How to make imperfect career choices great life lessons

Walking up the slope, I was looking ahead, scanning the rough spot where I knew a tiny flower was growing. I had found the little everlasting daisy years before, and every time I’d walked this track since, I’d looked forward to seeing it. Surviving the hot dry summit year after year, it was clearly a tough customer, and I was keen to check on its welfare.

Such a tiny, wizened thing requires close inspection and a lack of haste to be truly appreciated. I was walking free of any commercial commitments – finally – and I was taking all the time in the world to look at the favourite things I’d skirted over during my client walks. I felt completely like myself again.

Being a full-time hike-fitness trainer and guide didn’t turn out the way I’d hoped, but it had other unexpected, positive outcomes that have had a lasting impact. Prior to this, I’d been guessing at what would make me happy, without stopping to really understand myself first. My “failure” let me discover things about myself that have become guideposts in my career and life. Here are the lessons I’ve taken from this experience that you can apply to your own life.

The everlasting daisy, true to its name

Work on yourself, first

I convinced myself that if I was an outdoorsy personal trainer, life would be perfect. The truth is, though, the reasons I was unhappy in my job weren’t easily fixed by my new choice, and if I’d stopped long enough to reflect on this, I might have gone into it differently. Even a seemingly perfect career choice can fall apart with the wrong economic conditions, co-workers, organisation, timing, and suchlike. Your happiness is your own responsibility and it’s a moving feast. If you’re confident in who you are you can adapt your responses to what happens around you and make better choices.

Identify the transferrable  

I realised I am a coach at heart. Encouraging and supporting people is the most important skill I have taken into the rest of my career. At its essence, it’s what got me into fitness training, but happily, it also led me to career development as a profession, a role that fits me like a glove. I had innately recognised the coaching part of me, but had focussed on the context of fitness, which put me in an industry that wasn’t right for me. Taking a step back, I realised it was this that was driving me, not fitness. Transferrable skills drive career adaptability, and happily for me, I recognised this one in myself.

My group, pausing to take in the views on the Queen Charlotte Track, NZ

Pay attention to let your strengths stand out

I’m a curious cat, and previously I’d chastised myself for being distractable and lacking commitment. These things aren’t untrue, but my roving eye for other opportunities is an extremely useful habit as a careers practitioner. Deep down, it started from my unacknowledged gut instinct that I was in the wrong job, but it became a source of fascination for me to find out what other people did for work. In the process of all these conversations, I was gaining a lot of new information to store in my data banks. That same curiosity has been present throughout my life and it’s what has made me an avid lifelong learner, an ideas generator, and a great fit for the careers industry. By finally acknowledging my curiosity, I’ve been able to recognise it as a strength.

Reconnect with your younger self

I love writing.I always looked forward to writing the newsletter for my training group. Engaging this skill again tapped me back into a version of myself that I’d left behind as a 19-year-old, when I impulsively changed out of my English major Arts degree into Business. I’d deeply enjoyed writing since I was a child but had ditched it at uni to do something ‘sensible’ that I thought would give me better job options (yes, this does fuel my desire to help young people make considered decisions). Through my newsletters, it had all flooded back to me. Often people discount their childhood pursuits as unimportant, but I disagree with this thinking. Reconnecting with these things can show you what you did without expecting it to bring you money. It could highlight old strengths that can be renewed; new career paths you hadn’t considered; or perhaps a pastime that can support your wellbeing in a way that work can’t. All of these things are extremely valuable.

Climbing Mt Bartle Frere with two of my clients

Recognise your values

I cemented some values through this experience: Nature is important to me. So is genuine connection with people. Positive framing and building people up to be stronger versions of themselves. These things are my foundation, along with creativity, autonomy, collaboration, and learning. I know this now, in my bones, rather than simply saying the words. I’ve put them into action and felt the fit lock in; I’ve worked against them and felt it grate. Knowing your values makes all the difference.

Everything is a lesson

The theme in all of this is reflection. You can gain perspective on elements of your life by actively asking questions about the experience. It ensures you don’t miss those important learning opportunities and can grow. Keep asking “but, why?” until you get down to the most basic elements. When things don’t go the way you plan, it doesn’t have to be a waste of time if you put effort into learning from it.

I listened to Brene Brown talk with Dan Pink recently about his book on regret. One of the things people regretted most in life was not making a bold decision but instead choosing the safe option. I can confidently say I did this, and I have no lasting regrets about it.

In the final throws of my business, though, it would have been easy to start feeling like it had been a mistake. After wrapping up my final big event, a group hike in New Zealand, I had already begun reflecting on the experience. I was able to learn so much about myself, with clarity I couldn’t have gained through simply talking and planning. Knowing is in the doing, and sometimes it’s the only way you’ll find out for sure, but with that comes risk. Your choice then becomes between taking that risk (for better or worse) or living with not being certain. Both options can be appropriate.

For me, I don’t regret my foray into fitness and guiding. I did some cool things: group trips to New Zealand and Vietnam, and a guided climb of Mt Bartle Frere are still things I look back on with satisfaction. Taking older women on hikes that they would never have had the confidence to do before, and seeing them grow in the process, still makes me proud. I made a lot of friends, enjoyed amazing views, and had some memorable wildlife encounters. Through it all, I learned a lot about myself and know so much more for next time, and I’ll never have to ponder that pesky “what if…”.

My next read!

Top image: Pausing to take in the view in Sapa, Vietnam, from the 10 day trip with my training group.

One response to “How to make imperfect career choices great life lessons”

  1. Better to have tried and “lost” than to have an itch gnawing away of always wondering “if only”. Nothing ventured nothing gained as they say. Great read and reflection. ❤️

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