We’re told time and time again that finding your passion is the key to unlocking personal and professional happiness. Just pick that one thing you love doing all day, every day, and apply it to a career – right? Easier said than done. Here are five ways to stay motivated and start moving in the right direction, even when you have no idea what you want to do.
1. Stop comparing yourself.
Everyone has a friend (or several) who figured exactly what they wanted to do at a very young age. Watching these people dedicate their energy to the pursuit of a singular pre-established goal can be intimidating, especially if you feel that you’re spending most of your time just figuring out – not even yet pursuing – a career. But these people are few and far between, and getting consumed by this kind of thinking – by comparing – is a surefire way to slow down your own process. Take stock of the skills and interests you have at your disposal now rather than focusing on what you “should” have done at some earlier point in time. Not knowing exactly what it is you want to do doesn’t mean you’re unmotivated. It doesn’t mean you’ve done something wrong. Most importantly, it doesn’t mean you’re less capable of finding a career path that really engages you.
On this topic, you might also find some helpful information about discovering your “Career Direction” by following this link – http://studentcaring.com/career-directions/
2. Pick something.
The prospect of choosing the “wrong” job can be paralyzing. No one wants to commit to a dead-end position that makes them feel truly unhappy and trapped – and being unsure about what you want only magnifies that fear. Take the pressure off: it’s insane to imagine that anyone with limited professional experience and a tenuous grasp of their career aspirations – say, a recent graduate – should be able to pinpoint one specific niche in one single industry right away. Look at your career, instead, as an evolutionary process that unfolds over time. Don’t wait around for the perfect opportunity to present itself: put yourself on a path that incorporates subject matters or fields you care about in some capacity. You can talk to as many people as you want and speculate all day, but you won’t actually learn anything about the types of work that make you happy (or unhappy) until you’ve done them. And stay flexible – the job that engages you in a sustainable way may not be what you imagined when you were 16 or 20 or even five minutes ago. “Office Space” has done for cubicles what “Jaws” did for the ocean, but this job may even take place – gasp – in an office and follow a 9-5 schedule. It may not even be a single job; it could be a series of experiences and positions that collectively teach you, over time, about the kind of work you want to be doing.
3. Don’t underestimate other experiences.
Before I landed my last two positions – both of which have closely aligned with my professional interests – I worked with a trade association that had absolutely nothing to do with subject areas that were most exciting to me. I still consider it one of the most pivotal professional experiences of my life, though, because my supervisors became wonderful mentors and the nature of the work I did for them – writing and editing – provided me with technical skills I would use in the future. Even if they’re not your dream job, these experiences can also help you gain insight into the types of working environments, people and responsibilities that stimulate or discourage you.
4. Stay in touch.
I was tempted to say “keep networking” but that term never really covered it for me. I always felt awkward networking in the traditional sense – trading business cards and making small talk at professional happy hours and knowing, all the while, that I had little to offer in exchange for any favor I asked. I felt like people could see right through me. But these kinds of formal environments are a very small part of the networking world. You can do it all the time, with your current colleagues or your friends or someone with whom you’ve volunteered for months. When you start a conversation, think more about how you can learn from people rather than what you can get from them. Build connections based on mutual interests and aspirations, not contact information. Almost every one of my jobs (especially those that have been truly in keeping with my goals) came from personal contacts that knew me well enough to anticipate the kinds of positions that would play to my strengths. More importantly, though, they didn’t happen immediately. During one of my part-time jobs, I did some freelance work for a colleague; six months later, his friend needed a full-time editor and my name was at the top of his mental rolodex. One week after that, I had an offer that ultimately jumpstarted my current career path.
5. Remember that no job is always fun.
We’ve built a pretty inaccurate narrative around the idea of passion; more specifically, we’ve started believing that doing what you love means no moments of discomfort, challenge or serious failure. Don’t be swayed by a bad week or even a bad two weeks. There’s really no magic formula that tells you when it’s time to leave a job – unless we’re talking about very clear dealbreakers like abusive or illegal behavior – but try to look at all the variables at play before you discard a possible career path that you once considered seriously. Do you dislike your particular office environment or the work itself? Are you unhappy with the industry as a whole or just your current role? Can you still cultivate experiences and skills that might be useful to you in the future? Answer these questions honestly before you condemn yourself to square one again.
Emily Newhook (Tips for Graduates) is the community outreach coordinator for MHA@GW at The George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services. Outside of work, she enjoys writing short stories, powerlifting and watching horror movies. Follow her on Twitter @EmilyNewhook.
Five Tips for Graduates Who Have “No Idea” What They Want to Do
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