“If I’d known what this job was like before getting into it, I never would have gotten into it!” I’ve heard this more than once; I imagine you have too.
Reality-testing isn’t for everyone. Some things are hard to know until you’re in the mix. Change happens. Personalities and politics to deal with are everywhere.
Reality-testing can be helpful for those folks who would eliminate themselves from trying a career if they did not investigate it. This may or may not be you.
Let the career idea incubate before evaluating it.
While you’re thinking of career ideas, let your imagination go free, without reality intrusion. Let your thoughts resonate. Follow yourself around. What tasks are you performing in your day? What people are you interacting with? What are your best moments? Career ideas must get born before reality-testing them. So what if it doesn’t fly when you let it out the door? Deal with that later. Career ideas need room to breathe.
Any career idea can be tested by YOU.
Reality-testing focuses on two key questions:
- Am I good enough to make it in this field?
- Is this field what I think it is, and will I like it well enough?
If possible, use all these ways to answer the questions.
- Observe the work being done. Follow around and observe a person at work. Ask yourself, “Could I do that, with training?” Remember that you’re likely watching those very good at their work. Often though, firsthand observation will give you some idea of the ability required. Don’t make a final judgment yet. Move on to other reality tests.
- Simulate the experience. Sometimes you can’t get immediate experience. For example, you can’t insert yourself into a courtroom with the DA to see how it goes. A simulated experience is one in which you test the skills and personalities needed in the real career. For example, you can test the verbal skills of a legal litigator, argue for your point of view. You can test corporate executive leadership skills by getting involved in management of a community or campus organization. The examples are numerous.
- Read about it. The Occupational Outlook Handbook and many other online and offline resources provide concise information about specific fields – nature of the work, methods of entry, qualifications required, job outlook, places of employment, and employee feedback. Your local universities or libraries can be wonderful resources.
- Talk to people in the field. We tend to stereotype fields of work. All lawyers are highly argumentative. Accountants are reclusive. Musicians are free spirits. Talking to people will enable you to reality-test whether the challenges and opportunities of that field appeal to you enough to weather the preparation you must go through. Talk to both successful and unsuccessful people. Ask them about the good and bad points. “What keeps you in the field?” “What would (or has) driven you away?”
- Firsthand experience. This is the best test for finding out whether you like a field enough to commit to it. An all-or-nothing mentality often keeps people from using experience as a reality test. They believe mistakenly that if they try out a new kind of work, they are committed to it. Volunteering can be a great test. Unpaid work is a useful bridge between careers, but many do not take it seriously. Know that you can be paid in ways other than money!
Evaluate each reality-test yourself.
Be your own judge. Others may be more than willing to share their advice, “That field is too crowded … too demanding,” etc. Their opinions may also be overly positive. Base your decisions on whether you were attracted to it or can perform well. In short, if you still feel good about the field and think you might be a good fit, give it a shot.
You don’t have to be better than everyone else.
“If I can’t be the best, I don’t want to do it.” Rubbish! If you are good enough to earn a living at it, and people respect you for it, you’ll be all right in that kind of work. We compare ourselves to others too much. Give yourself credit for jobs well done. Be your own judge.
It may not be the right time, but you can try later.
Sometimes you do your reality-testing when conditions are not quite right. Family matters require your attention. Your confidence has taken a hit lately. You have health issues to take care of. It’s okay to come back later and test again. I’m not giving you excuses to procrastinate. I am giving you permission to repeat testing when it might be better for you.
Make a career move about one week before you are completely ready.
Why? Because you will seldom feel completely ready, that everything is right, and the stars are aligned! If you feel you’re within one week of hanging “All Systems Go,” then do it. Yes, there is a risk, and you’re not sure what’s going to happen. Do it anyway. If you find out you were wrong, you will still be right, because the experience of trying a new field will teach you something about yourself you did not know. And you will use that experience to move on to something else.
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