There are some people that are born knowing exactly what they're meant to do with their lives. From an early age, they feel called to be a teacher, doctor, religious leader, dancer, etc. Every decision they make is leading up to that end goal.
And then... there's the rest of us.
Most people have absolutely no idea what they're supposed to be when they "grow up." And that doesn't change when we do actually grow up. Often times, we'll go from one unsatisfying job to the next, walking through doors when they open yet never strategically plotting the next move.
And life is okay. You've probably found a halfway decent job. They treat you well and pay you decently, and it's not awful.
Of course, it's not great either. You don't bounce out of bed every morning excited to face the day and carry out your life's purpose. You feel stuck, like you've lost control of your own life.
And you have this nagging feeling that you are meant to do more with your time here; you just don't know what or how.
Don't feel bad—you're not alone. A 2015 Gallup poll showed that only 32% of employees are engaged at work. That means that 68% of the workforce wishes they were somewhere else. More than 2/3 of employees are unsatisfied and either plotting their next move or working up the nerve to do so.
Advice for When You're Saying, "I Don't Know What I Want to Do With My Life"
When you reach that breaking point, that point where you drop your head into your hands and say, "I don't know what I want to do with my life, but it's definitely not this!" you're ready to change.
There are a number of questions you can ask yourself and steps that you can take to determine your career path.
Assess Your Values
This may seem like a strange place to start, but knowing what's truly important to you will influence the career choices you make.
- Do you value your freedom and flexibility, or are you more concerned with having a steady paycheck?
- Is money a strong driver for you, or is it more important to you that you're making a difference in the world?
- Do you want to have time to spend with your family and friends, or are you comfortable working late nights and weekends?
Make a list of your top 10 values and then take them into consideration as you continue your search. Now's a great time to elicit the help of personal development books, leadership training, and retreats. These will help you identify who you truly are and what gifts you have to share with the world.
Imagine Your Ideal Lifestyle
Spending your day in a sunlit office with mahogany boardroom tables is very different than traveling around in a police car chasing down criminals. The values you identified in the first step will help you determine what your ideal day at work entails. The environment you want to work in, the schedule you'd like to keep, the types of people you enjoy working with, and your required wardrobe or uniform can help you rule out certain professions while bringing others to the forefront.
Identify What Interests You
There's power in the question, "What would you do if money were no object?"
If you didn't have to work, what would you spend your time doing? Would you work with animals? Children? Create art or furniture? Teach new skills?
Make a list of at least 10 things that you would love to do. Be creative and don't edit your ideas. Jot them down no matter how outlandish they may seem.
It’s possible that what you enjoy doing the most can be a hidden viable career option. On the other hand, your calling might not just be what you do for a living, and that’s okay. Either way, it’s important to go through this exercise to identify what matters.
Figure Out What You’re Really Good At
Here's where we need to welcome reality back into the picture. You may love to cook or bake. Unfortunately, people may not enjoy eating what you prepare. Take an inventory of your skills and compare them to your list of interests. Do you see any similarities?
Combine your lists to create three columns:
- Jobs I could do now
- Jobs I'd need training to accomplish
- Jobs I'd need a miracle to accomplish
This isn't to say that there's anything you can't do. However, if you have a natural inclination for one task whereas others would be painful and time-consuming (if not practically impossible) to master, you may want to lean towards the former.
Decide If You’re Willing to Go Back to School or Get Certified
Once you've made your three columns, ask yourself whether you're willing to dedicate the time and money to go back to school. Whether you need an advanced degree or to attend a certification program, there are careers out there that you simply can't do without more education.
If you wake up one day and decide you'd like to be a heart surgeon, you can't start applying the next day. You've got a long road of school ahead. Know what you're getting yourself into before you go down that path.
Do Research to Determine If Your Passion and Skills Are in Demand
Before you start applying to graduate school or signing up for a certification program, do some research in the field. Are there a lot of jobs available or are companies cutting back? What are the average salaries for the role you'd like? As technology and culture change, certain industries are dying out. Before you put the effort into shifting careers, make sure the industry you're going to is growing.
Talk to People Working the Job You Want
Once you've narrowed down what you'd like to do (and are either qualified to do or can easily become qualified), talk to people who are already working in the field you want to work in.
- Are they happy?
- What are their working conditions?
- Do they make a living wage (and is it one that would allow you to fulfill your core values)?
- Is there an opportunity for upward mobility, or is there only one role they can fill?
Talk to as many people as you can before you decide if this field is for you. Ask them what the education requirements are, how they came to work there, and if there are any potential roadblocks that could get in the way of you working there.
See For Yourself
Internships aren't just for college students. Once you've talked to people in the field and narrowed your list down further, see if you can intern with a company in your chosen field or even volunteer with them for a few days. You may realize that you'd be miserable or discover the job is perfect for you. Either way, you'll save yourself a great deal of time, energy, and money.
Realize that You Are Never Stuck
Life is all about reinventing yourself. Even if you choose a new career path and it doesn't turn out to be what you'd hoped for, you always have the option of choosing a new one.
Deciding what to do with your life is one of the biggest decisions you'll ever make. However, when you follow the steps outlined above and focus on what brings you joy and excitement, you'll find a new career and a new zest for life.