Anybody know what a “career astrologer” is?  I’ll confess, I really don’t.  Although I could venture a guess.  Regardless, I had a client the other day mention that she’d hired such a person recently to help her explore some potential new career directions for the future, and given how tough this particular challenge can be to figure out, perhaps “looking to the stars for inspiration” isn’t necessarily the worst way to go about things!

Simply put, while many job search challenges (e.g. resume development, generating leads, interviewing effectively) can be cantankerous and involve many more considerations than initially meet the eye, there’s no question that determining what you want to be when you grow up is the most difficult aspect of the career planning process, by far.  Having worked on this issue with people for 2o years, there just aren’t any magic bullets or easy approaches to solving it.  Picking a suitable job path not only requires sorting through a litany of personal preferences related to geography, commute, work/life balance, and one’s bottom-line financial and lifestyle needs — but also brings into play deeper questions in terms of passion, self-actualization, and the legacy one (especially later in life) might desire to leave behind them.

So where does this leave us?  Well, in lieu of sharing ALL of my secrets in a single blog post, I think the one place that virtually every coach/counselor will tell you to start is to think hard about the types of problems, tasks, projects, and activities you’ve most enjoyed working on throughout your life and career to date.  In fact, even the acquaintance of mine who consulted with an astrologer said that the bottom-line takeaway was that she should focus on areas of “open energy” instead of those places where she felt “blocked” in some respect. You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to.

Essentially, though, effective career brainstorming starts with answering questions such as:

•  What were your favorite subjects in school, growing up?
•  What activities do you engage in that energize you and make you completely lose track of time?
•  What are your proudest accomplishments to date?  What skills/strengths went into achieving them?
•  What feedback have you consistently received from peers, mentors, and performance reviews?
•  What “great days at work” have you experienced and what problems did they involve tackling?
•  What household tasks are you responsible for handling, as opposed to your partner or spouse?
•  Where do you display/demonstrate creativity in your life, in some form or another?
•  What are your hobbies?  What do you read?  What (non-brainless) TV shows capture your attention?
•  In a room of 100 people, in which subjects/strengths would you likely rank within the top 10%?
•  What Jeopardy, QuizUp or Trivial Pursuit categories would make me glad to have you on my team?
•  If you won the lottery and money was no object, what career would you select, going forward?
•  Who makes you jealous?  What friends/acquaintances would you trade places with, if you could?
•  A friend of yours owns a business.  You need money.  In what ways can you be useful to them?
•  Ideally, what legacy would you leave and how would you like to “make a difference” in the world?
•  What tasks, subjects, and areas of work and life have you chronically been afraid of?

While all of the questions above can provide useful sparks of insight into career direction, the last bullet, in particular, is one I find fascinating.  I just came up with it the other day when I realized that I’ve been intimidated by certain subjects my entire life—such as math, computer programming, mechanical repair, and foreign languages—and will do almost everything in my power (e.g. hiring vendors, going to Jiffy Lube) to avoid them.  Sure, I could probably improve my skills in these areas through intensive practice and a proverbial gun to my head, but why bother?  I don’t like them, I’m not naturally comfortable with them, and given my age I just don’t see the point in trying to master them just for the sake of it — or (shudder) building a career centered around doing them all day.

Why would I do this to myself, after all, when on the flip side I can easily name a number of other subjects (e.g. things involving writing, words, music, and idea generation) that I’m drawn to like a moth to a flame, even when the activity in question is outside the scope of anything I’ve specifically worked on to date?  Ask me to fix a car, calculate probabilities, or learn CSS programming for websites and I’ll dig my heels in like a mule.  Tell me you need help naming your company, finding the perfect song for a slideshow, or writing a toast for a wedding and I’ll be up until 3am in the morning, joyfully working on the problem at hand.  We know more about our ourselves than we think.

So again, while questions like the above are just the tip of the iceberg — and savvy career decisions also require attendance to a number of more practical, market-focused research steps — almost every so-called expert agrees that the “nucleus” of effective career exploration involves a healthy examination of our life experience to date.

What are the answers, tendencies, and patterns trying to tell you?