The 3 Step Process to Choosing the Prefect Career

My senior year of high school I faced a serious crisis.

All my life I dreamed of working as an architect. I took drafting classes in high school. Scouted out numerous architectural colleges across the country. And read books written by famous architects.

Then in the fall of my senior year, right before college applications were due, I went and shadowed an architect to learn more about what exactly they do all day.

Choosing the perfect career can feel incredibly overwhelming. This 3 step process can help you narrow your focus and find the perfect career for you.

And that's when I found out architecture was not for me. All of my lifelong dreams came crashing down in this single moment. I liked 10% of the job. The other 90%, not so much.

The next few weeks were sheer panic as I abandoned all of the college applications I'd been working on, which were all for architectural schools.

With the encouragement of my parents I picked out a few other schools that weren't quite so specific and I turned in my applications. A few weeks/months later I was accepted to one of them and off I went.

But now I faced the difficult decision of what exactly should I study?

After my freshman year I took a couple of years off to do missionary work for my church. During this time I was given some inspired advice on how to select my career. 

I'll go into more detail below but the general idea is to create three lists. A list of what you are passionate about. A list of what you are good at. And a list of what skills people will actually pay you for.

Before I dig into each one I'd like to share a piece of advice. You'll be tempted to spend 5, maybe 10 minutes on this activity. Don't. If you really want to figure out what you want to do with your studies/career this activity should take you at least an hour. But really much more. You should also spend a time talking to your parents, friends, other family members, and mentors if you have any. They will often see things that you don't and may have more skills/talents to contribute to your lists.

What Are You Passionate About

Now I know whenever it comes to articles about choosing your career this is pretty much always on the list. And for good reason, it's important to enjoy what you do.

But I think this paralyzes a lot of people. Many of us aren't sure what we're passionate about. And we're afraid we'll choose a career that we don't end up enjoying at all.

When writing down my list as a college student I included things like service, gaining new knowledge and helping others learn, running, designing and creating, and family.

But it wasn't until after my junior year of college that I discovered how much I love psychology and marketing. I am passionate about understanding human behavior and how we each see and interact with the world.

And even here, a few years after college I'm discovering new things I'm passionate about.

So don't stress too much about this particular section. Know that your passions will shift and grow as you get older. I think this is why so many people change careers in their 30's and 40's.

For your career choosing purposes right now as a college student, write down those things you feel passionate about at this time.

What Are You Good At

Next you'll make a list of things your good at. This is where it pays to talk to peers, parents, and mentors to help you gain greater insight into what talents you have.

I found this task rather challenging. It can be difficult to see your own talents and gifts. That's why I think it's so important to ask others to share their insight. They see you in a completely different way then you see yourself. 

Be sure to right down everything your good at, not just things that have to do with careers. I'm talking about things like snowboarding, making cupcakes, drawing comics, etc.

Here's a few of the many things that were on my list: 

  • Graphic Design
  • Building and working with my hands
  • Making Pizza
  • Understanding others points of view
  • Video Games

What Skills Will People Pay You For

The last list you'll make is things that people will actually pay you for. No one's going to pay me to build things out of Lego's all day. Well, except Lego of course.

Many of the things from your previous list may apply here, it's ok to have them on both lists.

It's also important to consider how some of your skills can bleed into other areas. My ability to understand others points of view has served me quite well in marketing. But it could also help me be a great counselor or even psychologist. 

In this day and age it's quite surprising the things some people get paid for. Look at the many YouTube stars that have appeared over the last few years. While it's good to dream, it's also good to be a little realistic with this list.

Once you've finished this list it's time to put it all together.

Wrapping Things Up

Once you've completed your three lists it's time to step back and look at all three of them side by side. This is perhaps the most challenging part. 

What you are looking for is a point where at least one thing on each list connects. For me I saw that one of my passions was learning and helping others do so along with design. One of my skills was understanding others points of view. And one of my marketable skills was being able to draw insight through analysis. Seeing these three things helped me decide that marketing was the right career for me.

From looking at this list you'll probably see multiple directions you could go. But more than likely there will be one that connects more of your passions, skills, and marketable abilities than any other.

I recommend looking at your lists, multiple times over the course of a week. Let your subconscious work on it during that time and then, at the end of the week, sit down and decide what direction you'd like to go.

Last thing. Don't stress too much about this. Like I said in the beginning, as time goes on your interests will change. You'll gain greater clarity as you go through college and as you enter the workforce. It's alright if you don't have the next 25 years of your career planned by your junior year. I don't. And I'm OK with that. As I work I'll see new directions I can go and I'll figure out what I want to do in the long run.

Have questions about this process or need a little help? Feel free to ad your comments below.