Finding the Right Career Fit is like Shopping for the Perfect Pair of Shoes

With my own career change, one child in university and another entering grade 12, career choices have been on my mind.  The other day I was shopping for a pair of shoes to match an outfit and as I  was trying on shoes, I began thinking about how shopping for shoes is a lot like finding a career.

Prior to your shopping trip, you imagine what the right pair of shoes might look like – what they look like with the outfit, what you look like wearing your shoes, how they make you feel.  It’s like imagining your potential career.  You picture yourself working in an office, in nature, or in a lab, etc.  You imagine the status that comes with the job – how you look wearing that job.  Do you have an office, what’s your lifestyle that accompanies the career, what clothes will you wear, how will your career make you feel?  As you picture yourself, you begin to narrow down specifics of what you want – the heal height, style, price.  Or, salary, image, nature of work.

When you find a pair of shoes that might work, you get excited.  You try them on and sometimes they feel good – comfortable to walk around in, match the image in your mind, look great on your feet.  You get excited and want to show them off!  That’s the same exhilaration you feel when you begin a new career that’s a good fit.  It feels great and matches the vision you have for yourself.  It’s a great fit all around.

But sometimes, the shoes feel too loose, too tight, are uncomfortable, or give you blisters.  You may feel these immediately and can avoid making a bad purchase, but often, we don’t notice the rub until we’ve been wearing them for awhile.  When you begin to feel these rubs at work, it may mean that the culture, nature of work, type of skill needed isn’t a good fit.  These feelings often creep up on us over time and can be hard to identify.  Usually, we just feel unhappy, disengaged, or trapped.

But why do we so often just keep wearing those uncomfortable shoes?  It may be because they look great with the outfit and we tend to think that we won’t find another option that’ll be as good or better.  We’re limited by our thinking.  Sometimes, we persist because we’ve already invested so much time and money – we can’t afford to buy a different pair and don’t have any other options.  However, is it worth feeling the constant pain?  Instead of thinking of the purchase as a waste, we can think of it as an investment in getting a better sense of what we really want so we can make a better choice next time.  After all, even the best pair of shoes wear out.

How do we know when to give up on them or when to persist?  Here are a few considerations:

  1. What are they made from?  Do they feel a little tight, but will they stretch?  Often, that first bit of discomfort can become a perfect feel after you’ve worn them for awhile.  When we begin a new career, we usually experience some discomfort as we navigate the work, social environment, and lack confidence.  However, over time, that discomfort dissipates as we learn and becomes a successful career.
  2. Do they feel too loose or too tight?  Sometimes, with some adjustments, you can make a loose pair of shoes fit well.  But, unless they are a great quality shoe (like in #1), a shoe that’s too tight will most always be an uncomfortable fit.  Don’t be afraid to try on different sizes.  The career may be a good match for you, but you may need to try out a few different organizations or ways to complete the work.  Is the industry right for you?  The culture of the organization?  Size of company?  Working for others or yourself?  It may be worth trying on a few different sizes before you decide to look at a completely different pair of shoes – especially, it they match your vision in every other way.
  3. Sometimes, the fit isn’t right from the start.  As you walk around the store with your new shoes on, you can feel the pinch or rub, can predict where the blisters will appear. Do you ignore it, hoping that it’ll get better?  Thinking you just need to “break them in”?  This is just plain denial.  When they feel unbearable in the store, chances are, they will never feel completely right.

Sometimes, it may be worth the pain in the short term.  You need to evaluate your purpose.  How long will you need to wear them?  Will you be walking for a long period of time?  Do they help you make the right impression?  It may be worth putting up with the short term pain – especially if you know there’s a comfy, warm pair of slippers waiting for you at home!

Ultimately, the perfect fit shouldn’t feel like work.  It may be hard to find and you may need to try on a few pairs, even buy some cheaper pairs until you can afford the shoes you really want.  The key is to have the right vision and not give up until you attain it.


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One Comment

  1. Karen Lehmann

    What a great analogy! I’ve made a career change in the past couple of years and can relate to your comments. In my case, I replaced a pair of shoes that fit great and were comfortable for a long time, but just wore out. It took courage for me to buy a new pair, but I did and it was so worth it! No blisters so far!

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