Some people know from an early age exactly what kind of career they want to have. They have a laser like focus, start picking up skills when they’re young, and fall right into their niche. But most of us aren’t so lucky. We roughly know what we want to major in at college, manage to get our degree, take the first full time job offer we can find, and then start to question everything we’re doing. So what do you do when you don’t know what you want to do with your life?
If you’re currently wondering what the answer is to that question, chances are you’re feeling unsettled and confused. Perhaps even suffering from a vast, empty feeling of nothing. You have a rough idea of what you don’t want to do, but you’re lacking inspiration and a clear career path.
Feeling Overwhelmed From Too Many Options
I met a new friend over the weekend at a house party, Ema, and we got to talking. She recently moved to San Francisco from North Carolina and is going through a bit of a rough patch. She’s single, 25, and really wants to find love, but more importantly a full time job. Her work experience is all in accounting, but her heart just isn’t in accounting anymore. The tough thing is she feels lost and really doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life.
I could totally empathize with her, because I know what it’s like to move all the way across the country and also not have a clue what you want to do with your life. Sometimes having a lot of options makes things so much harder. Ever notice how it’s so much easier to choose something, like a hair product for example, when there are only 3 options to choose from versus 30? It’s pretty incredible when you think about how many thousands of occupations there are in the world, and that can be really overwhelming.
I remember at one time in my life I thought I wanted a career in the tech industry. The problem was that was way too broad and I didn’t know how to narrow things down. Once I realized how many different type of tech companies there are such as hardware, communications equipment, semiconductors, software, etc. I got dizzy from my head spinning! But getting as specific as possible is what recruiters want to hear. If you’re serious about getting a job, don’t walk into an interview and say, “I’m really not sure what I want to do.”
Embrace The Uncertain With Open Arms
I could tell Ema was a bit down about her job search situation so I did my best to cheer her up by emphasizing some positives. It’s perfectly normal that she feels overwhelmed and tired of her job search. It takes a lot of time and energy to find work, and there isn’t anything wrong with the emotions she’s experiencing. Discovering a fun and rewarding career path hard for the majority of people, and it takes time, research, experimentation, and due diligence. Ema’s doing great though by staying proactive and taking temp jobs to help pay her bills.
She’s learning more and more about the types of jobs that she doesn’t want, which will eventually lead her to finding the things she will enjoy. It’s okay that there are a lot of unknowns in her life and in yours right now. There are uncertainties in everyone’s lives, including the most happy and successful business owners.
If you’re in a similar situation as Ema right now, take a deep breath and try to work on being patient with yourself. Be proud that you are in touch with your emotions and are trying to improve your life. Some people waste so many years ignoring or not recognizing their feelings. So you’re lucky you are attune to your inner most thoughts. You may not figure out what you want to do right away, but you’re lucky you are already starting the journey to finding out today and not 40 years from now.
You Don’t Have To Do One Thing Forever
Another tip to feeling less pressure when you don’t know what you want to do with your life is recognizing that you don’t have to be stuck doing just one thing for the rest of your life. It’s okay to change careers if you lose interest in what you’re doing. Some people change career paths their entire life, and still manage to find ways to thrive and make ends meet. There’s a great line written by Mary Schmich in the Wear Sunscreen Speech:
“Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your life…the most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives, some of the most interesting 40 year olds I know still don’t.”
Utilize What You Have To Get Your Foot In The Door
Even if you have limited job experience, you can still tap into the skills that you have right now. A lot of job skills like organization and strong communication skills are transferable across all sorts of occupations. It’s still going to be hard to compete with people who have directly relevant work experience, but companies do make exceptions in the hiring process when candidates impress them. Highlight your energy, out of the box thinking, motivation, and willingness to put in extra hours.
Another way to segue into a bigger career change is to look for a similar type of job as to what you’ve been doing at a totally different type of company. Ema is doing just that. She is currently waiting to hear back on an accounting role at a travel related start up. She’d prefer not to be doing accounting, but is excited about the opportunity to get her foot in the door at a start up and to experience a vastly different work culture than her prior full time job at a commercial bank. Working in a young, upbeat, fresh environment could spark new ideas for her and get her one step closer to figuring out what she wants to do longer term.
“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” – Steve Jobs
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Updated for 2016 and beyond.