Violet’s Situation: I am trying to figure out what I really want to do with my career. I have been working since I graduated from college and have had some type of job since then. I have gotten to this point where I feel like I am STUCK . And I am ready to get unstuck. It is time. I no longer want to feel like I am just working to pay the bills. And that is something that I have been feeling for years.
Question: How do you move into a career that will be most fulfilling and one that you will be most passionate about?
Alison’s Answer: Great question Violet! The situation you’ve described is very common. Some people receive a job offer immediately after graduating college that starts them down an unintended path. Others struggle to find work, so they take a position just to have a job, rather than because it’s something they actually want.
So how do you go from drifting through a series of jobs that pay the bills (but don’t provide a whole lot more) to taking ownership of your career and actually picking a direction you want?
Let’s start with three things to avoid, and then I’ll move to three big picture steps to take.
How NOT to Find a Career You’re Passionate About
- Spend 100% of Your Time on Introspection
So many career resources point people to reflection exercises to help them to identify their passion. These exercises are not a bad first step, but they are insufficient for many people, particularly if reflection exercises are the only strategy you engage with. Our brains are limited by what we know. So, naturally, you won’t be able to find something in your own mind that you’ve never encountered or considered before. You’ll need to get out of the comfort of your own familiar thoughts and into new possibilities by engaging in real world exploration to connect with work that is fulfilling for you.
- Prioritize the Opinions of Others Over Your Own
This is pretty self-explanatory, but if you want to find work that you’re passionate about, then you’ll need to pay the most attention to what you’re interested in and what you care about. Not what your family, peers, or professors are pushing you towards.
- Avoid Doing Anything Uncomfortable or New
By definition, making a career change means going into something new, and discomfort is a normal part of the process. If you avoid this truth and stay squarely within your comfort zone, then you won’t get anywhere. You need to be willing to go through some nerves, rejection, new situations, and extra effort to get this thing sorted out. I love the phrase ‘productive discomfort’. We’re not out for pain just for the sake of pain. Instead, an attitude of purposefully moving towards (rather than away from) discomfort that is going to move us forward is what is needed.
Three Big Picture Steps to Take Ownership of Your Career
- Think, “I’m Figuring This Out” vs. “I Don’t Know What I Want”
This is a little mindset trick. You are so clearly eager to get this thing sorted, which means you are putting your attention to it, and I believe that everything improves with attention. So, yes, there are going to be a bunch more days where you feel like both you and your career direction are in a thick fog. But, rather than throwing up your hands and saying, “I don’t know what I want”, and plopping down in frustration in the middle of the fog, take a more empowered stance, “I’m figuring this out.” Recognize that every step you take moves you one step closer to getting out of that fog. Keep taking steps and you’ll get out of it.
- Go Deeper with What You Know
There are undoubtedly some things that you know about your preferences and interests. Try to find opportunities to go deeper with these favorite subjects or ideas. See the next step for ideas on how to do this.
- Explore New Possibilities in the Real World
In addition to building on what you know, be open to exploring new ideas. If a lecture sounds interesting, attend it. Look for groups of people who seem to be doing something cool, and join the group. Pick out a volunteer opportunity that you think you’d like. Above all, talk to people about what they’re doing. Give yourself the opportunity to have a reaction to new stimuli. You might love something or hate it, but either way you’ll have a new data point to work with!
The first critical step in moving into a fulfilling career path is identifying what that path might be, so that’s what I’ve focused on in the above suggestions. After all, it’s a lot easier to get moving when you have a direction to go in!
For more details on the specific steps needed to make a career change, sign up for the free Step-By-Step Career Change E-Course. Every week I send out a small, doable reminder for how to navigate the whole process of a career change.
Are you drifting through your career or actively setting your course? If you’re drifting, why do you think that’s happening? Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Each month I’m tackling a career question from someone in our community. If you’re at a crossroads with your career and would like to pose a question, just sign up for the Step-By-Step Career Change E-Course! There’s a link to a quick survey in the early emails of the course where you can leave me a question. I might just write a blog post for you!