Figuring out your career is like living in a maze with conflicting hints at every turn. One self-proclaimed expert tells you one thing and another tells you exactly the opposite.

Instead of listening to what everyone else says, I have a better idea: Try figuring things out for yourself.

If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to learn to think for yourself and make good decisions based on your own experience, observations, and gut feel. Otherwise, you’ll just end up blowing with the prevailing populist winds, and that never ends well.

Finding a career that suits you best is not like fashion. There’s no reward for either following the “in” crowd or being different. Besides, it’s a little more important than deciding whether to buy straight leg or boot cut jeans. And one size advice definitely does not fit all.

Look, nobody ever got anywhere by listening to generic advice. There are only a few big decisions you’ll make in your life and choosing a career is one of them. Here are some factors to consider in making good decisions that will lead to positive outcomes.

Learning to Walk

From the day you’re born, you learn by trial and error. Just like learning to walk, when you want to get somewhere you take a few steps, fall flat on your face, cry your eyes out, get back up and try again. That simple mechanism is responsible for all learning and experience until the day you call it quits.

Why would you think for a minute that the same process doesn’t apply to your career? Note: There are no books or blogs in that description.

Determining your life’s work – developing skills, meeting people, building relationships, and uncovering opportunities – is a process of discovery. It’s simple trial and error. You can try to control it and read tons of content if you like, but you’re just wasting your precious time – time you should be spending learning to walk.

For Love or Money

Not only are goals subjective, they change as you grow and mature. Besides, we’re all driven by different factors. Follow your heart and do what you love may be good general advice, but if you love to cook and your food tastes like crap that may not work out so well.

Like it or not, customers and markets don’t give a crap about your likes and dislikes. They’re ruled by supply and demand, not passion. Finding what you love to do is just one part of the equation. You still want to strive to excel at your work and become marketable in an in-demand field.

Special Snowflakes

As much as I despise the way schools are all but breeding personal accountability and competitive spirit out of the species by making every kid feel special even when they’re not, there is something to be said for each of us being unique.

Think about it. When you consider genetics, circumstance, upbringing and experience, you’re obviously unique. So the choice of how to spend a big chunk of your life has to come down to one person – you. The very notion that generic advice should influence that is ludicrous.

Don’t be ludicrous.

Things Change

We live in a chaotic world. Everything changes. You change. Markets change. Cultures change. Technology changes. Economies change. From individuals and families to companies and countries, everything is born, goes through all sorts of changes, and dies. Nothing is static. Nothing is preordained.

As you go through life you’ll notice that your tolerance for risk changes. That alone has an enormous impact on your goals at any point in time. Besides, what appeals to you today may sound ridiculous tomorrow.

Personal fulfillment is entirely about two things: learning how the world works and understanding yourself. There is no prescription for either.

Everyone knows the saying: If you give people some fish they’ll eat a meal, but if you teach them to fish, they’ll eat for a lifetime. Reading about careers is like eating fish – and it might turn out to be bad fish. My advice, for what it’s worth: learn to fish instead.

Image credit Tim Green via Flickr

A version of this originally appeared on