5 Ways to Discover Your Dream Career

If you're flailing, facing layoffs, or otherwise feeling unfulfilled at work, it might be time to reconsider your calling. Job researchers report that the average American changes jobs seven times in his or her lifetime, most often in pursuit of better job satisfaction or financial stability. (See also: 25 Career Changes You Can Make Today)

But it's not always easy to know what direction to take. That's because we're prone to define who we are by what we do to make a living. So when there's opportunity to trade our profession for something completely new, it often feels like we're faced with the unsettling task of altering the basic building blocks of who we are as human beings. But it can be done, and the payoff can be spectacular.

Read on for our roundup of the best ways to go about recreating your career and finding your true calling. (You can thank us when you're blissfully employed in your brand new niche).

1. Be a Skill-Shifter

Reflect on all of your skills — not just the ones you acquired in the workforce — and think about all the creative ways you can apply them to new careers or business ventures. What skills have you picked up from volunteering, coaching soccer, raising your children, paying off your credit card debt, or gardening in the backyard? How might those techniques serve you in the working world?

"Don't limit your job search or career possibilities to the exact field you have been in or with the same field on your educational degree," advises Dr. Stuart Sidle, an industrial organizational psychologist. The idea is to identify your most outside-the-box strengths and passions, and then play to them.

2. Unearth a Childhood Dream

Many people think childhood dreams are just dreams. Yet one in four working Americans are employed in the job or career field they dreamed about as kids, according to a survey by LinkedIn. People who work in a field they once dreamed about tend to be successful because their job is on the same playing field as their passions. When you do something you're passionate about, you're bound to do it well.

"The dream jobs we aspire to as children are a window into our passions and talents," says Nicole Williams, LinkedIn's career expert. "Identifying and understanding those passions are key to improving our performance and enjoyment…"

3. Try It Out

A restaurant chef might seem like the ultimate occupation, but how often does the average chef have the opportunity to experiment with flavors and create new dishes for the dinner menu? There's only one way to find out: Network with people in your desired field, find opportunities to shadow people working in your desired role, and ask a lot of questions. When possible, try out the work for yourself on a limited, exploratory basis to see if it's really for you.

"Making a major career change is not simply about picking up new technical skills and repackaging one's image and resume," writes Herminia Ibarra in her book, Working Identity: Unconventional Strategies for Reinventing Your Career. "It is also about finding people we want to emulate and places where we want to belong."

4. Future-Proof Yourself

It's not a bad idea to go where the growth is. So you might want to jot down these fastest-growing occupations:

  • industrial-organizational psychologist
  • personal care aide
  • home health aide
  • mechanical insulation worker
  • interpreters and translators
  • diagnostic medical sonographers
  • brickmasons

These fields of the future are less likely to be affected by a shrinking economy or other setbacks. And they're more likely to provide workers with opportunities for growth and promotion. They may not be the sexiest of jobs, but there's certainly something to be said for stability.

5. Be Honest — Are You Up to the Challenge?

"Much more than transferring to a similar job in a new company or industry, or moving laterally into a different work function within a field we already know well, a true change of direction is always terrifying," writes Ibarra in her book.

That's why Dr. Stuart Sidle, an industrial organizational psychologist, recommends asking yourself these questions before embarking on any major career shift:

  • Do you have the passion to do the hard work that goes along with succeeding in the field?
  • Is your choice practical?
  • Are you taking a path because you believe it is a great option for you, or are you simply avoiding something, such as discomfort or fear?

If your honest answer to any of these key considerations is "No," you might want to consider making a trip back to the drawing board.

Have you relaunched a career? How'd you do? Please share in comments!

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