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3 Unexpected Questions That Can Lead to Career Clarity

The classic career guidance questions, “What’s your passion?” and “What would you do for free?” are effective steering mechanisms for only a fraction of career explorers. In fact, Bill Burnett and Dave Evans cite research in their book Designing Your Life that state’s “only one in five young people between twelve and twenty-six have a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why. Our experience suggests, similarly, that 80 percent of people of all ages don’t really know what they are passionate about.”

You’re not alone if you come up short when passion and career certainty enter the conversation. The good news is, there are some other doorways to finding a viable path for your next career steps. Three key questions offer some useful insight.

What breaks your heart?

If you find yourself listening to a podcast with tears streaming down your face, pay attention. Even if it’s a movie or a tv show (hello, This is Us), the moment your tears flow is a clue to what moves you deeply. Is it grief that tugged at your heartstrings? Loneliness? The dashed expectations of someone taking a risk and falling flat? See if you can identify threads between what opens your heart because those moments can steer you in a direction you might have otherwise overlooked.

What sparks your anger?

If you raise your voice when you’re discussing a recent news article, or you find yourself flaring when the conversation turns to a charged political topic, that’s a useful clue for you. Anger often stems from one of your core values being stepped on. It can also originate in a fear that you have about how our world (whether it’s just a slice of the world or on a big-picture scale) is being shaped. A vehement “no!” offers you as much insight as an emphatic “yes!” (which is what the age-old passion question is tapping).

Where have you been broken and healed?

Have you heard of Kintsugi, the Japanese practice of repairing broken pottery with gold? According to MyModernMet, “This repair method celebrates each artifact’s unique history by emphasizing its fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing it with new life.”

This art practice offers a beautiful metaphor for our own lives. When you’ve walked through fire and emerged with insight and skills, the world needs your voice and your presence in that realm where you originally struggled. If you feel equipped and inspired to share your experience for the benefit of others, that kernel of possibility can set you on a course for an inspired career.

Move in the direction of your pain

It feels counter-intuitive to turn toward negative emotion for career guidance, but strong emotion has fire and energy to propel you forward. If you can harness that energy as fuel, it’s extremely powerful because it can sustain you sometimes much longer than positive inspiration.

Every career has dark spots, places where you want to give up, where your tolerance is stretched, and where your endurance is tested. When you’re drawing from a part of yourself that says “no more!” in relation to pain that you or someone else has experienced, that can guide you even during dips in your enthusiasm. Don’t be afraid to look there.

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