HOW TO FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO DO IN LIFE — and then do it!
When it comes to career stuff, I've been pretty lucky... you know, minus the fact that I graduated college and entered the job market during a major financial crisis (considered one of the worst times in US history to be a college-educated adult looking for your "big break" of an entry level job). It also didn't help that I was a newspaper major looking to break into an industry that was in a period of constant flux and uncertainty (or even dying—depending on who you asked.) But the important part was I knew what I wanted to do with my life! Or at least I thought I did. It took 8 months of job hunting, 5 months of interning, and about a year of working my "dream" newspaper job to really figure out that I was totally wrong about what I thought I wanted to do in my career. Now what???
Figuring out what to do with your life isn't always that easy.
Do you remember what you wanted to do when you grew up when you where a kid? According to my mom, I wanted to be Peter Pan and if that wasn't an option, a writer. (I also went through a phase when I wanted to work in Disneyland... or maybe I just wanted to live in Disneyland?) As kids, the world is full of possibility and you can imagine grow up imagine working any number of fantastical jobs, like being a princess or a dragon trainer. My brother was the one exception I know—practical even as 5-year-old he wanted to be an engineer, and processed to grow up and major in chemical engineering.
It's been my personal experience that these things can take a bit of trail and error. My career path wasn't exactly a straight forward line. I started off with a part-time internship with a magazine and fell in love with being part of a publication. My articles were being published to the largest reach I'd ever had (yet)! It was exciting and I felt really great about the work I was doing, but unfortunately, one can not work for peanuts forever. I was really happy, and relieved, when I landed my first full-time newspaper job. I was nervous though. The job was originally pitched to me as a junior editor position and what I really wanted to be doing was writing. By the time I started, the job had morphed into a copy editing job, which meant way less writing and way more being responsible for other peoples' mistakes (something that was particularly stressful for me). I worked my ass off with the hope I could move into a more writing-centric position and was absolutely miserable only a few months into the job. After about a year, I was constantly coming home and crying after work, but unable to talk to anyone about how much I hated my "big break" of a job that I was super lucky to have. I felt lost and had no idea what to do. Should I look for new writing jobs? Try to jump to a different newspaper? Just stick it out and see if I can move within the company? Or do I decide that maybe I should give up on writing all together and jump over to a different career path (I was thinking law or teaching—both of which would mean going back to school).
Ultimately, I stuck it out for just under 2 years and then left my steady career for a path of uncertainly. I started splitting my time working as a freelance writer and teaching and while it wasn't the most profitable years of my life, I was a lot happier in my career. I traveled more, worked from home a lot, explored a lot more options, and eventually even moved abroad to work for the Walt Disney Company. It was all of these years of being flexible and exploring different option that eventually lead me to the career path I'm on now. And I'm pretty happy about that.
Doing what you want to do after figuring out what that is? Not always that easy either.
When I moved back to Portland after living in China, I felt like I was at a cross-roads with my career and had three different directions I could really go with it: 1) I could continue working part-time as a teacher/admin at my old job and freelancing 2) I could go back to school to get my masters in teaching or 3) I could go back into writing full-time. After a summer of just teaching and lots of soul searching, I decided to give the full-time staff writer thing another chance. I was missing it (and honestly, it also has more wage potential in the long-run). But landing a job in the field wasn't going to be a walk in the park. I created a new portfolio and sent it around anywhere I could: every creative recruiting agency up and down the West Coast now has a copy of that portfolio. I networked as much as possible and would constantly ask friends, and friends of friends, about any opportunities they knew of. I reached out to anyone I had connections with, through Facebook, email, or LinkedIn. I sent out one to five job applications a day for about a month an a half before landing a full-time contract as a copy writer for a large advertising agency.
It wasn't a staff contract, but it was an opportunity that opened doors and put more recent work in my portfolio. The months after that contract ended, I knew I wanted to find a staff position as a copy writer. I loved writing full-time again and felt like maybe the ideas I had about being a writer in my early 20s wasn't as off based as I thought, I'd just started off in the wrong sector. (Not saying that I didn't miss my old students and teaching. I still love teaching and think kids are brilliant and fun little humans to work with.) I was newly 30 and had finally found some clarity with where I wanted to go with my career. With my contract at the first agency wrapping up, I knew I was going to need to stay upbeat and dedicated during this upcoming round of job hunting. I ended up with lots of phone interviews, I traveled a lot between Seattle and San Francisco for in-person interviews and even landed interviews for a positions in Hawaii.
But after a few months, I started feeling really unlucky: I'd get an offer or land a final interview somewhere and then the company would freeze or postpone a position. I had a tentative offer for a job that felt like a really good fit, but ended up with an every moving start date. This is when I turned to blogging. I'd considered writing my own blog before but it really wasn't until now that I felt I had specific topic direction and subjects I feel passionate enough to write about. Blogging became a way to form structure when my schedule was in constant flux. It gave me a place to write consistently and insert my own voice in to something I'm passionate about. I did eventually take a staff job (and I'm happy about it), but my blogging had also grown in to something a bit larger than just a passion project. What started as a personal writing challenge accidentally grew into a second job. I worked hard for a long time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and was now actually start achieving it. I don't regret any of the winding roads or mistakes I made along the way—those side tracks lead to amazing adventures.
Rejection is part of life
For some people, the hardest part is figuring out what they want to do in life. For other, it can be actually achieving it. The doing it part can be a struggle, particularly if you keep hitting walls or it seems like nothing is going your way. I've failed at a lot of things I've tried. When this happens, I like to remind myself that rejection is just part of life. J.K. Rowling was rejected by a lot of publishers before getting Harry Potter published. Sometimes things you try just don't work out. But rejection can also mean growth. It can be a step towards success and reaching your goals.
My advice? Try everything, try it with your best intentions, try every day.