What is it about the job market that is making people so interested in career choices?

When I've written on this topic a few times recently, dozens and dozens of people have emailed me expressing their concern over their career options. They are living in fear about being downsized, of not being promoted, of making a career mistake.

Sadly, it's causing people a lot of headaches.

Jobs have splintered in a way that makes it almost impossible to figure out what you should do for a profession. You don't just become a software developer these days. You become a software architect, or designer, or tester, or project lead. You don't just become a copywriter. You become a social media copywriter, or a sponsored content copywriter, or a traditional marketing copywriter. Before you take the leap into the work world, you almost have to take a course in job descriptions and titles first.

How do you figure this out? How do you determine which career path is correct for you, beyond all of the obvious skill-set and educational requirements?

As a reader pointed out to me recently, the best way to pick a career is to look closely at your own values. I've written before about how important it is to match your personality and preferences to your career choice, but it may be even more important to match your values to your job. That's what will drive you the most. That's what will lead to the most success. That's what will give you the most fulfillment and happiness.

So how do you do it? The first step is to figure out what you value the most. It's similar to the idea of figuring out what is not negotiable before making a decision. Let's say you value honesty and promoting the truth at all costs. That's actually a good match for the legal profession, which is all about truth-seeking, at least in the purest sense. Or, let's say you value the idea of helping people who are hurting, in which case it makes sense to find a career in the medical field or in social work. If you are drawn to marketing, you should determine if you like the idea of convincing people of intrinsic value. You should be motivated to explain to people how a product or service meets a need. You should be a problem solver.

Being happy in a career often does not depend on pay, or on having amazing co-workers, or on whether the boss is a curmudgeon or not. It often has more to do with whether the core values of that career match your own core values.

Let me see if I can make this personal. I place a high value on ideas. I'm in the business of valuing and promoting good ideas. As a writer, all I really care about is whether someone has good ideas or not. It's amazing. I watch movies and read books that communicate interesting ideas. I evaluate products based on whether they were built on a good idea. If you don't have interesting ideas, I'm not going to stick around for long. That's one of the reasons I enjoyed going to the South by Southwest conference so much as a first-time attendee. It's why I'm planning to drive halfway across the country on my own dime to attend the Aspen Ideas conference next month. It's why I'm writing this sentence right now. I'm an ideas person. It's what I care about most.

What about you? If you are in a dead-end career and you feel completely stuck, it's likely because the job you have does not match what you value the most. It's more than just a sense of fulfillment and purpose. You can find those outside of work. But your personal values will resonate through all of your thinking, all of your emotions, and all of your preferences.

There is one answer to every career conundrum. Find out what you value. Once you determine what you value the most in life, see if your career is a good fit for those values.

Need help with that? I enjoy assisting with the process, and I promise to answer every (serious and personal) email asking for help with a career that is going nowhere. Try me.