5 Mistakes to Avoid When Searching for a New Career

Do you want to go on a journey with me?

I certainly hope so!

After all, who doesn’t like going on a journey???

The journey that I’m going to take you on is this…I’m going to take you on a journey of my various career decisions and point out the mistakes that I made along the way.


Mistake #1 – Picking a Career Based on Your Interests

When I went off to college, I started off as a political science major. After one semester, I switched to psychology.

Both were areas that I was interested in which is why I chose them.

Now you might be thinking: “What’s wrong with that?”

After all, isn’t that what we’ve been told for years: “Study something you’re interested in”.

Except decades of research have found very little connection between interests and a good path to satisfying work.

Two theories have been proposed for why interests don’t lead to satisfying careers.

One is that our interests change faster then we expect them to.

The other is that interests do matter but that we overrate them relative to other factors.

Either way, deciding what to study based on my interests was my first career mistake.

Mistake #2 – Picking a Career Based on Fear or Avoidance

When I graduated with my bachelors in psychology, I immediately entered a graduate program in counseling psychology.

That may seem like a natural path to follow.

But the truth is that I made the choice out of fear and avoidance.

For one thing, I had accumulated significant student debt and entering graduate school was a perfect way to avoid paying my loans.

Secondly, a bachelors in psychology doesn’t give you a clear career path.

A friend of mine who also studied psychology started working in sales for a telephone company after graduation.

I’m sure that’s not what he imagined doing when he decided to study psychology.

I certainly didn’t want to work in sales in a telephone company but I also didn’t know what I did want.

So it was much easier to avoid making a difficult decision and to hide out in graduate school.

Mistake #3 – Picking a Career Without Doing Adequate Research

After several years in counseling psychology graduate school, I dropped out.

I don’t want to go into all the reasons but suffice it to say I was very young and not emotionally ready to take on the challenges my clients presented me with.

Of course, this still left me a dilemma.

What to do next?

As a temporary job, I worked for the following year as an assistant manger in a Walgreen’s pharmacy.

Meanwhile, one day I went down to the library and looked through several Peterson’s Guides to Graduate Programs.

I noted various fields that sounded interesting and eventually decided to go back to graduate school and study public policy.

The choice made sense since politics was something that I’ve always had a strong interest in (mistake #1 again!).

This happened years ago, but I’m 99.9% sure that I did almost no research on what careers would be available for me with a masters in public policy.

I’m sure I had some general idea but I never dug into the specifics.

And without those specifics, without having done adequate research, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Mistake #4 – Picking a Career Based on Very Vague Goals

After finishing my masters in public policy, I was hired for a job in the US Government, doing research on social service programs like WIC and School Lunch and School Breakfast.

From the beginning, I hated the job. I hated going into the office, sitting in a little cubicle, spending 8 or more hours a day in front of a computer, crunching meaningless numbers on a spreadsheet or writing pointless memos.

I was able to tolerate the job for a while but eventually I came to absolutely dread it.

Three years in, I knew that I had to get out though it took me another 3 years to actually gather up the courage and leave.

Here’s the thing.

One of the reasons that I chose public policy as a career is that I wanted to “change the world”.

And looking back at my decision to go into counseling psychology graduate school, part of my decision was based on a desire to “help people”.

The problem is this.

Both “wanting to change the world” and “wanting to help people” are very vague goals.

I never defined my goals beyond that.

Who did I want to help?

How did I want to change the world?

What might be the best way for me to go about having a meaningful impact?

Is the career path that I’m considering one that will allow me to have the type of impact that I want?

Those and many deeper questions are once that I never asked myself.

Mistake #5 – Picking a Career Without Talking to People Who Are Already in the Career

After finally gathering up the courage to leave my job with the US government, I wandered the US for a bit, living for a while a yoga retreat center and a meditation center.

Eventually I moved to California where I decided to go back school (again!), this time to be an elementary school teacher.

With this decision I was a bit smarter than with some of my other career decisions.

Before I decided to go back to school, I spent several months volunteering in a second grade classroom and a 4th grade classroom.

This time I was making a much more informed career decision.

Or so it seemed!

There was still one HUGE mistake that I made.

Despite spending months in the classrooms of two different teachers, I never asked them about what it was like to be a teacher.

I never asked them what they liked about the profession and what they didn’t like.

I never asked them what characteristics they felt where necessary to be a successful teacher.

I never asked if they thought I’d make a good teacher.


I enjoyed teaching elementary school more than the careers that came before it.

But it still wasn’t a good fit for me….the long hours of planning lessons, the lack of intellectual stimulation, dealing with 20+ young children at a time, etc.

The Biggest Mistake of Them All

There’s one theme that underlies all of the career mistakes that I’ve made.

Do you know what it is?

During all those years, during all my career twists and turns, I never asked for help.

I honestly believe that our choice of career(s) is one of the most important decisions that we will make in our lives.

And I’ve also come to believe that most of us can benefit from working with a trained professional.

That’s one of the reasons why I pursued my certification as a Professional in Career Management and trained as a life coach with the Institute for Life Coach Training.

To give people the assistance that I never sought out for myself.

According to some estimates, there are nearly 12,000 careers to chose from.

With so many options, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to make mistakes and to end up making a poor one (like I did repeatedly!).

Far, far better to work with someone who knows who to help you chose a career and can guide you through a comprehensive process.

If you’re searching for a new career and want my help, just click below to schedule your complimentary discovery session. 

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