Deciding what it is we want to do for the rest of our lives can feel overwhelming, and to say that might even be an understatement. It can seem like your whole future rests on the shoulders of your next decision, and may even seem like the most important decision you may ever even make in your life, right up there with who to marry and whether or not to procreate. Many of you have spent years earning a degree just to end up twiddling your thumbs and wondering what it is you are actually passionate about. Now, here you sit, sitting on your parents’ couch sending snapchats of your cat to your working friends accompanied by the hashtag “unemployed”.
Okay, maybe that’s not you.
Regardless of where you’re at and the path that brought you here today, trying to decide what we want to do with our lives is a pressure filled decision with the potential to cause you lots of stress. At the end of the day you are the only one who knows what’s best for you, but here are some tips to help guide you in the right direction.
1. Take the Pressure Off
Too often, people enter the so-called “real world” believing that they should know exactly what it is they want to do for the rest of their life. The truth is that most people don’t, and many of those who think that they do may find themselves changing their minds down the road. A lot of people have the thought that what they choose for a career today is their going be-all, end-all career focus and all other doors will close. Of course choosing a path will be stressful if you are telling yourself that the next job you have is going to take you steadily onwards down an unswerving path to your grave. Don’t put that kind of pressure on yourself. People change their minds all the time, and that’s okay. Change is the only constant in life, and if that next job isn’t one that makes you feel satisfied then you always reserve the right to try something else. And don’t think of it as a failure if you do change your mind–even the shittiest jobs can teach you valuable skills and help you to realize what you like and what you’re good at. So stop stressing. This next job is just that: a job, and a learning experience like everything else in life.
2. Be You, Not Your Facebook Friends
We’ve all done it on one social media network or another: You log into (insert social media of choice here) and something in your news feed catches your eye. Lindsay Taylor has a new cool and professional looking profile picture on LinkedIn and you can’t even understand her job title when it pops up below your hovering cursor. Senior Marketing Evangelist? What is that? Pneumatic Device and Machine Optimizer? What the hell?! You may talk to your friend who is continuing school to become a doctor or a nurse, or maybe your engineering-savvy friend just landed his perfect job and you are feeling a bit behind the eight ball. One of the most important things you can do to take the pressure off of yourself is to stop comparing. People will always try to put their best foot forward on social media and it often lends a very biased picture with little attention drawn to what really goes on behind the scenes. Any person in any job is going to have stresses and discontentment from time to time, and anyone who leads you to believe otherwise is either in the extreme minority or lying. Fifty years from now, it won’t matter that you were the Executive Director of Sales or the Barista at your local coffee shop. What matters is the experience you take away from it and the value that it brings to you. You are your own person with your own range of talents and weaknesses. And you’re greatest strength? There is absolutely no one else in the world who is exactly like you. So go easy on the comparisons and maybe even give the social media a rest for a bit. You might even find that you spend that extra time doing or learning something that might even help you, either personally or professionally!
3. Discover Your Interests
There are generally two extremes when it comes to knowing what you are interested in. Sometimes people will think that they are interested in too many things and find it difficult to narrow down that focus. My advice to those people is to write them down. Write down everything you are interested in, even if it’s something like music or reading that might not seem like it can lead to a lucrative career. Once you’ve made your list, try to pick two or three of the ones that speak to you most. Then do some research: what kind of job can you get relating to international education or food? The internet is a great resource and you can definitely find a profession out there for pretty much any interest you might possibly have. Okay, so now there are some of you who are reading this thinking: “I’m not really passionate about anything.” Don’t get down on yourself just yet. We live in a world where so much of what we see and are exposed to is the influence of someone else; someone else’s ideas, someone else’s stories. It can be hard to find our own voice in the midst of all that other noise. I am going to argue that even if you can’t think of something off the top of your head that interests you, there are going to be things that you enjoy or things that you are good at. Think about what thoughts occupy your mind in your free time. Do you like talking to people? Are you always looking up new recipes? Check out your search history on your computer: What kinds of information do you Google on the internet? If you’re still at a loss, maybe it’s time to explore something new! There are so many topics in the world that you haven’t learned about yet, there’s bound to be something that might catch your interest. There are also tests you can take online that can help you explore your interests. Here is one that is free and provides you with possibilities based on what others with similar interests have done for work. You can also take the JVIS (Jackson Vocational Interest Survey), which is more in-depth and requires a small fee. It takes about 40 minutes to complete online and costs about $20. The benefit of taking the JVIS is that it gives you feedback on a range of topics and rates your interest in each. Also, if you are in school or are a recent graduate, many university career centers will serve their alumni for up to two years postgraduate. I have taken advantage of this myself and know from personal experience how helpful it can be to talk through your struggles with a professional career coach!
4. Pursue Your Interests
Once you’ve found a starting point (or two), don’t let it end there. Read articles about the topics you’re interested in and become more knowledgeable. Look up companies or organizations that are in your field and write them down! My sister made a Google spreadsheet of around 30 different companies and organizations that she was interested in, along with information about them and links to their webpage. It’s helpful to have that information saved somewhere, and you might even find it useful sometime down the road. Reach out to someone at one of them by looking at their list of employees, ask them about their position and what they enjoy about it or for advice about getting into the field. Some people may consider themselves too busy to answer, but I guarantee that if you write enough people, someone will take the time to help you out. Sometimes you can even read their bios on the website and find other organizations they may have worked for or get an idea of what kind of skills you might need. Check popular jobs sites like indeed.com using your interest as a keyword and just see what pops up. It will help give you a better idea about what kinds of jobs appeal to you.
5. Trust Yourself
Let go of the judgments of others. There will always be people, regardless of your career choice, who might disapprove of what you are doing or simply look down upon you. Trying to live a life that will make you more socially acceptable might grant you a bit of confidence name dropping at a dinner party but it won’t necessarily be the kind of thing that sends you to bed at night feeling fulfilled. And remember, despite those who don’t get it, there are other people out there who will understand why you do what you do. Instead of wasting energy defending your interests to those who disagree, seek out the people who will support you in what you want to do. If you live in or near a city, try using meetup.com as a way of meeting others with similar interests and even work in some networking. Sometimes you can take classes for free or even just meet interesting people. Pursue happiness on your own terms and have faith that you will get yourself where you need to be.
Oh, and here are a few job sites you might find helpful in your search: