If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I don’t have a career,” you’re not alone. Countless individuals find themselves grappling with this sentiment, unsure of how to navigate their way to fulfilling professional life. Drawing on our experience, we can assure you that you are not alone. Each person has unique talents, skills, and capabilities. The challenge lies in uncovering those attributes and leveraging them into a rewarding career.
The Current State of Career Satisfaction
Research by Gallup in 2017 showed that only 34% of US employees are engaged at work, suggesting that many people might not be in jobs or careers that resonate with their passions, skills, and values (Gallup, 2017). This can lead to the pervasive feeling of “I don’t have a career.” But what does it mean exactly to have a career? It’s worth exploring this question before delving further into our discussion.
Understanding the Career Concept
A career, as defined by The Cambridge Dictionary, is “the job or series of jobs that you do during your working life, especially if you continue to get better jobs and earn more money.” But this definition might seem restrictive and outdated, not accounting for the non-linear trajectories, diverse experiences, and various forms of fulfillment that modern careers encompass.
Indeed, as uncovered in a study by Sullivan and Baruch (2009), modern careers are more boundaryless, portable, and individualized. People no longer have to stick to a single profession for life. Hence, feeling like you “don’t have a career” could mean you haven’t found a fulfilling job, you’re unsure of your career direction, or you’re simply not where you want to be professionally.
The Role of Self-Discovery in Career Satisfaction
Due to our practical knowledge, we understand that a critical aspect of career satisfaction involves self-discovery. Career psychologist John L. Holland’s theory of vocational personalities and work environments offers a model for matching your personality type to a compatible work environment, increasing the likelihood of job satisfaction and career success (Holland, 1997). Holland identified six personality types: Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, and Conventional, each aligning with specific careers.
Ask yourself, “Do I know my personality type? Am I in a career that suits my personality?” Reflecting on these questions can be a significant first step in resolving the feeling of “I don’t have a career.”
Crafting a Career from Current Opportunities
Drawing on our experience, we encourage those who feel like they don’t have a career to consider reframing their perspective. Every job, regardless of its nature, presents opportunities for growth and development. You can develop skills, network with other professionals, and gain insights into various aspects of the industry.
There’s evidence that individuals can create fulfilling careers from existing jobs. Wrzesniewski et al. (1997) found that some hospital cleaners who had job descriptions no different from their colleagues considered their work as a calling. They went beyond their formal duties, spending more time with patients and helping make the hospital a friendly place. By expanding their job boundaries and finding personal meaning in their work, these cleaners effectively transformed their jobs into fulfilling careers.
Overcoming Career Inertia
It’s possible to get stuck in a job and feel like there’s no career progression. This phenomenon, known as career inertia, was explored by London (1983). Overcoming career inertia involves taking proactive steps like acquiring new skills, exploring potential career paths, and seeking professional advice.
Also, consider taking a strength-based approach to your career development. The VIA Institute on Character has done extensive research on character strengths and how they can be used to improve various life domains, including careers (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). By identifying and leveraging your unique strengths, you can carve out a career path that feels authentic and rewarding.
Navigating Career Transitions
Even if you don’t have a career now, it’s entirely possible to transition into one. Numerous studies suggest that career changes, even dramatic ones, are feasible and increasingly common in the modern labor market (Ibarra, 2002). People successfully transition into different industries, start businesses, or go back to school to pursue new interests. It’s never too late to initiate change and start working towards a career you desire.
Conclusion on “don’t have a career”
Feeling like you “don’t have a career” can be overwhelming and discouraging. Yet, it’s also an opportunity to reassess your professional path, explore your passions, skills, and strengths, and chart a new course towards a fulfilling career. Remember, having a career isn’t about climbing a predefined ladder. It’s about crafting a journey that aligns with who you are and what you want from your work life.
In our experience, every individual has the potential to build a fulfilling career, no matter where they are currently in their professional journey. Feeling like you don’t have a career can be the first step to building one that truly resonates with you. After all, a meaningful career is not just about making a living—it’s about making a life.
Gallup (2017). State of the American Workplace. Sullivan, S. E., & Baruch, Y. (2009). Advances in Career Theory and Research: A Critical Review and Agenda for Future Exploration. Journal of Management. Holland, J. L. (1997). Making vocational choices: A theory of vocational personalities and work environments. Wrzesniewski, A., McCauley, C., Rozin, P., & Schwartz, B. (1997). Jobs, Careers, and Callings: People’s Relations to Their Work. Journal of Research in Personality. London, M. (1983). Toward a theory of career motivation. Academy of Management Review. Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Ibarra, H. (2002). How to stay stuck in the wrong career. Harvard Business Review.