How did you figure out what you wanted to do?

It’s your turn.

I can’t figure out how to figure out what I want to do next in my life career-wise. So I thought I’d ask my readers.

How did you figure out what to do with your life?

Did you always know? (If so, you might be one of the lucky ones.) Or did you stumble across it? Or purposefully investigate different options? Or something else?

I really want to know.


7 thoughts on “How did you figure out what you wanted to do?

  1. I knew what I wanted to do by the time I was in middle school, maybe even earlier. I’ve loved to read and write as far back as I can remember, so going into journalism was a natural.

    I don’t know how I came up with it because I didn’t know anyone in the business, I didn’t have any role models. I just can’t ever remember wanting to do anything else.

    Looking back, deciding on a career path so early was maybe more of a curse than a blessing because I never explored anything else. But that’s 20-20 hindsight. Besides, when I was a kid the only two options for girls seemed to be teacher or nurse. I didn’t want to do the former and I’m very squeamish, so the latter was ruled out, too!

    I worked in a library after school when I was in high school, and my mother wanted me to do that as a career. But being a librarian seemed too mundane compared with writing the first rough draft of history! I envisioned myself becoming a foreign correspondent for The New York Times or a national political reporter, neither of which happened.

    If I had to do it over, I’d go to a place I really wanted to be and take any job. Instead I went wherever I could get a job and figured I could work my way up the ladder to a place where I wanted to be. Didn’t work out so well.

    What’s that saying: Man plans, God laughs. I guess that’s my life. ;-(

  2. Went to college thinking I wanted to be a music teacher, and found out that I couldn’t learn to play all the instruments (apparently I have a weird mouth that does not easily form the correct shape to play brass). Switched to a straight elementary education major, and when they finally sent me into a classroom, found out that I hated being there, and that children didn’t much like me.

    But my work-study job for four years was in one of the campus libraries, and I enjoyed that work very much. After I graduated (the education department and I reached the unspoken agreement that they’d give me the degree I’d earned as long as I promised never ever to use it), I began working full-time in the same library, supervising the student assistants I’d been working with a few weeks earlier.

    After two years of that, I headed off to library school, got my master’s, and I’ve been in the same public library job for 22 years now.

  3. I probably should have mentioned something that’s more germane to the conversation and which I think you already know. In 1997, feeling really burned out, I quit my job and moved to Israel for a year to teach English in an elementary school and work on a master’s degree. I didn’t end up loving teaching but I did get to spend a year in Israel, which was something I wanted to do after visiting for the first time a couple of years earlier. So I do understand a little bit of what you’re going through and sometimes you need to make a radical change.

  4. I’m not sure that I’ve figured it out. But several years ago I read a news article quoting a statistic that Americans change jobs on average once every three years. Granted, changing jobs is not the same as changing careers, but that helped me relax. My parents both were on a very narrow path from the day they graduated college until they day they retired. I’m on my third distinct “career” now and I’m only 34. And I’m okay with that. Living in an age when we don’t have pensions attached to our workplaces helps. But when I feel restless, it helps me to think about what else I might be doing, and sometimes I even apply for jobs that are far afield from what I’m doing now. Often that’s enough to calm the restlessness. And if one of those castings produces a nibble, I can always see what I reel in (if you’ll pardon the strained metaphor).

  5. I fell into it completely by accident, and **only once I chose to move toward what I loved doing instead of what I thought I “should” be doing.**

    At 25, I was offered the half-time Executive Director (and only) position at a non-profit. I took it because it was the logical next step for me in program work around rural and agricultural advocacy. I was so excited that I walked over to my church to share the good news with a couple of staff members who had known of my search. One asked when I was going to start my new job and what I was doing in the meantime. “In two months” and “Not much” was my reply. “Can you type?” she asked. (Seriously, who couldn’t type in 1998??) The secretary was leaving so I agreed to temp until they hired her replacement. I loved it. They loved me. I took the full-time job when they offered AND did the other job half-time. I soon realized the non-profit organization was nearly dead. And I was never going to enjoy that work as I loved administrative support. So I left after six months, which catalyzed action on the board’s part, and it was assumed by another NPO the following year.

    It didn’t take me long to get bored at the church. (And annoyed as hell as how petty church members could be. The most ridiculous was someone calling to complain that the apple pies a women’s group made and sold from the freezer–all money going to service organizations–had too much cinnamon.) So I negotiated it to a 3/4 position and started my own “office support” business. I just made that up, and didn’t know anyone else who was doing anything like it. I was retained by a growing NPO/membership organization in my field of study (soc/economics/poli sci/agriculture, plus an original degree in religion) to prep them for their first office manager. Four months later, they offered me the job. I had stayed through the retirement of the senior pastor and then felt obligated to help in the transition. But I was so unhappy there by then, so the timing was perfect. A couple years later, I was bored again; no fault at all of the organization. I just knew I had to be self-employed to be happy in work.

    I discovered Virtual Assistance, enrolled in a training program, and left my job when my son was born in 2005. I built my business slowly his first couple of years and then picked up the pace after that. I now have a full practice as a Virtual Assistant, with my own assistant. I support three clients on a regular basis, most of my time going toward Martha Beck, Inc. Martha is a best-selling author and regular columnist in O, The Oprah Magazine. Another client is a life coach, and the third is a spiritual director, professional musician, and now one of my best friends. I work with amazingly powerful and loving people, who are changing and healing the world, and haven’t been bored in seven years. Even better, I have created a community on whom I can call in good times and bad.

    The kicker? My favorite thing to imagine-play as a child was office. And the office I most often worked in was called “WHO – We Help Out.” It was an employment agency. I loved to help match people up with jobs they loved. And I ended up being my first real-life client.

    I have no idea what the future holds. I just know it will be great. I’m enrolled in Martha Beck’s Life Coach Training, not really knowing if I’ll actively coach or just assimilate the skills into whatever else I’m doing. But I love that I love what I do and am now learning tools that I could have used all along the way in this quest. But, had I known then what I know now, I would have missed the journey. And, oh, those journal entries in 1998-2000 where I struggled with being “just a secretary.” I was so hard on myself in terms of what “they” expected of me because of my intelligence and education. It was a battle. And so, so worth it.

    Good luck to you!

  6. My career has been a pattern of one thing leading to another, most of them unexpected. I had planned on being a university president, but while working on my doctorate got recruited away to work for a nonprofit association providing leadership education to colleges. That led to me becoming an executive director of two nonprofits. Most recently I’ve been doing leadership development consulting with professional associations throughout the U.S. So leadership has been my core, but it has manifested itself in unexpected ways.

    I don’t know if this will be any help to you, but one of my mentors said something to me recently in relation to my own contemplation of what’s next career-wise. She said, “You may just not be able to think your way into acting. You may have to act your way into new thinking about your career.” It’s definitely got me thinking that maybe sometimes you can’t perfectly plan what’s next, but instead must just take a leap and see how it turns out.