When you’re making decisions about your career, the question, “What do you want to do?” is only the first of three important things to ask yourself.

Question Two is, “What don’t you want to do?”

The third, and most important question is, “What are you going to do when someone asks you to do those things you just said you wouldn’t do?” Because I promise you, at some point, someone will.

I’m going to tell you about a boneheaded career move I almost made, in hopes you’ll keep it in mind next time you almost make your own boneheaded career move.  In this case, the job in question was neither illegal, nor something people would find morally reprehensible. The job was just completely wrong for me, and I would have been miserable in their company culture.

I’m certain I won’t be courting that particular field again, and enough time has passed that the other parties are long out of my orbit, so I can tell you about it:

I applied for a position that was absolutely, 100% not “me.” It wasn’t a position I wanted or needed at the time; I did it solely because it looked like something that would spice up my resume by adding something different.

As I created and gathered the materials for application process, a nagging little voice inside my head asked, “Really? You really want to do this?” Each time, the answer was a resounding “No,” which I chose to ignore.

By the time I finished the writing portion, I was figuring out an exit strategy and how long I’d have to stay for my resume in case I got the job.  I couldn’t relate to the company’s core audience, and I’d come to realize that what the powers that be were looking for was…a bit insulting to the intelligence of their audience. It wasn’t just fluff (which can be fun as a diversion). This was dumbed-down vapid fluff, devoid of personality.

I finished writing the piece with a stomach ache. Put bluntly, it was the most saccharine piece of crap I’ve ever written…but by now I’d invested several hours in writing and editing the piece, plus more in assembling the other parts of the application. I decided to leave it to fate as to whether or not the position was meant to be on my resume, and hit “submit.”

Fortunately, they didn’t like it, either.

To be clear…I believe it’s important to get out of your comfort zone and occasionally do things that don’t seem like “yourself.” Seeing things from a different point of view helps unlock your creativity when you get back to the things you do best.

I also believe it’s important for people to pay their dues, because it builds character and helps you develop empathy. Doing only what you like and having things exactly like you want them all the time isn’t conducive to good mental health (yours, or the mental health of those around you). But by this time I’d been in my career long enough and had a solid enough resume to mark a lot of them “paid.”

Wherever you are in your career, it’s about finding the best balance between practicality and being yourself. That’s the first part of where I went wrong: the scale was tipping the wrong way. The second part was not listening to my gut instinct, which was obviously screaming at me.

It’s extremely difficult to be objective about your own career. Had I been a client I was advising, I would have found a way for the client to pursue an endeavor that was still different, but not so alien to the client’s personality. If what they were looking for didn’t exist, I’d encourage them to create it themselves in a way that was still marketable.

The next time you’re deciding on a career move, or you’re thinking about veering far out of your usual career zone, ask yourself, “If I were the manager, what would I tell my client?”

And follow your gut.

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