How to figure out what you want to do for a career

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“Wouldn’t it be cool if we could help other women find their purpose?” My team and I were in the middle of one of our brainstorming sessions and trying to determine our focus for the business over the next year. In trying to understand exactly what our community needed from us, it was clear that women were struggling to figure out what career they wanted. 

Our goal was to show that when you merge your purpose and your career, everything else in your life changes. Finding your purpose is a necessary step during the career change process. Since that conversation, a few things have challenged my thinking around the concept of “finding your purpose”. 

I still think it’s vital to have a career that leaves you feeling fulfilled the majority of the time. Too many people focus solely on finding another job while changing careers, instead of on landing a position that will bring joy to their life. But here’s what I’ve learned specifically about the word “purpose” lately:

  • People are afraid of it. “Purpose” feels so monumental to them, causing worry about getting it wrong. Even though working to find your purpose can simply mean your next purpose, it still freaks people out.
  • I was helping the sweetest woman outline her book for empty-nesters. She said, “Everyone talks about finding their purpose. I think it’s more about finding significance.” I love this idea!
  • Then, as I was doing research for this article I ran across Mark Manson’s take on finding your life purpose. The way he explains what someone actually wants is so simple. And I’m all about simple. He says what they’re really asking is, “What can I do with my time that is important?” Nailed it, Mark.

That’s it, right? You just want to know how you can best spend your time doing something important that is also meaningful to you. I get it. That’s what I wanted, too. And luckily I was able to get there as I’m now able to help you figure out the same thing. To be clear, It’s not that I don’t use “purpose” anymore, but I am careful about how I position it. Having a purpose is really important, but there’s no need to let it overwhelm you. 

Now that some of that purpose pressure has been lifted, let’s help you figure out what you want to do for a career. There’s no need to spend the time you don’t have on a bunch of research. It’s so much easier than that. Getting inside your own head (and heart) is key.

Remember these as you figure out what you want to do for your career:

  • You don’t have to figure out what career you want for the rest of your life. Focus on what’s next for you. What can you do that will bring feelings of significance, importance, satisfaction, and fulfillment to your life?
  • You don’t have to get your dream job right now. There may be a gap between the career you really want and your current skills, experience, and education. What’s important is that your next job gets you closer to that dream career.

We’ve cleared up any confusion about what it is you’re looking for when you want to find your purpose—or whatever you choose to call it. So, how do you figure out what you want to do for a career?

 

Bypass the cover letter

Get clarity

Before even looking at the types of career opportunities that seem interesting to you, try to gain some clarity about yourself. We spend a lot of time examining everyone else in our lives that we forget to consider who we really are. This is important and the first step to figuring out what career you want so you can be happy at home and work. Use journal prompts to get started or ask yourself these questions:

  1. When I lose track of time what am I doing?
  2. What did my parents have to pull me away from when I was a kid?

Write down your answers in a journal and then look for some hints within them.

What do you enjoy?

Think less about what you’re good at and more about what you enjoy doing. I’ve heard too many women say they’re in a job because they do a good job. They keep moving into roles because they do them well, but they don’t really like what they’re doing. 

Ask yourself what you enjoy about your job and what you don’t. Make a list of both. As you change careers, search for positions that check off more of your “enjoy” boxes than “don’t enjoy”. It sounds so obvious, right? Unfortunately, this is a piece many women miss. Make sure your next career makes you feel happy.

Pick your favorite strengths

So, we just learned that what you enjoy and what you’re good at might not match. Take a few minutes to think about your strengths. Which ones are your favorite? Try to pick three. These are not things you enjoy doing (like above) but actual strengths or characteristics such as listener, creative, or trustworthy. 

What is it about these three strengths that gets you excited and makes you proud? Write them down and keep them close as you work through the process of figuring out what you want to do for a career. They will help guide you and ensure you’re making the right decisions about your career change.

Get some ideas

Once you’ve worked through a few self-discovery activities start brainstorming and looking up possible careers that interest you. It’s really important that you don’t focus on what you lack, but rather, pretend you already have the necessary skills and qualifications to get the job. What roles sound amazing? How do you imagine spending your days? Why does this sound like your dream job?

Understand the path

Even if you’re not ready to jump into that dream role quite yet, that’s okay. Figure out what the path looks like to get to where you want to be. What role can you start now that gets you closer? Will you need to take a pay cut? Do you need extra training?

Figuring out the logistics upfront will make it feel more realistic. You’ll also avoid many roadblocks when you know from the beginning the kind of path you need to take to get to your final (career) destination.

Talk to people in the same role

Not only is this a great networking opportunity but it will help you get even more clarity if this is the right career path for you. After all, you don’t want to be going through this entire process again in a few years. Ask what a typical day looks like and why they enjoy what they do. Job shadow for a couple of hours if you have a chance. And if you find someone you really like, ask them to mentor you. This could open up endless opportunities in your new field.

Figuring out what you want to do for a career doesn’t have to be daunting. Career changes can be stressful, overwhelming, and exhausting. They can also be energizing and exciting. The route you take is really up to you.


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