You’ve been asked a million times: “What do you want to do?” I’ve spent the last three years of my life getting answers to that question, and here’s what I’ve learned.
1. Your decision matters
Think about the people you know. You can tell who loves their job and who doesn’t. If you enjoy your work, it will be a lot easier to enjoy your life.
Here is an equation I did that showed me how important my career choice was. If you were to work from age 23 to age 65, you’d spend 42 years on the job. If you work an average of 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, you would spend 84,000 hours of your life at work.
If you’re going to spend such a colossal amount of time working, it makes sense to be excited about it.
2. Take advantage of who you are
We are all unique in what we are good at, what we enjoy and what inspires us. For your career, it makes sense to tap into what and who you already are. When it comes time to apply for a job, choose organizations whose mission, goals and culture fit your own.
Knowing our strengths and motivators is not always easy. Here are 10 questions to ask when trying to figure out your path.
• What am I good at?
• When am I energized?
• What classes do I enjoy the most?
• What do I like to do outside of school?
• What classes are easier to work hard in?
• What class work do I constantly put off?
• What are my strengths and weaknesses?
• What do the people in my inner circle see in me?
• What type of mark do I want to leave?
• What do I enjoy doing at work?
3. Follow your own road
When people are successful at things, we try to copy them. In careers, imitation doesn’t always create a match. When I graduated college, there were no jobs or fields that I was fired up about, so I followed my older brother’s path into sales. I was good at it and made a lot of money, but I woke up each day uninspired.
My experience in the sales field showed me two things. First, what worked for my brother did not work for me. Secondly, money is definitely not the number-one factor of job satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there is no magic career equation. What motivates each of us is unique. Wherever it leads, be true to yourself and follow your own road.
Brad VanAuken, the former head of marketing at Hallmark and current marketing and branding expert, sums it up perfectly: “Society says achieve. Get more. More power. More money. Work harder. Sometimes you’re asked to be obedient to things that make no sense. Rather than being obedient, be authentic. Be the person you were meant to be, and follow the spirit within you.”
4. Get Experience
You won’t know if you like a job until you try it. As a student, you have the opportunity to explore and be exposed to many different ideas. Even better, there are people whose job it is to help you research your choices, such as your teachers, professors and career service departments.
Mary Cameron Vangraafeiland, a publicist at Warner Brothers Pictures, says career evolution is “kind of like dating. You learn so much about work by being out there and doing and seeing. You see the pros and cons.”
There are a lot of ways to get experience. Take a class or listen to a speaker on campus. Internships, work-study, co-ops, alumni networks and volunteer opportunities are available. Or contact a local company in your field of interest and ask to shadow someone. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by tapping into other people’s experiences.
5. Make a difference
People who love their jobs feel like they are making differences in other people’s lives. When you feel you are making a difference, it is much easier to pour energy into your career.
Not everyone is going to make a difference by finding the cure for cancer or by moving to a developing country. We all make our marks in unique ways.
The difference-making people I interviewed cover a wide range of careers: founder of the 401(k) program, maintenance man, astronaut, financial planner, tree doctor, journalist, dress maker, teacher, mayor, artist, secretary, charter boat owner and real estate guru.
You will make a difference by being passionate about whatever it is you do. You will make a difference by being happy at work and at home, by being a positive example for others and by being authentic. And when you make a difference, your ripple will be felt well beyond the surface.
Andrew Harrison travels the country interviewing passionate people about how they found the job they love. Harrison’s book, 84,000 Hours at Work, will be available soon. To learn more about his book, interview experiences and the talks he gives at high schools and colleges, visit iamontheroad.com or 84000hours.com.
"This article is reprinted with permission from Next Step Magazine, nextSTEPmag.com."