I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up… at the age of 22.
When I was little, I loved Legos and thought about being an architect.
I loved books and poetry and thought about being a teacher.
I loved helping people and thought about starting an NGO.
But once senior year of college hit, I was faced with the vast expanse of the unknown. So I did what any student who doesn’t know what to do next eventually realizes: I should keep being a student!
So I took the GRE. On the writing section, I had to analyze a paragraph about a cheese shop and identify logical fallacies in the paragraph.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to fill my analysis with cheese puns. “One would be a laughing cow to think that was a gouda argument…”
I’m not sure if I got a 5 out of 6 on the writing section because of my cheese puns or in spite of them.
Thankfully, I had the opportunity to apply for a Marshall scholarship, which launched me onto a completely different grad school trajectory of being able to study hip-hop and global youth cultures.
But much of my professional learning has occurred outside of academia, and I was recently reflecting on what I’d tell a younger student or adult who didn’t know what they want to do with their life. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Physically experience different jobs. Thinking about becoming a lawyer? Intern at a law firm for a month. Want to be a mechanic? Ask if you can shadow one at a local garage for a week.
Nothing beats actually being on-site and seeing first-hand what the job is like. Once I saw what an architect’s job is actually like on a daily basis, I realized that it was much more technical than I was interested in being every day. I know several people who would have been spared years of studying and expense if they had worked or interned at a doctor’s office prior to deciding to go pre-med and eventually dropping out of med school.
2. Try a variety of things that provide value to others. I ended up in my current motivational speaking and hip-hop education career totally by accident. For years I had been volunteering to help my friends who were teachers, and through that process I learned that I loved helping students and performing on stage. I didn’t know I could make a career out of this work until much later in life, but my willingness to help others opened new doors and opportunities. Whenever you have a chance to help people, volunteer, or learn in new or unusual ways, seize that opportunity!
3. Remember “Who over What.” It doesn’t matter if you have the best job in the world; if you’re surrounded by people who make you miserable, you’ll be profoundly unhappy.
Spend time with people in a profession you’re interested in exploring. Go to conferences, conventions, and networking events. Do you like these people? Do you share similar values and outlooks on life? Would you want to spend decades interacting with them?
Two things that I love about motivational speakers and educators are: (1) they tend to believe in the power of personal development, and (2) they try to be forces for positive change in this world. Those are the types of people I want to be around on a regular basis.
Ultimately, each person’s career path is influenced by a number of factors, many of which are outside of his or her control. But if you look for hands-on experiences, opportunities to provide value to others, and people with whom you connect, you’ll be on the right path to finding a career that fulfills you and allows you to contribute positively to the world.
And with the Millennials changing careers so frequently, it’s worth getting a variety of experiences to see what the possibilities might be down the line.
How did you choose your current career path, or if you’re in the process of trying to decide, what factors are you considering? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.