Choosing the Right Career Path

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About 2 years ago, one of my friends went through a career crisis and asked a bunch of us for help. This page started as a list of book summaries in an e-mail to my friend. In a way, my career search will never truly be over though, so I have added a few things and tweaked a few others over the ears.

- Scott Redmond, 8-Oct-2012

Book: What Should I Do With the Rest of My Life, by Po Bronson

This book contains more than 60 stories of people who have switched careers and found something that's a better fit. There's a consistent theme that it takes time and effort to identify what you should do with your life. I don't mean to say that it's overwhelming; more that it's worthy of sustained effort and it's okay to try things and potentially make mistakes. This book was also very helpful for showing how normal it is to struggle to find something better, simply by sharing so many stories. It also highlighted that very few people learn their true gift through an epiphany; almost everybody starts out with a small voice inside that they must carefully nurture before it turns into a driving force.

Book: Do What You Love

This book was written by a guy who went from a $200k+ job on wall street to a $50k income doing a mix of his favourite types of work. It focuses on working on what you love to do and offers a lot of advice about the transition, with stories of other people who have made similar transitions and love what they do. There are some sections on dealing with fear of transition, and the key idea that I still remember is to feel the fear and do it anyway. I've since learned other techniques for dealing with fear (see The Work of Byron Katie below).

The Work of Byron Katie

Byron Katie helps people find truth.

Her approach is deceptively simple (just 4 questions and a turnaround) but powerful for dealing with fears, anxieties, and any stressful thoughts or beliefs.

There's a great overview at and a blog (with videos) at I would recommend starting with "Loving What Is" or "I Need Your Love, Is That True?" because both books include a great introduction to the process. I've tried doing the approach for 30 days in a row and it really does have a lasting effect. I've let fear control my decisions in the past; this gives me the upper hard.

Podcast (and book): Get-It-Done Guy

Stever Robbins, the Get it Done Guy (host of a weekly podcast on iTunes - yes, I'm a huge productivity geek) paraphrased Martha Beck's approach (below) as doing more of the things that feel like eating oreo ice cream cakes and less of the things that feel like eating worms. Check it out: Get-It-Done Guy: How to Choose Your Life Purpose.

When I first started listening to Stever Robbins, I found his style annoying but the information was great so I kept listening. After a few months, I was hooked. The podcast gives a new tip every week for free and you can search through all of the previous tips. I highly recommend his book as well (although you can get much of its content from the podcast archives if you're willing to search a bit). Two of my favourite things from his book are: 1) creating a life map to help maintain balance, and 2) evaluating your technology.

Book: Steering by Starlight, by Martha Beck

Although I'm a big fan of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I always struggled with the 2nd step of identifying a personal mission. Beck's approach is a bit more touchy-feely but it helped me much more because it's such a different perspective.

Working with a Career Advisor

Working with a career advisor helped a lot too. I've already mentioned that mine put a lot of weight on the MBTI, and one of the biggest benefits for me was finally accepting that it's okay to make big decisions based on feelings instead of wasting time trying to develop a formula to "prove" that it's the right choice. The real point is that it was helpful in ways I hadn't expected, so I would recommend talking to a career advisor if you're at all interested. One of the problems I had with all the books was that as I got more and more information, some of it conflicting, the problem seemed to expand. My career advisor didn't address this directly but I did come out of it with a much clearer understanding.

Book: Great Work, Great Career, by Stephen Covey

This book makes a strong argument for identifying your key strengths and behaving like a consultant (in terms of providing solutions -- not in terms of 90h work weeks) which is a theme that came up in many different books. I especially liked their suggested layout for breaking down your strengths, into Talents, Passions, Conscience (and I also listed weaknesses - since you don't necessarily have to make them better but you do have to manage them). Disclaimer: I'm still reading and studying Covey's 7 Habits of Highly Effective People so I'm definitely biased in his favour.

Book: Do What you Are

This book uses the MBTI personality types (not to be confused with the Kiersey types that use the same letters) and offers suggestions based on your type. This approach was heavily recommended by my career advisor, and she was emphatic that your type just identifies your preference so you're/we're not limited to the careers suggested for any one type. It's similar to being right- or left-handed: you can open a door with either hand, but it's more comfortable one way. The advice for each type was most helpful when I evaluated what I thought was useful and threw out the rest.

My Own Wandering Career Path

When I was choosing a university program, I wanted to enter computer engineering because I liked playing video games and I wanted to be a computer programmer. My cousin suggested a different program, systems design engineering, because I could still do computer engineering if I wanted but it was much more flexible so I could also transition into electrical or mechanical engineering if I changed my mind. The flexibility was good, because I enjoyed the mechanical engineering courses more than the others, and by my 3rd year my dream job was to program computer simulations for robots. After undergrad, I did a master's degree (also in systems design engineering) focused on simulating robotics - and that's when I discovered my true gift: I worked as a teaching assistant to help pay my student loans and I found myself developing new teaching material and giving extra tutorials for fun. I was hooked on teaching, but I wanted to have some working experience before becoming a teacher. After my masters degree, I worked as a mission operations analyst for MDA Space Missions, simulating the robotic arms on the International Space Station. It was my 3rd year dream job, but after the initial excitement of working with NASA and learning lots of new things wore off, the desire to teach returned. After 5 years with MDA, I became a physics teacher in continuing education at Vanier. The teaching was great fun and very intense with longer hours even than when we had space shuttle missions going on. A year later, facing the arrival of a second child, I went back to engineering at MDA with its family-friendly working hours (typically 7:00 to 3:30). Over the next year, I took some time off to research career changes and work with a career counselor. I was really lucky to find some fantastic resources that clarified what I was doing and gave me tools to work through it. I ultimately returned to Vanier to see how things work out, and don't regret it for a second.

When I was in undergrad, one of my favourite professors told us all that lifelong jobs and single-path careers no longer existed; that our generation would change careers as often as our parents' generation changed jobs (within the same career). As an undergrad I found that scary. Having lived through it, it can be daunting and even frightening but once you work through the fear it becomes empowering and exciting!

I'll finish with one of my favourite quotations, which I encountered during this research:
Work is love made visible
—Kahlil Gibran