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How did you figure out what you wanted to do as a career?


Bobbi

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Dear TheGradCafe User:

Question is in the title. How did you pick from the many possibilities?

I can't decide. I have no clue what I want to do with my life. Does that mean I'm immature?

-Frustrated and Depressed

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Dear TheGradCafe User:

Question is in the title. How did you pick from the many possibilities?

I can't decide. I have no clue what I want to do with my life. Does that mean I'm immature?

-Frustrated and Depressed

It must be the gut feeling. Follow your heart. Don't do what others want you to do. Think about things what make you happy, that would you like to spend the rest of your life doing. Your intuition is the key!

If you don't know it yet, may be you have not really tried understanding yourself. You must not rush. Just relax and think about different activities that make you really happy, about your skills and talents - and I am sure you have those! And be true to yourself. Don't lie to youself. Understanding yourself may not be easy but it is totally possible.

Good luck! ;)

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Okay. Thank you.

Do you think I could easily give myself a time limit to figure this out, like 24 hours?

It must be the gut feeling. Follow your heart. Don't do what others want you to do. Think about things what make you happy, that would you like to spend the rest of your life doing. Your intuition is the key!

If you don't know it yet, may be you have not really tried understanding yourself. You must not rush. Just relax and think about different activities that make you really happy, about your skills and talents - and I am sure you have those! And be true to yourself. Don't lie to youself. Understanding yourself may not be easy but it is totally possible.

Good luck! ;)

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Okay. Thank you.

Do you think I could easily give myself a time limit to figure this out, like 24 hours?

I think you should not rush. 24 hours probably won't be enough. I'd say, give yourself a month. At least. It is different for everybody, you know, so it's hard to say how much time you will need. Just don't rush - but remember all the time that this is your aim, so don't spend too much time figuring it out either.

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Sometimes it helps you to figure out what you want to do for a career by actually taking up a career you have in mind. If it feels right, then you have found your career of choice. If it doesnt feel right, keep looking.

After getting a BS, I thought I want to have a career in the corporate world. Did that for a year and a half. It turned out that it isnt for me. I went back to school and got an MS. I've been doing research projects/jobs ever since. I am loving it :)

Good luck, just go with the flow. Dont feel pressured that you have to find what you want to do in life in 24 hrs!B)

Edited by beanbagchairs
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Basically, it was a combination of two things: an observation of what made me happy, and volunteering in a variety of capacities.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I was way, way, way outside of the field I'm studying right now when I made my decision. But I noticed things:

(1) I gravitated towards people in my life who were chemists so I could talk chemistry with them.

(2) When I read or heard stuff about cool geology, I sighed and wished I could have been a geologist.

(3) I never went long without being in a volunteer teaching position. Not teaching drove me crazy.

(4) I loved teaching both teens and adults. But I could only handle teens one-on-one; teenagers in groups drove me nuts.

Ergo, I wanted to be a geochemistry professor when I grew up. :D Once I started thinking about it full time, I think it only took me a couple of months to settle on what I wanted to be. And boy, do I love what I do!

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I actually think it's an anomaly to know for certain what you want to do with the rest of your life in your early twenties. If that's you, great, go for it. But the rest of us just try things until we find what works best for us - at least I know that that's been my path so far.

I know it's corny, but some of the best advice I've come across about life choices comes from the 'sunscreen song' based on this column. In particular, I like this part:

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.

I'm a little older than most applicants (even though I'm still in my twenties) but I think a mistake I made earlier in life was that I was too afraid to make mistakes (ironically enough). So my advice to you would be to do what you think would be your best choice and don't worry too much about not getting it right on the first try. If you find out you don't like what you're doing, then chalk it up as an interesting life experience and try something else until you find what you're really good at. Good luck!

Edited by newms
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Sometimes it helps you to figure out what you want to do for a career by actually taking up a career you have in mind. If it feels right, then you have found your career of choice. If it doesnt feel right, keep looking.

As George Patton said, "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow". :)

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Basically, it was a combination of two things: an observation of what made me happy, and volunteering in a variety of capacities.

As anyone who reads my blog knows, I was way, way, way outside of the field I'm studying right now when I made my decision. But I noticed things:

(1) I gravitated towards people in my life who were chemists so I could talk chemistry with them.

(2) When I read or heard stuff about cool geology, I sighed and wished I could have been a geologist.

(3) I never went long without being in a volunteer teaching position. Not teaching drove me crazy.

(4) I loved teaching both teens and adults. But I could only handle teens one-on-one; teenagers in groups drove me nuts.

Ergo, I wanted to be a geochemistry professor when I grew up. :D Once I started thinking about it full time, I think it only took me a couple of months to settle on what I wanted to be. And boy, do I love what I do!

That's interesting. I'll look for things that pique my interest. Great post, thanks, and I'm glad to hear that you found what *you* like to do!

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"I'm a little older than most applicants (even though I'm still in my twenties) but I think a mistake I made earlier in life was that I was too afraid to make mistakes (ironically enough). So my advice to you would be to do what you think would be your best choice and don't worry too much about not getting it right on the first try. If you find out you don't like what you're doing, then chalk it up as an interesting life experience and try something else until you find what you're really good at. Good luck!"

I know what you mean about being afraid to make mistakes. I wish I had been braver in college. Maybe I wouldn't be in this mess now. I already know a business job isn't for me. Thank you so much. You have been very kind.

The only problem I have with that sunscreen song is I would rather be employed and have even just a small social life than be "interesting". I'm sure a lot of interesting people are homeless.

Edited by Bobbi
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As George Patton said, "a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow". :)

OK. But what if I don't have the education background for the career I have in mind? :/

I would be willing to risk taking out loans for everything...

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Examine things about yourself. What do you do with your free time? What do you like to talk to people about? What sorts of books do you read? These things can help you out.

For example, if you like reading the newspaper, watching the news, and talking politics you might want to look into journalism or poli sci. If you watch the history channel and read nonfiction, you might try history. If you like grammar and syntax then you might try linguistics or copy editing. Can't get enough of nature, like being outside? What about recreation management, or environmental science/policy? Jack of all trades, try Library Science. The list goes on and on!

Just look at the things you like, and think about how you can translate it into a marketable skill. If you have trouble with that, come back with a list of things you enjoy and I'll bet the great folks around here can give you tons of perspectives!

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Here is a list of activities I enjoy in my leisure time. Not convinced that many of them would translate to job duties, but here it goes.

- Baking cakes for Birthdays and brownies.

- Reading advice columns and job articles in the newspaper.

- Reading motivational literature, such as Mind Power for Students and The Secret.

- Tutoring 1:1. Haven't yet tried group teaching.

- Planning and organizing social events.

- Researching health topics.

- Contemplating why people behave the way they do and what motivates them.

- Learning about different/unconventional ways of doing things. (i.e., staying active t/o the day and eating natural foods vs. just going to the gym for an hour)

- Writing. Mostly in my diary.

I highly doubt that engineers read technical articles just for pleasure and that police officers investigate crime in the news. If they do now, I wonder if they actually did that before they decided on that career, or if it was the career that developed their interest in the topic.

Thank you again. It's very touching that you carve out some of your free time to help. :)

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- Planning and organizing social events.

How about that? I think it can definetely be transformed into a carrer. There are a lot of options to choose from as you can organize everything - from weddings to conferences :)

Edited by Strangefox
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Good advice! Another thing to think about is that most people have multiple careers throughout their lives and often they're quite different from each other. So don't feel like if you choose something you're stuck with it forever!

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My parents are pretty smart. My dad's a psychologist and my mom's a musician. I've gone through this roller-coaster of deciding what to do my whole life, and here is what they told me.

My father: "Make a decision, and make yourself believe that it is happening. Wear it a few days. Wake up and know what the decision is. Go to bed and know what the decision is. In a few days, look at how you feel. If you are happy, then it will be the right decision, and you can make it for real. If you aren't, then try making another. Wear it a few days..."

My mother: "Think about what you want to do NEXT YEAR. If you start thinking about your entire life it will become overwhelming. What do you want to do tomorrow? next month? Go for it, and things will become clearer once you are there."

Both of those techniques have worked so well for me.

Everybody goes through this at some point, and it can be stressful. Stay strong and open and focus on the excitement of all you could do!

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Keep in mind, also, that many, many people have jobs that no one's ever heard of. A friend of mine, for instance, works at a company which creates bar codes to scan things at the store. Who knew? Knowing what you are generally interested in is helpful, but some opportunity could come along and you could end up in a niche you never expected.

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My parents are pretty smart. My dad's a psychologist and my mom's a musician. I've gone through this roller-coaster of deciding what to do my whole life, and here is what they told me.

My father: "Make a decision, and make yourself believe that it is happening. Wear it a few days. Wake up and know what the decision is. Go to bed and know what the decision is. In a few days, look at how you feel. If you are happy, then it will be the right decision, and you can make it for real. If you aren't, then try making another. Wear it a few days..."

My mother: "Think about what you want to do NEXT YEAR. If you start thinking about your entire life it will become overwhelming. What do you want to do tomorrow? next month? Go for it, and things will become clearer once you are there."

Both of those techniques have worked so well for me.

Everybody goes through this at some point, and it can be stressful. Stay strong and open and focus on the excitement of all you could do!

Thank you. I am thinking I will go into nursing. I like being active during the day and using my hands in my work. "Try it on for a few days" is a great idea. I'll try that. Your Mom is right too, of course. It's hard to say, "I'll do X for 10 years."

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Keep in mind, also, that many, many people have jobs that no one's ever heard of. A friend of mine, for instance, works at a company which creates bar codes to scan things at the store. Who knew? Knowing what you are generally interested in is helpful, but some opportunity could come along and you could end up in a niche you never expected.

Those quirky jobs sound like the kind you need connections in order to land. I've never seen anything very unusual posted on job boards. It's usually sales or programming work.

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For me, it's been a gradual process over several years of figuring things out- narrowing my options and then broadening again as I learn about new things, then narrowing again. This process is not over and I don't think it ever really will be. I have gradually adjusted my career path between entering college and applying to grad school, and I couldn't have guessed where I'd end up now from where I started. Also since I have at several points felt completely lost about choosing a career, the process for me has been very deliberate. Fortunately, now I'm extremely confident about where I'm going- I know what I want to do for grad school, I have very specific ideas about the research I would like to do, and I have a few vague ideas about how I would like to apply that education when I finish school. I feel that is exactly as focused as I need to be, since I know that as I go through grad school I will find out about a lot of career options that I don't know about now. I guess what I'm saying is you need to find a balance between having a plan & direction for the future, and being open to change. It might be best to start by thinking of a few general fields or areas you might be interested in getting into and learning more about those, rather than specific job titles.

I think that figuring out a career is a combination of knowing what's out there, and knowing yourself. As for knowing what's out there- it's true that a lot of people have jobs that nobody has ever heard of. I think that a lot of that is because most people haven't heard of most jobs outside of the particular area they have worked/studied in. You can start looking at career areas that interest you, and from there find other areas related to those. College career services websites might be helpful for that. I've also spent a lot of time with the Occupational Outlook Handbook from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/oco/. It tells you what education you need for each career, and it's especially useful for exploring because it links to related careers at the bottom of each entry. You mentioned not having the educational background for some careers you're considering- in that case, I think there are plenty of ways to test it out and see if it's for you without having to go back to school. You can probably get a lower-level job where you would be working closely with people doing the work you're interested in, or you could volunteer. Also, I think it's common to overestimate the value of directly related formal education- If you have the right level of education in the wrong field, but you are enthusiastic enough about the field to learn about it on your own, I think you'd have a good chance- especially if you network. In addition, it's not uncommon that people coming to a job with an unusual background are valued because they bring unique skills & knowledge. Of course, if you find a field you definitely want to be in, it would be worth it to go to school if that's what it takes to advance. In any case, for finding what was out there and what interested me, my process involved doing lots and lots of reading. If you find you keep coming back to a topic, perhaps on career websites or in the news, try going for more depth in that topic- read some material geared towards professionals or researchers and see if it still interests you.

The second part, knowing yourself, is hard work as well, or at least it was for me. A first step would be to think back to the work experiences you've had so far and ask yourself what you liked and disliked about each one, and why. If you decide to go try some possible careers, dissecting the experience afterward in this way will make it really valuable. Do the same for the activities you enjoy, and the ones you've tried that you didn't enjoy. Activities may be a good place to start looking for career areas, but keep in mind that it is very common for people to enjoy something as an activity but not as a job. Whenever I was looking at careers based on activities, it was a lot more helpful if I really dissected those activities and got down to the root of what, exactly, it was about the activity that I liked. Often there would be a common theme at the root of several of my activities and interests, which would lead me in a direction that was not obvious from the list of activities themselves. For self-evaluation, I highly recommend the book What Color is Your Parachute. It can be a bit cheesy, but the exercises really make you think and prioritize. Just know that it doesn't spit out a career based on your responses- I wouldn't trust guides that do. You have to do the other part- knowing what's out there- in order to make use of the really extensive self-evaluation you end up with.

So, this is a really long post but I hope it helped. I really feel for you- it often seemed like figuring out a career was much harder for me than for everyone else. My intuition told me practically nothing, so I really had to go about it in an intensive, systematic way. I'm really happy with the way things have worked out for me though. By the way, looking at your list of activities, I can give you one possible starting point- have you looked at Behavioral Health Sciences or anything of that sort? It would be under the umbrella of Public Health (a great field that my career is going to stay close to). Here is a short overview of that career area. Good luck!

Edited by kam750
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  • 4 weeks later...

I am 46 and still haven't figured out what I want to do with my life! I am taking the practical route with grad school rather than following my passion. After working for so many years, it is hard to give up a decent salary to take an entry level job in a completely different field.

Oh, if only reading library books and watching Law and Order re-runs translated into a career!

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Thank you, all! If I could get a job, I would not necessarily have decided to return to school, but perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.

I am thinking about nursing or physician's assistant, as I have always wanted to enter the healthcare field.

Thank you again. Perhaps this is not the last step, but the first one of a more satisfying journey.

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It was a long process for me too, a lot of years as an undergrad led to my realization of love for the International Affairs/development world. At 17 I graduated high school and thought I had it all figured out, I proudly declared to everyone that I was going to be a....drum roll.......pre-med major! My parents were beaming, my grandparents nodding with approval and everyone else quite satisfied...especially after I was toying with the idea of going into music....gasp! So I was delighted my first semester at as an undergrad at school A, it was great, a quite calm small campus in the middle of nowhere but close enough to a major city and I got an A in my first bio class, sunk in chemistry, but oh well. By the time I was well into the second I started to lose steam, the novelty was wearing off, chemistry was getting worse, genetics was interesting but got a B only due to a very generous curve, and I had to work way too hard in pre-calculus just to get a C. And after the first semester the other classes that were to come later only scared me, organic chem, calculus, it just wasn't as clear to me anymore. That's when I panicked.

I mean panicked. I thought I'd just stay a 3rd semester and take some random classes and figure it out that way and perhaps transfer for a fresh start, but my parents' financial situation changed and they could no longer afford to keep me there. I had to come home. They suggested I take a semester off, I said no way...that was not an option because I was terrified I wouldn't go back or be embarrassed to not be in school. I was an academic, that's what I was good at, just not in that field apparently. I was doing well in the humanities that I was taking. So the panic manifested itself in the choice that I made about my next course of study. I came home and went to a community college, not the one in my county, but a better one next county up. I was happy about it, but the choice that I made, to take up interior design, was just out there. It represented my sense of loss, I had it all figured out see, and I told everyone as much, now I had nothing figured out and I just wasted a year of my life. The only real reason I can muster is that I wanted something completely opposite of the sciences and I thought, "hey, I like decorating, why not?" I did OK my first semester, but it was way more involved than I wanted it to be, it was so not my thing it was absurd. The interior design class was fine, but I hated drafting, like actually drawing plans...wow, not what I ever even thought of doing. I couldn't believe that I was spending money to do it. After my second semester I dropped the major like a hot potato and was embarrassed by my blunder. I needed something intellectual and more meaningful to me (I'm in no way ragging on the major or the field, it seems like a fabulous way to make a living if you can do it, I can't) During that time though I branched out a tad and started liking the history and political science classes I was taking. I also got it in my head that before I started at this cc that I wanted to go to Russia, I've always been intrigued by it and it is my heritage, it turned out that this community college had a great study abroad office, my 3rd semester was in Moscow, this decision was a turning point for me.

I realized my love of all things international, something very specific that I just wanted to do for no apparent other reason than to satisfy some curiosity was actually the first step toward my arrival. After that I declared a major in International Studies, this wasn't something I even knew of before going to this community college, this was a fine institution really, it was there and it was everything I needed at the time. So I didn't necessarily have it in mind to seek it out, it was just there waiting for me. So I finished up with 2 AAs...simply because I acquired so many credits while figuring it all out I just had enough for another one in social science...almost meaningless though. My GPA was such that I just glided into a highly reputable college in state to finish up my BA in International Studies. Now it was here that I had my epiphany, 2 semesters in I guess. I was having a really shitty week, I realized I hated one of my professors, the work was getting to be harder than I ever dreamed and I was starting to get tired of school for the obvious reasons. I was in class and I zoned out for a minute pondering my woes while for a split second I was like "is there something else I can do?" The answer I immediately arrived at was "NO!" Thank god. It happened, I realized I loved what I was doing despite my little tribulations. This was it. International Studies was it for me. I didn't really know what I could do with a BA in IS other than join the Peace Corps, which is what I wanted to do more than anything and did. Over those 2 years I had plenty of time to narrow down my options, while completing service and being productive I arrived at my decision: International Development, but there are so many avenues to take that I'm still open enough to be happy in just about anything that could be considered ID...so that's it, going for my Master's in Global Affairs after not being able to find a job, ecstatic about moving to the DC area, ready for advanced academia, and ready to start the next phase of my life.

It doesn't have to be the same winding journey it was for me, but I like sharing this with others because I feel so fortunate to have found out how you truly know what you love to do...even on the crappiest, most frustrating annoying day when it still pops into your mind that there's nothing else you'd rather be doing then you know you love it. Don't try to figure out the rest of your life right now, try something you're interested in, who knows what opportunities will pop up that will lead you to that realization.

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Thanks a lot, Mal83. I actually read your entire post, and it was very entertaining. I'm sorry that you had to go through all that in order to figure out what you wanted to do, but it's reassuring to know that I have good company in the "Drifters Club". I heard the Peace Corps is not at all an easy job, so good for you.

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