“How is a teenager supposed to know what they want to do for the rest of their lives?” This question really applies to/impacts everyone. How does anyone go about finding their professional passion?
I can think of three ways:
- Wing It
Try a bunch of things and hope to one day figure it out. Adults give students this advice all the time: “Oh sweetie, don’t worry about it. You’ll figure it out someday.”
Looking at what has been termed “The Great Resignation,” which refers to the droves of people leaving their jobs, I’m not so sure that this “conventional wisdom” is working out. Something like 55% of people surveyed are unhappy with their careers and are considering a change in the next year, so this platitude about falling into work you love may be simply that—a platitude.
- Talk to People
A more targeted approach might be talking to people who seem happy in their chosen careers. Ask “successful people” about what they do, how they got into it, and how they feel about it.
You can gain powerful insights from questions such as:
- What do you actually do on a daily basis?
- What do you like about it?
- What do you wish were different?
- How did you get to where you are?
- What do you think makes you successful in your role?
- If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?”
College and career counselors can be wonderful sources of insight, as well, which leads us to our third method of finding your professional passion:
3. Take a career assessment
Warning: not all career assessments are created equal, and sometimes the results depend heavily on your frame of mind when taking the assessment.
For example, when I was in high school, I thought I wanted to go into the healthcare field. I took a career assessment and tried to answer all the questions the way I thought that a doctor would. The test recommended that I become an interior decorator, so that’s probably not a great approach.
In college, I didn’t fare much better. For some reason, I waited until my senior year to make my way over to the career services center. After spending around an hour and a half on an assessment, I eagerly awaited my results. When the career counselor came to me, she simply shrugged, held up her hands, and said, “I don’t know what to tell you. You don’t match anything.”
Wow. Talk about encouraging. Minus the encouraging part.
With no direction and no guidance, I graduated nine months later and proceeded to spend the next eight years slogging through various low-paying, stressful jobs that I hated.
In recent years, I’ve discovered an assessment called YouScience, which gives me hope for career assessments (the assessment pegged one of my least favorite jobs, technical writing, as a “very weak fit.”).
Many career assessments ask subjective questions about the kinds of things you like. “Do you think you like this, or do you think you like that?” The challenge is that most people have no idea what they like. High schoolers, especially, have limited career exposure and related preferences.
YouScience is different because it primarily focuses on a person’s aptitudes, or natural talents and abilities. It then matches users with over 500 career fields based on the mix of aptitudes required to succeed in each.
Find My Spark and Do What You Are surveys are both based on Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator methodology, which uses personality types to suggest careers and clusters that might be a good match for a student.
Organizations like AIMS conduct an in-depth series of assessments, often across multiple days, to help students identify their aptitudes. Through a series of “work samples,” students are able to identify the speed and accuracy of different series of tasks in order to identify the academic and professional fields where they are likely to be more successful and, ultimately, more satisfied.
So, what do you do with all of this?
It might make sense to approach the process in reverse from the way I’ve laid it out above:
First, take a combination of the assessments mentioned to gain a better understanding of how you’re wired. Begin exploring the career recommendations laid out by YouScience. They provide all kinds of helpful information about each career such as “a day in the life,” common tasks, how each career fits your own aptitudes, recommended college major, and even a heat map with projected job openings around the US and salary ranges. As you explore this information, imagine yourself working in each role and ask yourself if you think you’d be happy doing so.
When you find a few options that seem like a good fit, save them to your “saved careers” list.
Next, find people working in the roles you’re considering. Talk to family friends and acquaintances, find highly rated companies on Glassdoor.com and locate employees of those companies on LinkedIn. Reach out via LinkedIn or get employee email addresses from the company website or from a site like RocketReach.co. When you message them, be courteous and let them know that you’re a student interested in their career field. Ask if they’d be open to having a twenty-minute conversation about what they do on a daily basis, what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask them how they got there or what path they would recommend to a student in your position. Be sure to ask them something along the lines of, “If you had it all to do over again, what would you do differently?” Perhaps they know of a similar role that involves less stress and better pay.
Lastly, try out a handful of these prospective fields via job shadowing or summer internships. Perhaps the contacts you’ve made in the step above can give you a foot in the door or can at least let you know who you might talk to in order to see if any internships are available.
Whatever you do, don’t wait around hoping for things to fall into place. You’re here for a reason. When you discover your purpose and get to live it out daily, you can experience less stress, greater joy, and more fulfillment than the many dissatisfied adults who are seeking a career change or are comprising the “Great Resignation” and leaving the workforce altogether.
It will take some work to figure it out, but your efforts now can dictate how you spend the bulk of your waking hours for the next 40 or 50 years. The investment of time and energy (and even money) is worth it.
College & Career Coach