Tough career choice? Use your head, then follow your heart

We make as many as 100 different decisions on any given day. We decide when to wake up, what foods to eat, whether or not to go to the gym. The majority of our decisions are made with relative ease.

Because of increased uncertainty in the workplace, it is likely that we will make many difficult career decisions over the course of our lives. Career choices can be tough because they impact our livelihood, sense of satisfaction and overall well-being.

The problem is that most of us don’t know how to make career decisions. They don’t teach this stuff in school. The ability to make decisions does not necessarily get easier with age. College students and more seasoned professionals alike can find themselves at forks in the road, confused about which direction to take.

The best career decisions incorporate a holistic approach that includes four key elements: self-awareness, current needs, future goals and emotional intelligence. You are probably asking yourself, “What about logic?” There is plenty of room for both rational thinking and intuition within this framework.


Whether you are trying to decide if you should accept a job offer, apply to graduate school or open a business, the first step is to know yourself. Identify core values, needs and desires. Consider your natural work style and leadership preferences. Objectively assess your skills and abilities in relation to the opportunities you are considering.

Next, evaluate your perceived level of self-worth. Do you have a history of undervaluing yourself and settling for unfulfilling jobs? Perhaps you take on too many responsibilities in an effort to prove your value and then find yourself burned out and exhausted. Previous disappointments may have left you guarded about the possibility of finding meaningful, fulfilling work.

Reviewing our career histories provides useful insights and can improve the quality of our future decisions. The key is knowing who we are and staying true to ourselves.  

Current needs

When we need to put food on the table, career decisions are as easy as choosing what socks to wear. If we get an offer, we are going to take it! We may need to take stopgap jobs while we navigate a competitive job search or care for ailing parents. Being very clear about our current situation allows us to make the best decisions possible in the short term to avoid burning a bridge or to lay a path to the next phase of our lives and careers. Good decisions generally require being flexible and adaptable in meeting our current needs.

Future vision

The best career decisions are made in context of our future goals. In other words, every good decision should bring us one step closer to our higher purpose and bigger dreams. In contrast, poor choices steer us off course. A clear vision ignites passion and gives us the courage to overcome challenges.

What happens when we are considering multiple offers or trying to decide between two different paths that both support our future vision in different ways? We often get stuck. We struggle to know for sure which option is best and we fear making the wrong decision.

This is often the point at which rational thinking no longer proves helpful. What if you have endlessly analyzed the pros and cons and are still confused? In this case, it’s best to fold your pro and con list into a paper airplane, toss it across the room and consult your heart.

Emotional intelligence

Stop trying to “think” your way to a solution and begin to tune into how you “feel.” Simply stated, when we make good decisions, we feel good. On the other hand, when we make bad choices, we often feel uneasy and anxious.

It is normal to feel a few jitters when we are in the midst of change. However, a lingering sense of foreboding is never a good sign. Don’t dismiss feelings of apprehension. Ask yourself whether a decision is serving your highest good and your happiest thoughts about your future. Or, are you succumbing to feelings of scarcity, fear, and doubt?

You cannot go wrong when you act in accordance with your highest good. Even if a decision turns out badly, you will learn and grow from the experience.  It is important to note that when we are grappling with complex decisions, there is rarely one “right” choice.  It comes down to making the “best choice” possible.

This is not just semantics. When we think about decisions in terms of “right and wrong,” we become fearful and paralyzed. There is an implied sense of failure, shame or guilt if things do not turn out well.

By focusing on making the best choice, we are acknowledging the complexity of the situation. We recognize that there are no guarantees or perfect options. All we can do is make the best decision at any given time.

The next time you are faced with a difficult career decision, take time to carefully analyze the situation and think through the options in terms of your current needs and future goals. Then, be still and tune into how you feel. Purely rational choices often leave something to be desired. As it turns out, that which we most desire can only be found by following the heart.

Carrie Pinsky is a freelance writer, job-search coach and training specialist. Reach her at Pink Sky Counseling and Career Services, 970-225-0772 or


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