It pains me to see people who aren’t excelling in their jobs — people in the wrong industry or at the wrong company, maybe even the wrong job function altogether. They go to work and they can’t make the impact they want because they’re not doing what they’re best at.

Unfortunately, I’ve found it a common occurrence today. Our society is not set up to help us figure out what we should be doing and often our career decisions are made based on inertia or other reasons outside of ourselves:

  • I want to be a doctor because my dad’s a doctor.
  • My teacher says I’m good at math (though I don’t like it) so I should be an engineer.
  • Lawyers make a lot of money so I'll try that.

Compare that to the sports world. When players are good, they progress. There is a next level for them to reach, each more difficult but also a test of their resolve. An athlete knows he’s an athlete if he can make it to the top.

Education is different. Exploration is necessary. Experimentation is necessary.

Until people get out and begin to learn who they are, they can’t know their path.

What do you like to do?

It’s important to get as specific as possible when reflecting on this. Say, for example, you like to sell and think you’re pretty good at it. Well, selling could be a lot of things, really. It’s too broad. Think deeper and hone in.

  • Are you good at upselling current customers or do you do better approaching someone cold?
  • Do you have an interest or background in a particular industry or service — say technological knowledge that might give you an edge?
  • Would you rather close a smaller number of large deals or try to make a higher volume of small sales?
  • Are you process oriented or people oriented? What’s your strong suit? What lights you up inside when you think about selling?

Asking questions like these can help to create a clearer picture of the type of role you’re best suited for. And if you don’t know the answers yet, you can iterate until you find where you can really shine.

I’ve been fortunate enough to learn on the fly to find my skills and interests. I started my first business while still in college and it quickly became obvious what I was made to do and not do.

I’m a big picture thinker through and through. Put me in the role of an accountant and forget it. Detail and orientation, no way. I’m OK accepting that fact now but it took me a while and I’m sure my growth was stunted until I did.

My advice: Pay attention to the stuff that comes easily to you. We tend to think it comes easy to everyone else but it isn’t true. Pay careful attention and hone in once you find it. Stay there and keep away from the things you’re not good at. the things that don’t light you up inside.

That’s the only way to become a pro.