I knew it was coming.
I’d worked at the same community pool each summer for the past five years.
I knew all the patrons, and they all knew me.
So when Mr. B. walked in with his wife and kids in tow I knew he’d stop by the guard chair I was sitting in to say hello.
I also knew that he’d ask me the same question he’d asked me every year previously, ‘So, have you figured out what you want to do career wise yet?’
Every year, I shook my head with chagrin and told him, ‘Nope, not yet.’
I felt incredibly dull and ineffectual to perpetually draw a blank on such an important question.
That year I was a junior in college, and it must have shown through that I wasn’t exactly thrilled with my major of accounting.
Mr. B. had taken to calling me ‘Alison, the reluctant accountant’.
Back then I was very uncomfortable with the topic of my future career. Not only did I not know what I wanted to do. I didn’t know how to figure out what I wanted to do.
I was at a complete loss.
Today I know that Mr. B.’s question doesn’t have to be that hard.
In fact, there are only three things you need to do to get clarity about where you want to go with your career.
1) Make a career hypothesis.
Base this hypothesis on the types of things that energize and engage you. For example, you might make a hypothesis that you would like be a personal trainer based on your love of fitness and helping people.
2) Test out your hypothesis.
Look for ways to learn more about the field you’ve picked. (At this point in time ignore the ‘how’ of getting the job. Instead focus on whether or not the ‘what’, as in what the job really entails, is appealing to you.) Ideally you want to find a way to put yourself in the position of actually doing the job to see how you react to it. This could be accomplished through an internship, a class, or volunteer work. Alternatively, you could get a better understanding of what a job entails by conducting informational interviews or shadowing someone for a day.
3) Revise your course as needed.
After your research you may decide that your hypothesis was pretty solid and you want to move toward making a career out of that job. Or you may realize that you were off base and need to make a new hypothesis. Either way, careers usually evolve over time. You make your best guess with the knowledge that you have today. Then, through experience, you gather more knowledge and make a better guess down the line.
The bottom line here is that your career direction isn’t just going to fall from the sky into the lifeguard chair you happen to be sitting in.
You have to go out into the world, see what’s out there, and maneuver based on what you learn.
So how do you answer Mr. B.’s question, ‘What do you want to do with your career?’, while you’re still figuring things out?
You answer ‘I’m exploring the field of ___. Do you know anything about it? Or anyone who works in it who I could speak with? I’m interested in learning more!’
Your turn! What has worked for you in getting career clarity? Or where are the places where you’re getting stuck? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
Coach’s Note- If you have been struggling with the question of ‘What am I going to do with my career?’ for some time without making progress, or if the aforementioned steps still seem out of reach, consider getting all the support, perspective, and accountability you need by working with me in my “What the Hell Am I Doing with My Life?” coaching program. Get more information on this program here.