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Trust Your Head and Heart to Make Good Career Decisions

Different people use different methods to make decisions. When it comes to career decisions, most people choose 1 of 2 methods:

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  1. The follow your head method
  2. The follow your heart method

The first method involves reviewing all the facets of an option and exploring possible outcomes. The second method involves looking inward to discover your true feelings about your options.

While people tend to prefer one way over the other, these processes often link together or borrow from each other. No matter which method you use to make your decision, it can be helpful to use the other method as a way to confirm what you’ve decided.

Either way, the methods described here will help you move toward your goal.

Follow your head

This approach means reviewing your values, interests, strengths, assets, and challenges. You’ll also need to look at the possible outcomes of each option. Once you’ve done that, you can compare your options.

If it helps, try putting your thoughts down in the worksheet below so you can see the differences and make comparisons.

Let’s look at Cody’s story.

Cody's story

Cody, a police officer, is in a station meeting, listening to his staff sergeant talk about a new recycling initiative. But Cody can’t focus. All he can think about is how he’s been struggling to stay in shape since he and Akina had the baby. The two of them used to go for bike rides together, but now that’s impossible. They’re both too worn out when he gets home from work and he feels guilty leaving her alone all day with the baby as it is.

The staff sergeant ends the meeting by asking the officers to submit proposals for other ways the station could reduce its ecological footprint. Cody begins to wonder what he might propose. Instead of patrolling the area in police cruisers, could they sometimes do a bicycle patrol? It would mean fewer cars on the road, a lower gas budget, and better relationships with the community. Plus it would help him stay in shape!

As you read Cody’s story, you can see that he values both his job and his family. He has a great interest in cycling, but a new baby means he has less time to exercise. By considering a trend—growing concern for the environment—Cody comes up with an option that may help the police department while also helping him stay in shape.

But first, he wants to get all his thoughts down in one place. He considers his values, interests, and strengths. He thinks about the assets he can use. He has bicycle maintenance know-how. He knows the facts point to cost savings and relationship building. He also looks at his challenges. There will be a cost to buying the bikes. And some of his colleagues on the force might resist this idea.

Using this rational method, Cody decides to propose the bike patrol. He also takes a moment to think about it intuitively—to consider how it feels—to confirm that his idea feels right for him. He smiles, knowing that Akina and the baby will be happy for him and proud of the proposal he’s putting forward.

Now it’s your turn.

Evaluate options using the head method

Think about how an option you’re considering relates to your values, interests, strengths, and assets. Also consider the challenges you might have if you choose this option—that is, what gaps you have in your strengths and assets. Finally, consider what will happen if you choose this option. What will be the results?

If you’re stuck, trying using Cody’s example for help.

 

To double-check your decision on an option, you may want to borrow from the heart method, which is described below. Close your eyes for a moment and imagine you have chosen this option. How does it feel having made this decision?

Follow your heart

Maybe you make decisions best by “gut feel”—what feels right. This method of making decisions allows you to hear your inner voice and encourages its wisdom to emerge. Even if you haven’t consciously identified, researched, or analyzed your options, your subconscious is always working. With this intuitive method, you tap into the information your subconscious has gathered.

This method differs from the rational, linear approach because it focuses on what you really feel, instead of what you’re supposed to feel. Here are some ways to get in touch with your true feelings about an option you’re considering:

  • Meditate or sit peacefully
  • Sleep on it and let your subconscious offer you an answer when you wake up
  • Go on a vision quest
  • Go for a quiet, solitary walk
  • Write in a journal
  • Visit an important site, such as the place you grew up or a loved one’s grave

Joanne's story

Joanne is torn. Should she take that watercolour class to bring her to the next level of her art, or the occupational therapy course to upgrade her career? They’re both good options in her quest to learn something new.

As she closes her eyes, she imagines her autumn evenings. First, she thinks about doing her watercolours. Then, she thinks about spending time with her textbooks. She quickly realizes that her heart skips a beat in excitement when she thinks of painting. But it does nothing when she imagines writing papers or doing assessments.

Joanne opens her eyes. She has made her decision.

As you read Joanne’s story, you can see that both her art and her career are important to her. But she knows that her career is more than just her job—it’s the sum total of her life experiences, including her art.

By closing her eyes and listening to her inner voice, Joanne is able to explore her feelings. As she peels back the layers of her response, she discovers what she really wants.

She also thinks about it rationally, to make sure she hasn’t overlooked anything. She considers cost, time, and what each option will do for her career. Who knows, maybe her intuition will lead her to a career as a creative arts therapist rather than an occupational therapist.

Joanne decides to take the watercolour class, knowing it’s the right choice for her.

Now it’s your turn.

Evaluating options using the heart method

Let’s try this decision-making method. Imagine yourself choosing a particular option and living it, just as Joanne does. Visualize the environment you are in, your activities, and the way you feel. Then take some time to let your inner voice speak. Really listen to what it says.

Allow yourself time to reflect on how you feel, and answer the questions below.

 

You may want to double-check your decision by borrowing from the head method above to confirm how you feel. You could also:

  • Shadow someone who has chosen one of the outcomes you’re thinking about or has made a similar decision.
  • Try on your decision. Live for a day as if you had made your choice. See how you feel.
  • Talk it over with your network of supporters at work, school, in your family, and at the activities you're involved in. These people can be your very own board of directors.

If you can’t come to a decision

Sometimes, you just can’t decide. Maybe your heart is saying one thing but, when you doublecheck with your head, it’s saying something else. Before you give up on making any decision, consider whether your decision really needs to be a big one. Taking a small step may be enough for now.

Maybe Joanne realizes her employer would pay for the occupational therapy course but not the watercolour class. Could she plan to do the course first, save her money in a special account, and plan to take the watercolour class next year? Or would an art therapy course be something that both her and her employer would feel good about?

Or maybe you make your decision, but it doesn’t work out the way you hoped. Perhaps Cody proposes the bike patrol, but his staff sergeant doesn’t go for it. Does that mean he has to give up on it? Or could he start riding his bike to and from work, rather than driving? Or could he research what other stations already have bike patrols in place and pursue a transfer?

When you take a small step, it doesn’t mean that you’re giving up on other decisions. You can always make another choice later.

You might also want to take another look at the work you have done to make this decision. Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are your self-assessments up to date?
  2. Are the values you have identified really yours, or someone else’s?
  3. What about the interests, strengths, and assets you have identified? Are they a good reflection of you?
  4. Is the vision you have identified for your future what you really want?

If you can’t answer “yes” to all these questions, it may not be right time to decide. Give yourself a break (and a deadline). Come back with fresh eyes later.

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 opportunities to make choices as you move forward.

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