Are you a college student who’s still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up? It’s okay to admit it, because you’re in good company. The decision of what to pursue as a career can be downright overwhelming. In this article, I will discuss the following 15 hacks to help you discover the career you’re meant for:
- Think About Childhood Passions and Dreams
- Focus on What You’re Already Good At
- Work Your Way Backwards
- Focus on Your Values
- Focus on Fears
- Tap into the Creative Self
- How Did Others Do It?
- Know How you Spend and Recharge Your Energy
- Look at Past Successes and Failures
- Think Ahead
- Ignore Others
- Collaborate with Others
- Try Everything in the Beginning
- Take Action! (It’s not going to be easy)
1. Think About Childhood Passions and Dreams
Do you recall what you said you wanted to be when you grew up as a child? If so, more times than not there is something to that dream. It speaks to the most basic of desires we initially could conjure up at a young age. I would encourage you to explore this again as a college student to see if this dream still holds water.
The reality is that dreams will get you nowhere unless you act on them. Now, for some of you the dream may have been unrealistic, like being a time traveler (hey, it might be possible, who knows?), but the majority of us had a desire to be something that we just couldn’t wait to do when we grew up.
Take some time now and explore your childhood passions and dreams. See where this takes you. You may find that it simply opens another door into a potential career path you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise.
2. Focus on What You’re Already Good At
Do you know what your natural talent is? Maybe you have more than one, but I can promise you that you have at least one. Sometimes this talent has been overlooked your entire life and you have just taken it for granted. Things like being a great listener, writer, small-talker, math whiz, artist, singer, builder, swimmer, caregiver, etc. These are all examples of natural talents that we are born with. At this point, these talents most likely haven’t been developed one bit. You were just made this way. Why not take advantage of these talents and incorporate them into your career?
Take a minute and write down what you think your natural talents are on one side of a piece of paper. Then write down some career ideas you’ve been mulling over on the other side of the paper. Now, try and connect one to the other. Did you make any connections? If so, you’re off to a great start!
If you struggle with this exercise, don’t give up. Go and ask someone who knows you well and you can trust (like a parent or best friend) and ask them what they think your talents are. Ask them what they think you would be good at doing for a career. Oftentimes this can generate some new ideas you wouldn’t have come up with on your own.
3. Work Your Way Backwards
This is an exercise I personally use a lot in both my personal and professional life. I use it a lot because it works. When thinking about what you want to do for a career, place yourself in the end goal. So, if you want to be the CFO of a big five accounting firm, then that is the end goal. Write (or type) this end goal down.
Now, you need to work your way backwards to develop the steps that will get you there. What do you think was the step that led to being the CFO? Maybe if was being the Director of Finance. Write that down. What types of qualifications/certifications would you need to obtain this level in your career? Write those down. Continue to work this process backwards until you reach where you are currently.
This can be time consuming, I’m not going to sugar-coat it. But trust me it is worth every minute. It forces you to think of each and every step along the path to the career you want to be in. You probably won’t nail it and will miss some steps here and there, but that’s okay. The point here is that it gets you to think about your career path differently.
4. How Did Others Do It?
Do you know someone who is in a career that you would like to pursue? If so, this is a great way to learn from them the steps they took to get where they are today. If you don’t know anyone, then it’s in your best interest to find someone. This is also a great start to finding a mentor. The key is to find someone that has clearly been successful in pursuing their passion and they are doing what they are meant to be doing.
To further build off the previous point on working backwards in your career pursuit, leveraging someone who is already in the role you want someday is a great place to start. Just simply ask this person what steps they took to get where they are. This can help build your future career road map even quicker.
5. Focus on Your Values
Along with your natural talents, you have a value system that was instilled in you from the very beginning. What I mean by values are beliefs and principles. And these are foundational values, the kind that you are willing to draw a line in the sand for. Our values do and will change as we go through life, but our foundational values are stable and will stay with you for life.
It’s therefore very important that you seek a career that uphold your foundational values. Otherwise, you will always feel “off”, as if something just isn’t right. What isn’t right is that you are in a position that doesn’t adhere to your value system. Some may think they can fight through this, but why should you? Why not find a career that fits your value system instead? Don’t swim up river if you don’t have to.
Let’s say you grew up playing and have a passion for highly competitive sports. Chances are then, that you will hold competition and winning as a core value throughout your life. Or, if you grew up in an environment that required you to constantly help someone else, like an elderly family member or a sibling with a learning disability, there is a strong possibility that supporting others and compassion would be foundational values for you.
Take some time to think about what your value system is. What are the beliefs and principles in your life that you take very seriously. Think about what you were taught as a child and what your parents or other people of influence instilled in you to believe in. Write these down and make them a part of your career pursuit.
6. Focus on Fears
Being vulnerable is a strength not a weakness. Those of us that step out of our comfort zones and face fear are strong. Those that don’t have the courage to do so are weak. That may sound a little too blunt for some of you, but I feel this to be true. Heck, I’m weak in a lot of areas and am not afraid to admit it. And, I’ve also overcome many fears by being vulnerable enough to step out and stretch myself.
As you think about potential careers to pursue, pay attention to anything that you feel afraid about or that feels like it’s too much for you to handle. I challenge you to not run away from these pursuits, but to run towards them. If your passion is strong enough to pursue something, you can overcome the fears involved. And once you do, you’ll feel like you’ve conquered the world!
Maybe you want to be a college professor but are scared to death to speak in front of a group of people. How do you overcome this fear? Ask yourself why you want to be a professor first. Do you love to teach others? Does it satisfy your soul and drive you to push yourself further? If the answer is yes, then you need to pursue this and face your fears by being vulnerable and practice speaking in front of others. If you don’t have this sense of passion you will not be driven to overcome the fear.
Think about the fears that are connected with your career pursuit and then ask yourself the honest question – can I overcome the fear? Am I passionate enough to do this? Is there anything that can stop me? Once you have the answers, you’ll know where you stand.
7. Tap into the Creative Self
We were all born creative beings. Do you believe that? I sure do! Just engage with any child under the age of 5 and try and tell me they’re not creative. Their creativity is what allows them to learn and to explore this world. Unfortunately, when these children head off into our school systems, the creativity begins to disappear. The good news is that you still have this creativity in you. Trust me, you do! You just need to tap back into it to bring creativity back to life.
We must bring creativity into the equation when deciding on a career. It may be hard at first, but you must set aside all that logic and those extrinsic values and move inward. Move into your heart and let it guide you into what your passionate about and what gives you a sense of purpose. Then tie this into potential careers. All too often we are blinded by logic and ignore what we know we’re meant to do. Don’t fall victim to this!
So, set aside all of your school subjects for a moment. Think about the areas where you are truly creative. Do you like to draw? Do think in numbers? Can you write songs in your head? Are you great at organizing and planning a party? Do you constantly think about new ways of doing things to improve them? These are all examples of your creative mind at work! Continue to brain storm areas where you feel you are creative and then think about what careers you could apply these creative talents to.
8. Know How you Spend and Recharge Your Energy
What wears you out? I mean what are the activities that wipe you out mentally and physically when you’re done with them? Do you know? I’m not talking about running a marathon, that would exhaust anyone whether you finish or not. I’m talking about general, everyday activities like interacting with people or the opposite of interaction – spending time alone.
This type of energy is critical when planning a career. Hence the name – Career Energy! What it comes down to is your personal temperament. Some of us are introverts and some of us are extroverts. What this simply means is that introverts spend their energy by being in highly social environments and recharge their energy spending time alone. It’s the opposite for extroverts. They spend their energy spending time alone and recharge by being in social situations.
Many of you may already know where you stand on the temperament spectrum. If you don’t, it’s not hard to figure it out at all. You don’t even need to take a personality assessment. You know yourself better than anyone, so be 100% honest here. Do you find that you would rather spend time alone than around people? Would you rather spend a quiet night at home relaxing on a Friday night than to go out to a dance club and party all night? (Take alcohol out of the equation).
What did you come up with? If you identify more with the person who would rather spend time alone, you are most likely an introvert. If you would rather spend time with others, you’re probably an extrovert. If you find yourself stuck in between, that’s okay too. Start paying attention to how you feel in these situations and you’ll eventually land on your temperament. If you feel more drained after spending time around others than when you’re alone, I’d be willing to bet you lean more towards being an introvert.
Lastly, don’t take these labels – introvert and extrovert – to heart. For whatever reason they can have some negative connotation to them, especially introverts. But I’m here to tell you (as a proud introvert myself), there are many advantages to this temperament. And the same can be said for extroverts. I encourage you to read up more on this by heading over to Susan Cain’s site here.
9. Look at Your Past Successes and Failures – Create a Bio Timeline
When you thoughtfully look back on your life, you can begin to see the times when you were thriving and the times you’ve struggled. I have used this process a few times for myself and highly encourage others to do it in my coaching. This process allows you to pinpoint areas in your life where you’ve been successful and also the areas where you’ve failed. This is what I refer to as a Bio Timeline.
The process itself is quite simple. The key is how you analyze the timeline to highlight the definitive areas in your life.
Start by creating 4 categories – childhood, elementary school, high school and college. Start with childhood and just start writing everything that you can recall from your childhood. Your earliest memories. Don’t overthink this, just write down everything you can recall. Use the same process for your elementary, high school and college (so far) years.
Once you have completed your timeline it’s time to analyze it. Go through the entire timeline and look for anything that you would consider a success, something you were passionate about, or just a pleasant memory. Just highlight or mark these areas. Do the same for any failures or areas you struggled with. Next, look for areas that you may have struggled with but ultimately made you stronger.
For the areas you highlighted as a success or enjoyable experience, what was it about that time and experience in your life that made it successful or enjoyable? Write down whatever you come up with. Was it traveling to the location, was it a competition, or was it being around your close group of friends or helping someone out? Do the same for the failures or areas where you struggled. What was it that made you struggle? Why did you fail? Write down whatever you come up with.
The last step is to look for trends. Do you see any patterns within the areas you were successful, or that you enjoyed? What about patterns for the areas in your life where you struggled? Were there areas that you initially struggled but turned around into a success? Ask yourself how you can incorporate the positive or successful times in your life into a career. Then ask yourself if you can overcome your past failures and incorporate them into a career. For any failure or struggle that you can’t overcome, you want to make sure you avoid that in your career plans.
10. Think Ahead
Most if not all successful people plan for the future versus living in the moment. Why is this? Because planning ahead forces you to do the things now that will lead to success down the road and not expecting everything to just fall into place right now. Instant gratification is killing putting in hard work and being patient for the payoff.
Impatience certainly isn’t a new problem, but it is only getting worse with the world we live in of expecting immediate results. Yes, technology is to blame for this. We no longer seem to be in it for the long haul. And, I’ll tell you right now, this can flat out ruin a career. You must be willing to put in the hard work now and be patient for the results to pay off. Most college students today do not like hearing this. But it’s the truth, and the truth can be a big ole slap in the face sometimes.
When developing your career plan, be sure to plan with the future in mind. Build in the repeated practice that is necessary to lead to success. You must be willing to put in the reps to achieve your goals. Don’t expect the promotion and six-figure salary within your first 5 years of graduating. This may happen for some of you, but the chances are slim.
11. Ignore Others
Don’t ever allow someone else to decide what career you should go into. I will never back down from that statement. Too many college students go along with what they are told they should pursue or worse, just go along with what the rest of the pack is doing. This is wrong on many levels. The main reason is that this mentality is what is leading so many young adults into the wrong career where they end up being miserable. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Of course, you should take advice from others. That’s not at all what I’m saying. But take that advice and apply it to your overall career goals. Listen to your heart and pursue a career that you know you’re meant for. If you focus on what others want for you or just follow along with other people, you are denying yourself the opportunity to flourish in a career. Focus on the intrinsic values of a career and not just on the extrinsic values of money, title, office perks, etc.
In today’s society, collaboration is not embraced as much as it once was. And this is a shame. Collaboration is the key to creative thought and innovation. It allows us to hear different perspectives and forces us to think about things differently. This diversity of thought has historically led to many a breakthrough in our time.
While I did just suggest that you shouldn’t allow others to tell you what to do for a career, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be collaborating with others who can help you decide on a career pursuit. I highly recommend that you find a small group of people that you can bounce career ideas off of. This can be a group of close friends or a group of people you don’t know that well. Either type will produce the desired results.
The conversations will inevitably result with you walking away with a different perspective than you had before collaborating. Be sure to be fully engaged in the conversation too and don’t just sit back and listen the whole time. Ask others what they want to do for a living and why. What steps are they taking to get there? What roadblocks have they seen so far? Did they overcome them? How? You get the idea. Don’t ever underestimate the benefit of true interaction with others in the real world. It works wonders.
Volunteering your time can be a very enriching and rewarding experience. It can also be a great way to discover a career that you hadn’t considered before. I highly recommend that you seek out as many volunteering opportunities as you can while you’re in college. There should be no shortage of them either. I also encourage you to go into these opportunities with an open and generous mindset. You don’t want to volunteer just to pad your resume.
Once you find an opportunity to volunteer, look for the position that will stretch you. Don’t just grab the first position that you feel immediately comfortable with. The idea here is to expose yourself to different aspects of the world that you wouldn’t have otherwise seen. This is what can open up the door to a career pursuit you’ve never considered before!
Don’t make any excuses as to why you can’t volunteer either. Yes, you can find the time. Yes, it’s worth it. No, you won’t get paid. What you will get is valuable experience that in turn helps other people. That is reward enough.
14. Try Everything in the Beginning
Don’t be afraid to test yourself at this stage of your career pursuit. You should be willing to try everything that you think will help get you on the right career path. Choosing a career is a critical decision. It’s best to give things a go now than to make a costly mistake and step into the wrong career when you graduate.
If you have a list of 10 career ideas starting out, then explore all 10! Get out and see what each of those careers have to offer. Do your research, talk to people already doing it, volunteer your time. Just don’t make excuses. You’ll maintain regrets if you do.
15. Take Action (It’s not going to be easy)
The advice I’ve laid out here is all good and fine but will get you absolutely nowhere unless you actually take action on it! I’ve seen so many college students in my career that are stuck in idle and have no clue how to get moving. Don’t overthink it, just start somewhere. A dream without action is just a dream.
This will not be easy. It’s best to get that in your head now. You will struggle at times. You will fail. You will also find your groove and find success along the way. The struggle is what leads to the successes. But you must move to build career momentum.
So, put yourself in gear and get out of the idle state. Walk outside of the 4 walls of the classroom and out of the virtual world of the internet. The real world has a lot to offer you, but you must take action and engage with it to see actual results and success!
Discovering a career should always start with you. Stay true to your authentic self and try your best to not compromise. We’re all meant to do something with our lives. I encourage you to put in the work to discover what it is that you are truly meant to do with the life you’ve been given. The career discovery process will ultimately payoff if you implement some of the strategies I’ve discussed here.
Anthony lives in Indiana with his wife and 3 daughters. His passions (besides his family) in no particular order are making and listening to music that pleases his ears, taking pictures (still & moving), avoiding crowded places and good writing. He also happens to be the Founder of Career Energy.