Updated: Nov 22, 2020
When you're seven, thinking about what you want to be when you grow up is an endless stream of creativity and imagination fuelled by the adults and supports around you telling you that you can do anything. You can be a doctor, an astronaut or a rock star - and if you're really clever, you could even be all three. At night you go to bed dreaming of the doctor in space who plays a bass and you don't have to worry about how to pay bills or find what you love so you don't work a day in your life. So when you're seventeen, leaving school and high on possibilities that are much more realistic, you're faced with the inevitable hard choice of trying to work out what to do with your life.
It's easy to want to retreat into the safety of uncertainty and not wanting to make that decision. And that can be okay for awhile. In fact, it can be exactly what you need to find out what you want to do. A healthy dose of life experience - travel, finding yourself lost in unknown places, learning left from right and your political compass as well as what it means to be out of your comfort zone and out of home - can serve you well in finding out what you want out of life. Whether that be high-flying success and big pay cheques to living day by day in the humble life surrounded by community, you will be better off for exploring different aspects of life and your surrounds before making the call on what is next for you.
After this, though, it can be really tough to work out what you want to do with your life. We all have had dreams of being casual Contiki tour guides in Europe, of working, traveling and partying on a schedule that never stops. And while this would be a seriously cool job, the current world situation is a testament to the instability of industries and work lives like this are and how important it is, now more than ever, to work towards knowing what you want to do.
For some people the answer is really clear. Some people study nursing or teaching degrees and they come out university with the clear pathway of being nurses or teachers. Other people and the vast majority don't have this and while there are some incredibly cool industries, jobs and workplaces that you can fit into with a wide variety of skills, it takes a lot of effort and soul searching to find what is you're going to be. It takes grit, patience and a clear, unwavering faith in yourself and a lot of goal setting. A lot of the time, this takes taking roles and experiences that you wouldn't expect yourself to ever do.
So where do you start?
Know your passion and if you don't know it, find it.
We could talk endlessly about the reason why you'd try to work in something you're passionate about but it really comes down to two things: your energy and your drive. Getting out of bed in the morning to do an hour commute, work a nine hour day and do all of life's bits and bobs in between will only ever make you happy if you're doing something you actually care about. If you hate what you do, you're devoting all your time, energy and mental wellbeing to something that is only draining you. It doesn't serve you as better in the long run if day by day, you grow bitter at the work that you're doing.
The hunt for your passions and skills begins first and foremost with a career aptitude test and a skills and interests list, which will help you not only determine what you’re good at and what you enjoy, but also the difference between your what you'd want to do apart from your interest in hobbies. This is important, because you might have a skill that would make you unhappy if it were the focus of your career but will empower your passions if placed in a supporting role.
For example, you might have some really great skills in developing computer programs for the gaming community you're apart of, but you couldn't stand working for an company that doesn't let you think outside the box. Maybe that means you'd look at different IT roles, so you're still involved in the tech field, but not working a hobby into the ground.
There is no perfect career. Find your strengths.
We talked about finding a job your passionate about and working to these strengths. This is a timely reminder that this doesn't come easily, and sometimes we'll have to do jobs we don't like. However, this doesn't mean that if you hate a job or aren't enjoying the work, that it isn't serving you at all. We all have to start somewhere. There is very rarely a time that you will walk into your dream job without doing the hard yards somewhere else first, and that will more times than not be where you'll find the most skills, experiences as well as frustrations. To this, we would say try to make it work. Do something everyday towards the bigger picture so you're clear to yourself that eventually you will get to where you want to be. Find the small positives day to day, like if the work might be mundane and boring, you might work with a really great group of people in the same boat. Nurture those relationships.
Even a doctor astronaut bass player would have it's pitfalls. You'd be working away from home for decades, playing to no audience and probably working on yourself medically more than anything.
The point is, you're going to have to compromise. This means knowing what you're willing to be okay with changing and what you're not okay with. Sometimes that means taking a pay cut in order to gain experience, or maybe it's working a bit further from home with longer hours for a small promotion.
Research and learn where the jobs are.
We're not going to sugar coat it - there's a reason Netflix is booming right now compared to the jobs going at Blockbuster. (there is no jobs going at Blockbuster at present - but if there were, I'd definitely eat my words, because that'd be a good gig)
The market demands what it demands. Spend time researching what the salaries are for roles and jobs you haven't thought about before. We are living in an age where the current generation born today will be working jobs we cannot even fathom or have been created yet in the next twenty years. Time and technology do not wait for anybody.
Think outside the box with this as well. While you might not have the skills to work in software engineering, you may have some quality people management skills which would do well in managing a team of people in a software engineering company. You might have never thought about cybersecurity as an area of interest, but if you're interested in foreign affairs, perhaps there's an entry level role in international cyber affairs that you could look into.
Don't make money your primary consideration.
This is a tough one, we know.
At the end of the day, if we could all be living Bezo'esque lives with not a care in the world about what money we need to bring to the table every day, we would probably be doing what we're passionate about carefree day in day out. There'd be no need for attribute tests and certainly no need to compromise by working a job you don't love in the hope to eventually find one.
But salary driven thoughts cloud our judgement and inevitable lead you down a path of jobs and roles that don't serve your purpose. If making big bucks means sacrificing your happiness or morals, is that really worth it?
If you’re looking to find what you're really looking for in terms of career, the best way to start is to treat financial concerns as secondary. If the practicality of what you do and how much money you earn are your primary criteria you will instantly limit yourself to what’s predictable and getting to do what you love will be tough. On the other hand, if you allow yourself to pursue your curiosity, interests and passions, you will allow yourself to set goals to achieve where you want to be.
While it's tough, this clouded judgement can be your downfall in interviews as well. Having an answer to the question 'why are you interested in this role?' that is focused around money will never hold you in good steed.
The intersection of them all
Finding what you're interested in that can translate to being a career is tough. Also understanding what you're passionate about can be tricky too. It requires soul searching and effort in understanding what is at the core of who you are and who you want to be. You don't get to wake up one day and walk into the dream job of your choice without hard work and patience in working towards that goal day by day.
Take a day, sit down with yourself, a pen, paper and good quality coffee and start thinking about what gets you out of bed in the morning. Ask your friends and family what you're particularly good at and let them tell you what skills you could bring to the table in a workplace. Research new roles and jobs that are being created every single day and how you could be apart of this new world we're in and start saving money every way you can, as this will help to alleviate the feeling of needing to have a job that is higher in financial gain but lower in personal gain.
Finding out what you want to be when you grow up isn't easy, but I promise, it is worth it in the long run.