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Plan Your Career

How to Make Difficult Decisions

Choosing your career path is a big decision. You may worry, is it the right decision? The right time? Try these strategies when you face difficult career decisions.

Planning a career involves making decisions, whether you are a high school student envisioning a post-secondary path, a post-secondary graduate deciding where to specialize or a mid-career worker contemplating a new direction.

These kinds of decisions can have a large impact on your life. They can take you places that are hard to foresee, which can provoke anxiety. Sometimes, the thought of change can have a paralyzing effect: you can get so bogged down in analyzing numerous alternatives that making a final decision seems impossible.

Moving Forward

Taking action so you can move forward involves knowing

  • who you are
  • what your priorities are
  • what your strengths are (that is, what you’re good at doing)
  • what you want to achieve

However, before you spend a lot of time analyzing these things, take a step back and realize it’s not always necessary to make a big change in order to move forward, or even choose a path. Change doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Ask yourself first if a tweak might be enough.

For example, if you’ve always wanted to travel, but are agonizing over leaving your job to take a long trip, put your worry on hold and ask your employer if you can take an unpaid leave. Tweaking your plans and negotiating a leave may provide more options.

If you’ve explored your options and still think you need a big change, but you can’t seem to make it, contact a career advisor for help exploring education and employment options in Alberta. Professionals at organizations like the Career Development Association of Alberta (CDAA) can help as well.

Conquering Indecision

Depending on the source of your indecision, some other strategies may also help:

  • If you don’t know what to do
    • Write down short descriptions of your options.
    • Research them if you need to know more. Find out everything you can about each option.
    • Choose the one that feels best to you and imagine you’ve made that choice final. How do you feel about it?
  • If you know your options, but can’t decide between them
    • List the pros and cons for each option.
    • Choose the option with the most pros and fewest cons.
    • If that choice feels wrong, choose another that feels right. Remember that making a decision using your intuition is just as valid as objectively weighing items on a list.
  • If your indecision is driven by fear of making the wrong choice
    • Realize that if you don’t make a decision, you are, in effect, deciding to stick with the status quo.
    • Recognize that no choice is going to be perfect. Instead of aiming for ideal, focus on the option with the most upsides.
    • Understand that decisions always require some risk, but there is risk in avoiding them, too.

Still Feeling Stuck?

If you still can’t move forward, consider the following:

  • Get help with career planning. A professional career advisor can provide both expertise and moral support.
  • Use what worked before. Think back to other transitions in your life, personal or professional, chosen by you or imposed on you. How did you cope? Could some of those strategies help now?
  • Call on your support network. Talk to friends, colleagues or family members who will listen to your concerns and challenge you to do your best. Their insights may help you choose a direction. You may discover a mentor in your network who can offer advice, encouragement and a team approach.
  • Try a methodical, stepwise approach:
    1. Know who you are and what you want.
    2. Explore your options.
    3. Prepare. For example, do some additional research.
    4. Take action.

Having a plan can help you feel organized and purposeful, so you can see your options more clearly and make the best decisions. CAREERinsite can help.

It’s important to realize that the career decision you make today is not going to be the last one. Building a career is a process, not a moment, so take it one step at a time. No matter what choice you make right now, there will be many more choices to make and doorways to go through as you move forward in your career.

Photo Credit: © cate_89/
Used for illustrative purposes.
Subject may be a model.

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