How to Pick a Satisfying Career: Know Yourself

Ask yourself–and answer–the right questions in order to find a meaningful career.

Work that is not personally satisfying reflects a basic conflict you have with yourself. You may think your conflict is caused by your career, and that if you change careers, the conflict will go away. But, you cannot pick the right career for you without first resolving the inner conflict.

The conflict caused you to pick the wrong career to begin with, and now causes the work dissatisfaction. Changing careers starts with resolving self-conflict. If you do not, dissatisfaction will just grow, and show up again in whatever work you choose to do next. Then you will have another reason to be upset with yourself.

This basic principle holds true for personal relationships too – – if you change partners, the same problems will be reproduced in new relationships. The truth is, the conflict you have with yourself is the same conflict you have with work, family, friends, bosses and co-workers.

A conflict with work, therefore, expresses a hidden conflict within yourself. While we are young, we tend to see our problems as imposed, and solved, by external means. Explanations may range, for example, from environmental (“a bad job market”) to circumstantial (“a bad boss”).

To overcome these adversities, we strive to attain the highest income and best career possible. But this strategy must inevitably break down, since it locates the reasons for conflict externally. And, if you seek to resolve the conflict outside yourself, you can be certain you only confirm the conflict within yourself.

Beneath appearances, there is only one problem: the relationship of you with you. To understand this principle you must become more insightful and introspective, attitudes that contradict external and superficial points of view.

A more contemplative attitude toward life is not usually attained before the age of “thirty-something.” Until that time, one tends to think that success is a product of a variety of factors like gender, class, race, nationality, politics, economic opportunity, education, hard work and good luck. The truth is, however, the course of your life is shaped entirely by your inner self-relationship.

Inner Quest
“Know thyself” was the motto that Socrates learned from the Oracle at Delphi. It is ancient wisdom, true today as it was in ancient Greece. At some point in life’s journey you must begin the quest to find your true self. Otherwise, you are destined to live with a false sense of self, interpersonal conflicts and career dissatisfaction.

Career reassessment typically comes at mid- life, when failures in outer solutions trigger the classic “psycho-social crisis.” Almost everyone is challenged to find their purpose by the time their days on earth are half numbered. This is one of the reasons that being over fifty is called “prime time”:).

Traditionally we think only of ministers and doctors as having a “calling”–but in reality everyone has a calling. Many people choose to ignore their quest for a calling, and try to live in a rational, material world, using only their goal-oriented left-brain, or reside in an imaginary emotional world of self-doubt, using only their right-brain.

A meaningful career choice arises from the resource of your own integrated mind and from nowhere else. All the skills and knowledge necessary to enact your life-purpose are directly and fully inherent right within your own mind.

Prevailing wisdom about career choice and change sees it exclusively as a logical problem of how to gather job market data, and adapt your aptitudes and personality to corporate structures and needs. Conforming to societal expectations, rather than finding personal meaning, tends to be the norm. The traditional approach assumes that the economy is rational, and that an individual is not, unless he or she conforms.

As a result aptitude and personality “testing” are the dominant methodology in career counseling today. Traditional career counseling tends to overlook the importance of self-examination, and the psychological and spiritual foundation to career decision making outlined in this article. In life, where and how you choose to use your talents and knowledge, are ultimately and always a question of the relationship you have with yourself and whether or not you seek to find your higher purpose in life.

Jon Snodgrass, Ph.D., is the author of “Follow Your Career Star: Career Quest Based on Inner Values” (1996, 248 pp). He is a Professor of Human Development and Group Dynamics at California State University, Los Angeles. Jon offers our readers a Free Email Career Consultation. Email your situation and main questions to To order his book,”Follow Your Career Star,” call (626) 441-6957.