I read Sir Richard Branson’s recent article on career fulfillment with a critical eye. 12+ years as a career coach has made me pretty cynical when it comes to those dispensing advice on how to improve a person’s level of career satisfaction. I’m in the trenches every day with people trying to make this happen for themselves. I’m always concerned when I see posts that could imply it’s easy. It’s not.

I was so relieved to see Sir Richard’s post addressed two key challenges to career fulfillment. He shares an excellent video on the subject too – all good stuff.

Yet, if he was here with me, I’d really want to pick Sir Richard’s brain about another reason I see so many unfulfilled professionals out there…

Being on Autopilot Has Hurt Us Deeply

In the video Sir Richard included in his post, there’s a very important moment where a women being interviewed about her early, unsatisfying career experience exposes a major reason why the majority of people don’t have fulfilling careers. You can watch it 2:30 minutes into the video. She says,

I was doing the right thing at the right time for everyone…I believed at that point that it was what I wanted, what I was meant to achieve, that it was what was expected of me.

Look at the expression on her face and in her eyes when she says it. I know that expression. I’ve felt what she’s felt (you can read my own career love story here), and so has anyone else who woke up one day and realized they’d been making a huge mistake in their approach to their careers. When you pursue a career based on how it fits into society’s definition of success, you lose your ability to be fulfilled. Why? You aren’t working for yourself – you’re working for the approval of others.

It’S Not Our Fault, but It’S Our Problem to Solve

In my experience, if you want to find a more fulfilling career, the first thing you must do is accept it wasn’t a conscious mistake. Most of us have never been taught how to:

A) Assess our unique combination of professional strengths and interests so we can,

B) Define what a satisfying career looks like to us and then,

C) Build a gameplan to pursue it.

Instead, we followed the rules and obediently did what others (i.e. family, teachers, etc.) told us would get us a “good job,” only to wake up feeling confused, sad, and longing for work that makes us feel free. Without knowing it, we become held hostage by the golden handcuffs of our need to feel the approval of others. And, without any idea of how to confidently identify a more fulfilling career path, it’s no wonder why most people don’t take risks and stay in safe jobs they hate. You can’t overcome the fear and seek the resources until you know what a satisfying career looks like to you.

The First Step = Go Back to the Beginning

Sounds crazy, but the first step in defining career success and satisfaction on your own terms is to start with a baseline state of knowledge about yourself. You need to look at the eight key areas of life (career, finances, physical self, mental self, environment, hobbies, significant other, friends & family), and see how your definition of success for career affects your ability to be successful in the other areas. Then, you can start to assess your strengths and preferences as a professional as a way to identify career paths that will suit you. From there, you can begin to map out a plan for migrating yourself towards a career that makes you feel alive and focused on impressing the only person that matters: you.

It’s not an easy process. It takes time to find your professional self. Plus, you’ll need help. But, if you really want to feel the way Sir Richard, myself, and so many other professionally fulfilled people do, then you have to make the decision to get off career autopilot and take the steering wheel. Yes, you’ll make mistakes, but they won’t be anything you can’t fix. And, you’ll learn a lot along the way as you become an expert in fulfilling your career needs.

PS – It’S Not Selfish to Want a Fulfilling Career – It’S Actually the Ultimate Way to Give Back

A lot of people might read this post and blast me in the comments saying the pursuit of a fulfilling career is a selfish and indulgent thing they just can’t afford to do at this stage in their life. I’m sorry, but you’re wrong. All the people I know who truly have satisfying careers are able to give a lot more of their time and resources to others. They’re a shiny beacon of light and hope in a pool of unhappiness. They’re so energized by the way they feel about their careers that they’re constantly looking for ways to help others experience what they’re feeling. They’re givers.

Want to Be a Giver?

Step up and take control of your career happiness once and for all. Don’t stop until you find your path and are working hard to make it happen. Then, watch how you are able to better serve your friends, family, colleagues, and even strangers. The power you feel when pursuing a career on your own terms is so incredible – you won’t want to stop. I’ll stress again that it won’t be easy, but the ability to feel good while giving back to others is definitely worth it!

P.S. – First time reading my posts? Thanks for taking the time to stop by! Not only do I write for Linkedin, but I’m also founder of the career advice site,CAREEREALISM,and currently run the career coaching program, CareerHMO. I hope you’ll check them both out!