As a recent college graduate, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced has been identifying and sticking with a career that really resonates with my character. I constantly meet other new college graduates who feel the same way and are working at jobs that they don’t feel authentically connected to. The societal pressure to complete a degree program in order to be socially accepted as “on path” can often mislead students to pursuing careers and opportunities that aren’t aligned with their values or innate abilities. In the process, we get lost and caught up in the fear of not being successful and choose the “safe” or “realistic” route only to later be disappointed. Below are things that I’ve learned along the way that have helped steer me towards an authentically-led life that allows for true satisfaction and fulfillment.
What I Wish I Knew About Choosing a Life Direction Before Adulthood
Listen to Your Discomfort
The first step towards learning how to select a fulfilling career is to realize that deep discontent and doubt are indications of a necessary life change that needs to take place. Listening to strong and persistent feelings of doubt(instead of ignoring it) can help you to break through any hidden illusions that are driving you along an inauthentic path. So put yourself through the internal scrutiny and trust your gut. Despite what you may tell yourself, there is always time to change your present course. Soul-sucking jobs will be there in the future if you end up needing a lifeline, but if you avoid your internal conflict in order to continue sticking with what feels comfortable and safe, then nothing has been solved, and you’ll stay stuck where many people waste away.
Degrees Don’t Define You
Your degree does not define you, and may be less limiting than you think. The key is, don’t believe that you’re trapped in a box. Make sure to include all transferrable skills in your resume targeted towards the specific position you are interested in, take a risk, and apply!Before working in accounting, and now public relations, I majored in environmental science and was employed in jobs ranging from engineering, microbiology, biotech, and wine sales.I’ve learned something about myself in each job, and this happened because I learned to take the chance (instead of limiting myself) and to apply for various types of jobs I wanted to explore.
Seeking Help is Not Weakness
Sometimes we need guidance and a source of inspiration in order to make meaningful change. It all starts with how we view ourselves and the world around us. I’ve realized that talking to someone like a close friend, or professional like a therapist or life coach can act as a catalyst to make important life changes and stick with them. While working with a life coach, I learned that although I am a creative person,I was choosing possible career paths that required more rote-based, rather than creative work; thus, I had been choosing jobs that go against my natural strengths and abilities, which led to a demoralizing sense of failure. Through lots of conversation and encouragement, I have been able to reframe my thoughts of failure from, “What’s wrong with me?” into a more accurate and useful appraisal, “This job is not a good fit for me, so I’ll work towards choosing something that is.” Seek help and change your inner narrative.
Your Strengths Matter
Find your strengths and embrace them. Some great resources I’ve utilized have been the book “Strengths Finder 2.0” by Tom Rath as well as the Myer’s Briggs test. These have helped me identify my personality type and abilities and have guided me towards work that fits who I am.Personally, I’ve found that I’m introverted, creative, idealistic, and value harmony amongst people. I find that working in jobs shrouded with tedium, details, bureaucracy and high pressure are unbearable. I feel most energized when creating music, writing, and designing websites or graphics. Find what energizes and inspires you. Take a personality test and compare your results with the characteristics of a potential job to see if what you are pursuing is a good fit.
Experimenting is Important
If you have no clue what you want to do for a career, experiment with as many other jobs, hobbies, classes, activities or ideas as you can. Often times our expectations about what we think a job is like are not entirely rooted in reality, and can be clarified with deep experiential research and experimentation. Want to know how it feels to be a web designer? Find a free course online and see if it excites you. Then talk to people in the profession and even shadow them if it’s allowed at their workplace. I recently toured the facilities of Dropbox with one of my friends in San Francisco to experience what working at a successful startup was like. It was awesome, to say the least! These experiences will give you better exposure to other kinds of work environments and what it is really like on a day-to-day basis. In the process you’ll find what you do or don’t like about the profession, people or work culture.
Failing is Progress
Many times you’ll find that your plans don’t pan out like you imagined, and it’s tempting to view this as failure. Something you’ll need to accept is that you will fail and that failure can be used to help make progress towards something better. What failure does is guide us towards making the right decisions while learning how to stop choosing the “wrong” ones. If we take on jobs that we are either terrible at or get fired from, it doesn’t mean that there is something innately wrong with us. It simply means that the path we chose wasn’t meant for us, and it’s time to try something else that’s more in alignment with who we really are. When you fail, it’s critical that you see it as a learning opportunity, and remember that much of life is “trial and error.”Eventually you’ll find something you will succeed in.
There is No Perfect Career
Nothing is ever perfect. I’ve spoken to plenty of people who claim to be in their ideal career who still find some aspects of their work displeasing. You’ll come across this with any position – just accept that not everything will resonate with you and that’s ok. The goal is to find work that has more pros than cons and gives you a strong feeling of contentment.Also, the idea that there is only one job suited for any particular person is misleading. There are many people who either work multiple part-time positions or work for themselves outside of the company-employee model.Open to the possibility of working outside of what is “normal” and expected.
Success is Arbitrary
Chasing careers for their high salaries and prestige often leads us feeling frustrated and miserable. Success shouldn’t be measured by the amount of dollars in your bank account or job titles. Success is really about feeling fulfillment in whatever you pursue. You have more potential for success than you realize. Thanks to the Internet Age, there are many resources you can capitalize on to find the information you need to take your first step towards change. It may take time, even years, but the sooner you commit, the sooner you’ll feel satisfied about your direction in life. Stop doubting yourself and conforming to other people’s ideas about what a successful life is. Forget what is normal or comfortable. Jump off the deep end; get lost, find yourself again and take a risk. Even if you fail you’ll still be better off than becoming stuck later on, wondering, “what if?”