The first step to narrowing down the millions of careers you could pursue is to pick the right arena.
Over the past three weeks, I’ve had three career coaching clients come to me feeling stuck. I’ve used the following admittedly rudimentary and incomplete analogy to help them sort it through.
Think of career options as two arenas across the street from one another — the human-oriented arena and the thing-oriented arena. These arenas are huge. Massive. And they can seat millions of people.
The Human-Oriented Arena
Each arena is focused on something different. You walk into one arena and it’s all human-oriented fields — think social work, counseling, training, coaching, teaching, customer service, etc. Inside that arena there are floor seats, mid-level seats, and box seats. Those on the floor are doing direct-impact, human work. Think counseling a client. Higher up are those who do both theoretical and applied work. These are social scientists who also get their hands dirty by interacting with and helping people directly. In the box seats are the theoretical minds who study and research to mine out the knowledge the people on the floor use to help humans.
The Thing-Oriented Arena
Walk across the street and that arena is full of technical experts, such as accountants, engineers, architects, designers — people who have been trained in a specific technical craft. These are people who are influencing systems and arranging “things” to make them more efficient. They create stuff, design things, and build objects. They explore why things work the way they do and the constructs behind them. These might also include supply-chain people, consultants, biologists, pathologists, mathematicians, and investment bankers. Once again, on the floor are those who work directly with the things. They create systems and organize them. They do graphic design, build buildings, and put blood samples on slides and look at them through microscopes. Higher up are those who create the theories that help the people on the floor do their work. They study, theorize, and identify the why, what, and how behind the systems.
Which one is more interesting to you? Which arena lights your fire? Are you more people-directed or object-directed?
Now, in fairness, all of these industries affect people. I get it. But in reality, some are more direct impact. Like, a teacher’s job is humans. An architects job is buildings that humans use. One is people-facing, the other is thing-facing with a net benefit for people.
Walk in the arena that interests you more.
Now look at the seats. Are you more driven to be in on the action? On the floor? Do you want to get in there and sweat and get your hands dirty alongside the subject of your work? No judgment here, by the way. Or are you more interested in a seat higher up where you have a larger, meta view. You can see the patterns, name them, debate them, and write about them?
Pick a seat. Try it out. Then, if you want to change seats, change seats! The best part about this arena is that you can move around and sit anywhere you want. You’re not confined to the seat you initially chose. That said, some seats might require more or different training than others. But you decide where you want to sit.
Not sure where to start? Just pick a seat. Try it out. If you’ve got a more theoretical mind or a knack for pattern-recognition, you’ll know it fairly quickly. If you’d rather be on the ground creating, you’ll know it.
All this said, the key here is to pick the right arena from the outset.
Too many people pick the wrong arena from the outset, then spend their career changing seats looking for something that doesn’t exist. These are the accountant who would rather teach or the customer service rep who loves biology. They walked into the wrong arena altogether.
If you’re in the wrong arena, is there hope? Of course. Always. That’s why I wrote RESET.
But if you choose the right arena from the beginning, you’ll save yourself the hassle of leaving the arena, finding a new parking spot across the street, buying a ticket and finding your seat.
Choose your arena.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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