It’s cruel problem to have today: how can an 18-year-old (or 25-year-old) decide what they want to do for the rest of their life?
Anyone who’s like people that I know in their 30s and 40s want a career path change. And it’s not uncommon for someone in their 20s to job hop.
That moment when I changed my mind about my career.
I was a C-student without any direction in high school. When I graduated, the advice was to go to college even if you didn’t know what you wanted to do. Undecided major? You’ve got two years general education to figure it out.
By my junior year in college I was a C-student in Exercise Physiology and an Honors Student in beer pong. I graduated and found a career in retail, which gave me a nice salary for 70 to 90 hours of work each week.
It wasn’t until I was 27 and found a home in financial services that I started to feel like I had a future and that I was on the right career path. Recently, I left my career in finance to grow my own business with my life and business partner. (But it’s still related to finance.)
I understand what it’s like to have to decide what you want to do with your life — only to realize later that you want to do something else. Lucky for me, what I’m doing now is a version of what I was doing before. But it was still stressful trying to decide what I wanted to do in my 20s and then leaving comfort and security in my 40s.
Having floundered to find a career and then versioning to a new one, I have thoughts on how best to choose what you want to do for the next five to 10 years of your life.
My first piece of advice for everything is to meditate. Yes, it’s become so common it’s almost passé. The truth is that in this crazy, over-connected, over-worked, and over-scheduled world, it’s hard to get in touch with our inner-selves. I can’t beat Miranda’s take on the benefits of meditation; I’ll just add that in addition to managing stress and relaxing, meditation gives us an opportunity to hear our inner-voice. Many of today’s most successful people credit instincts or gut-feelings for their successes.
Meditate on the idea of your career path. You might be surprised at rises to the top of your mind.
Check your feelings.
A supplement to mediation that my husband and I do most mornings is what we call “I Feelz.” We each take turns expressing three of our current feelings.
Before we agreed that I would leave my secure, retirement-funding, benefit-providing, regular paying job, I wanted to be sure that we were both 100% on board and prepared for this life change. We started this exercise then and continue it to this day.
This isn’t always as easy as it seems. We dig deep sometimes to tap into our feelings. Once our feelings are expressed, we can address them accordingly. Likewise, it keeps both our business and personal relationship transparent.
To use this exercise to choose or change your career path, take time every day express to someone else or write down emotions you’re feeling about your current state or prospective future. Be specific, rather than general. Rather than saying, “I feel good,” say “I feel good because of X.”
Use these feelings to inspire your career decisions.
There are as many ways to journal as there are to meditate. An applicable journaling style that I practiced before I took my leap from W-2 to 1099 is like the advice of nutritionists for those who struggle to lose weight.
Keep your journal with you throughout the day. I used the Notes app on my phone. As they happen, write down the things to which you respond positively and those to which you respond negatively.
If you see a person on TV or IRL with a job or career you think you might like, write it down. As thoughts on jobs and careers come to you, activities you like and don’t like, write them in the appropriate place and designate them as positive or negative.
Over time, you’ll notice patterns. These patterns can guide you towards what you like doing and are good at doing.
Consider the career path less traveled.
Most high school students go straight to college. Most adults looking for a mid-life career change get an MBA or other advanced degree. I support these decisions for those who have considered all options, including less expensive and less time-consuming options:
- Consider a paid-apprenticeship to earn as you learn valuable skills. This is a great way to offset education costs and increase your chances of having a job when you’ve completed your learning.
- Consider certifications. Certifications cost a lot less than degrees and take much less time to earn. This is especially helpful if you’re flush with neither cash nor time. A friend of ours recently went from being a tax attorney to becoming a Certified Financial Planner. At about $4,200, this saved him about 12 months and $55,800 over getting an advanced degree.
Finally, if going back to school is inevitable, consider strategically taking courses at a community college. With the escalating costs of college, more employers understand the value of associate degrees and taking a few courses to enhance one’s skills.
Coupling these exercises with the standard career path seeking advice of talking with mentors, job shadowing, taking career tests, and doing informational interviews can help you get in touch with your true self.
As we all eventually learn, job titles and salaries provide temporary satisfaction. It’s fulfilling our highest purpose and being our truest selves that offer real meaning in life.