Help Me, I’m Lost Finding My Ideal Career!

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February 27, 2020
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lost career

“What do you do for a living?”

While the answer to this question may remain a point of pride and confidence for some, for others, these words can be incredibly triggering. After all, what if you aren’t working in your ideal field? Or perhaps even worse, what if you don’t even know what your ideal career is? What if you feel shame about not having the same clarity about your aspirations and passions as other people do?

If this is resonating with you and you can relate to this feeling of uncertainty, you’re not alone. Research points to less than 10% of students being able to define their ideal career path, and that inability doesn’t necessarily change with age. Thus, there is nothing to be ashamed of whether you are 15 or 53 and feeling lost about your career path. It’s never too late to improve your happiness and quality of life.

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So, here’s the good news. If you’re lost finding your career, there are some steps you can take towards finding it.

Don’t Compare Yourself to Others.

Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and it’s so true. Regardless of your age or life stage, it’s easy to see others and think they have it all figured out. In modern days, this is further exacerbated by social media and viewing people’s lives. You may think that someone has the perfect job, is satisfied with their career, and knows exactly where they’re going from here — but that’s rarely the case.

Since social media usage has been linked to depression, there’s no sense in further exacerbating that by making yourself vulnerable to imposter syndrome or feelings of inadequacy. There’s nothing wrong with needing and/or wanting to limit social media usage, particularly when you’re feeling sad or lost.

Practice Gratitude.

You may not know exactly what you want to do, and you may at times feel frustrated, there are always things in your life to be grateful for. Whether you write out a list or say positive affirmations to yourself — or better yet, do both — gratitude can be a great way to maintain perspective and remember that you’re doing better than you may think.

Since giving thanks is scientifically proven to make you happier, you should consider adopting the aforementioned habits. It may also be helpful to begin journaling. Journaling allows you to keep an archive of how you’re feeling, what your goals are, and the things in your life that make you feel most grateful.

Shadow A Professional

Shadowing isn’t just for high school or college students. If you’re already in the working world and are asking yourself, “How do I stop feeling lost about my career?”, you may be glad to hear that there are opportunities available to shadow professionals in a variety of careers. From physicians and nurses to paralegals to welders, there is always the possibility to observe a professional who is working in a field that may be a good fit for your skillset.

“How do you shadow someone at their job?” you may ask. Luckily, some programs are available to assist with this. A simple online search about programs in your area will be of use. If you can’t find a program near you, or the industry that you want to shadow isn’t available through a certain program, you can always call up an organization — or a specific professional with whom you are familiar with — and ask about opportunities to shadow. Sometimes you may only be able to shadow for a day, but some places will provide you the opportunity to shadow someone multiple times and get a feel for the industry.

Even if studying is in your past, it doesn’t have to be. Maybe you’ll find that you need to go back to college or attend a trade school. That’s perfectly fine as it’s never too late to learn something new. Or perhaps all you need is some research and/or on-the-job training, which is rather easy to manage.

Whatever the case may be, if you’re feeling lost in your career, shadowing one or more professionals in industries that interest you may help.

Speak to Someone You Trust

Sometimes people who are close to us know us better than we know ourselves. They can provide genuine, unbiased opinions and look at things from the outside in. Therefore, if you’re feeling lost in your career, talking to a loved one or even a colleague or mentor may be a route worth exploring.

Ask them a question like, “What do you think I’d be good at?” Then, based on their response, engage in an honest conversation. They will have a perspective that you don’t have. Perhaps they will highlight skills that you didn’t even realize you had. And, if nothing else, you may realize that you’re not alone in your feelings of being lost professionally.

It’s often beneficial to engage in this conversation with multiple people to see the commonalities in how they observe your strengths and what they think you might love doing. Conversations of this sort also provide an outside-looking-in take on what you’re not so great at. However, we can grow to be great at our passions, so should you determine a career path worth exploring; don’t be discouraged by skillsets you’d need to develop to do so.

Try therapy

Sometimes counseling is exactly what we need to find the clarity that we have so desperately been searching for. Sure, at first glance it may not seem as if a therapist has much to offer in the way of helping you find your career. However, oftentimes our lack  of pursuing a passion can stem from a deeper issue. These issues may be depression, anxiety , OCD , bipolar, or a variety of other conditions that can affect our mood and inhibit our pursuit of happiness. Luckily, therapy provides an excellent route to work on oneself and figure out the root of your problems.

It’s important to note that even if you don’t have a mental illness or have never been formally diagnosed, you could still benefit from counseling. Therapy has proven to be effective for a variety of people, and you don’t need an official diagnosis to reap the benefits. Even just a few sessions could make a world of difference!

Last, but surely not least, remember that therapy is unique. Everyone wants something different out of a therapist, and if you meet with a therapist or counselor and don’t mesh with them, it may steer you away from pursuing counseling in the future. That’s why it’s important to stay diligent and realize that effective therapy will begin when you find a therapist that you like and feel at ease around.

Make A Vision Board.

What do you want your life to look like?

Some people benefit from vision boards, which can help you better determine the life you want to live, and thus help illuminate the path for you to get there. If you’re unfamiliar with a vision board, the concept is simple. You print (or cut out from magazines) pictures of the lifestyle you want. They can be intangible things like traveling or retiring early, or tangible, like a luxury car or owning a home. You can also include quotes that inspire you, motivate you, and help you better understand yourself. The details are up to you, as it’s your vision for your life.

Your vision board can be as large as a huge bulletin board on your wall or as small as a little collage on printer paper. The size doesn’t matter, but the intention behind it does.

If you’re looking for some inspirational quotes for a vision board, here are two great ones:

A quote by Parker Palmer says, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.”

Sometimes we are so caught up with having a career that our career isn’t a career at all. It’s just a job. Something that pays the bills but is not enjoyable or fulfilling. However, breaking free from that noise and listening to your innermost desires may enlighten you and allow you to find the career that will feel like a career — not just a job.

Similarly, Thomas Merton said, “Vocation does not come from a voice out there calling me to be something I am not. It comes from a voice in here calling me to be the person I was born to be.”

As you work on your vision board, you may very well find that feeling lost in your career is okay, and sometimes all you need is a little introspection to change things.

It’s Okay If You Don’t Develop Your passion…

…Or if it takes more time than expected. A research study indicated that there are two types of people in relation to the pursuit of their passions. The study examined something called “implicit theories of interest,” which essentially determines how people approach their passions.

One of the two theories of interest was called Fixed Theory. This theory suggests that our interests are “fixed” and thus unchanging for the most part as a result of our inherent personality. Conversely, the Growth Theory suggests that our interests are developed over time and not in relation to our personality.

If you haven’t found your passion, you very well may be someone experiencing Growth Theory. Over time, as we grow and evolve, we may grow to find our passions. And if that takes some time? Rest assured it’s okay.

Much like all facets of life, there’s no magic solution to finding your dream job or discovering what it is that you’d like to do with your life. Whether you’re waffling with your decision to pursue a certain career or have nowhere to even start when it comes to making a decision, you’re not alone. There are strategies to overcome this obstacle, and as with anything, it can get better. You deserve to feel fulfilled, and with some diligent work and therapeutic tools, you can surely get there.

Whether you’re a new entrant to the workforce or have been in the working world for decades, it’s never too late to explore your interests and pursue a career that enthralls you. Sure, it may take a while — but the results are worth it.

Alexis Dent is an essayist, author, and entrepreneur. Her work is primarily focused on mental illness, relationships, and pop culture. You can find her writing in Washington Post, Greatist, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, and more.