancing your characteristics to prepare yourself for the next step on the path. It will almost certainly include advancement in the career field throughout your working life.

Benefits Of Choosing A Specific Career Path

A career path is best obtained through planning. Otherwise, you're just stumbling from one job or position to another without thought or preparation. So, why does it matter? What are some benefits of planning in choosing a career path? The following is a shortlist of answers people have found to the question of 'What good will come if I choose a career path now?'

  • You won't waste time with jobs that don't help you get where you want to go in life.
  • You'll be a better job candidate because you'll be prepared for the next advancement before you get to it.
  • You can set short-term, intermediate-term, and long-term goals easily all along the way, increasing your motivation over someone who just waits for their career to happen to them.
  • If you ever get bored in a job, you can remind yourself why you're doing it and determine whether that job has fulfilled its purpose for you.
  • You can enjoy life in the here and now, knowing that your course is already set for the future.
  • You can incorporate plans for keeping up with the pace of technology so that you aren't blindsided when your chosen career field changes.
  • It's easier to have a positive outlook when you're making plans and taking action to fulfill those plans in the here and now than it is to worry about things you can't control.
  • You can plan your career path in a way that honors who you are and what you have to offer the world.
  • Even if your ultimate goal is a lofty one, you can have the satisfaction of knowing that each class you take and each job you have is advancing you toward that goal and that each success is going to build on the last until you reach it.

How To Choose A Career Path

Now that you know what a career path is, you might be asking 'What career path should I take?' The truth is that no one can answer that for you. Isn't it great to know that you can do whatever you want if you have the skills, talents, and personal qualities to make it happen?

The problem for many people is that they aren't sure which career path to choose. Because the question is so open, they feel overwhelmed by the seemingly endless possibilities. Barry Schwartz, a noted social psychologist, talks about how we become paralyzed in the face of too many options in his popular TED Talk based on his groundbreaking book The Paradox of Choice. It turns out that more choices don't make it easier to choose. Instead, they make it more difficult.

However, there are ways to make the decision easier. You can take start by exploring career path services in your local area and online. These services help you narrow down the type of career path you want and devise a plan for achieving it one step at a time. So, the first thing you need to know about how to choose a career path is that the choice is yours, but you don't have to figure it out all by yourself.

What Career Path Services Are Available?

Most career services are available through educational institutions or private career counseling centers. Those that are run by universities and community colleges have a stake in convincing you to go to their school to prepare yourself for a career path. While that may be exactly what you want to do, you may at least want to explore other options.

A Career Counselor can provide certain career path services such as testing, test result interpretation, and help with decision-making. They have no special interest in convincing you to choose one career path over another. Instead, their goal is to help you as you work on finding a career path that's right for you.

Take A Career Path Test

Testing can give you a clearer understanding of what you have to offer in the workforce and what a particular career path has to offer. It can also help you find out how to choose educational programs, refine your skills, and develop your qualities to be better-suited for the jobs you want.

You can take a simple career path quiz online to give you a general idea of the types of careers you're best suited to and most interested in choosing. You can take an aptitude test, an interest inventory, or a career personality test.

Choosing A Career Path Can Be A Daunting Task For Anyone

The goal of an aptitude test is to tell you where your natural skills lie. However, if you have a deficiency in an area that's important in the kind of career path you want to follow, many of these skills can be learned or improved.

It's a good idea to take an interest inventory test if you're not sure what kind of career would appeal to you. Career personality tests can help you better understand your attributes. Even personality traits can be changed to a certain extent. A test, then, can't tell you what career path you must choose. Instead, it's a starting point to help you assess potential careers.

How Career Counseling Can Help

Once you've taken all the career path tests you want to take, what do you do if your career path is still unclear? Your best option may be to talk to a therapist who specializes in career counseling. They can help you express your feelings and talk out your thoughts on working, choosing a career path, and moving towards it.

Career counseling specialists work with people who are trying to decide what kind of career they want and what steps they need to take to follow as they pursue that career. They can offer a variety of career path services.

When you're ready to get started on the path that leads to what you want to do with your professional life, you can start by talking to a counselor. Licensed counselors specializing in career path services are available at BetterHelp.com for online counseling. You can solve this dilemma from anywhere you have an internet connection, whether that's in a dorm room, at a hotel, in your own home, or even at a quiet beach. You can have a career that's right for you. You can have a career that brings you success and happiness. All you have to do is take the steps to choose your career path. Once you're on the right path for you, the rest becomes easier!

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