Remember the “good ‘ole days” when you were young? Remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Maybe it was an astronaut. Maybe it was a teacher, lawyer, or veterinarian. And what are you doing now? Chances are that it’s not exactly what you had planned as a kid. And if it is, then here’s a huge bag of kudos and touche for you from Life’D!
For the rest of you, though, I give you the following advise—complete with a few kickass quotes.
Cliche? Probably. Is it true? Absolutely. Granted, reality generally dictates that not all of us can or will ever be a ‘CEO’ or the President of the United States. They’re surely lofty goals, but there must be some balance between ‘reality’ and ‘grand ambitions’. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dream, and not even to not dream BIG. The key = balance.
Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. ― Confucius
Finding a career that you’ll genuinely love and look forward to completing every day is (or should be) the single most important criteria in determining your professional journey.
This means doing some soul searching. Think about your personal interests, your skill strengths (aptitudes), weaknesses, personality, beliefs, values, and—maybe above all—passions. Make a list of your qualifications and skills, and specifically list every job responsibility you’ve ever held. Then, draft a list of all of your long-term goals. What do you want your life to look like in five years? In 10 years? How much money do you aspire (or expect) to make? Determine the type of future lifestyle you’ll want and whether you’ll want a job, career, or both. In other words, do you want to be able to leave the office behind every night when the clock turns 5:00pm, or a multimillionaire who has worked tirelessly to get there?
“Making money isn’t hard in itself, what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting your life to.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón
Questions to ask yourself and jot down:
Write down a few sentences about your ideal work environment based on your answers. Be realistic as possible, but at the same time—and this will be repeated—don’t limit the possibilities based on merely one or two conflicts with your ideal career and work space.
“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.” ― Ayn Rand
Consider taking a qualified career assessment test or two and answer them truthfully. Afterwards, see how the results align with your prior, personal self-assessment. Any career assessment test worth its salt should give you multiple career possibilities based on your desired lifestyle, skills, personality and so forth. Although most employment agencies and universities provide fee-based assessments (sometimes called ‘individual career development plans’), there’s a myriad of good, free ones on online. For college students it’s usually free; for others, community (aka ‘junior’) colleges are typically a good place to look for reasonably priced tests.
“If you don’t wake up in the morning excited to pick up where you left your work yesterday, you haven’t found your calling yet.” ― Mike Wallace
Once you’ve got the results from at least one good assessment, research the crap out of the suggested careers. Study job descriptions, outlook for the fields (i.e. “realistically, what are my chances of getting this type job when I actually go to apply?” and “will there still be demand for my skills?”), the required education and skills, opportunities for career growth, typical benefits and so forth. An excellent resource to start with? Try the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which boasts a goldmine of information about thousands of career fields and paths, career prospects, average salaries, working conditions, benefits and more.
Talk to people with years of experience in your desired career(s). Ask as many questions and get as much advice from the professional as possible. Could this person also be your very own mentor? If so, never pass up such an invaluable apprenticeship. “Where do I find these professional mentors?”, you might ask. Trade shows, industry/market conferences and workshops, universities (the vast majority of tenured professors have formerly worked extensively in their field.
Take a minute to register at the Princeton Review and take their test just to get started. And keep in mind, there are tons of other free, quality online career assessment tests. After your done, take note of what you’ve learned about yourself and what you may be best at doing for the rest of your life (no pressure there!), but don’t take the results as absolute, either.
Time to really get serious. Take everything you’ve learned about your prospective career(s)—e.g. from career assessments, advisers, lists, research…—-and draft a plan of action, and set things in motion. The point is not to go all gung-ho, but just to get started.
“The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or statues, or songs.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Be realistic: The lions share of any decent-paying, life-fulfilling jobs require at least some post-secondary education, skills, and actual experience. That said, choose the right school, and get on-the-job training and/or an internship if at all possible. Any related experience you can pick up counts! Internships get you invaluable firsthand experience, particularly if you can afford to have a non-paying job for a short stint. Check out sites such as Monster and Internships.com; regularly check internship postings and apply often.
“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan