How To Figure Out What You Want To Do

Are you ready for a career change? Perhaps you’ve been in your current job for a while and it’s no longer what you want (on reflection maybe it never really was). Or perhaps change is being forced upon you from a variety of factors. Ready or not, you know you need to figure this out and get clarity on your next steps.

So, now what?

Now, you may experience many of the following feelings: grief (what was all that hard work and pain for?), shame, anger, sadness, confusion, anxiety, disorientation, a feeling of being lost, and fear. Lots of fear. Because you have no idea what to do next. You want to enjoy your work and life which means you have to do something you enjoy. But what do you enjoy? Huge mystery. 

Here are some gentle suggestions to help you find your way: 

To start, don’t even think about jobs, just find what you as a unique human being find enjoyable

Starting out, don’t try to think of occupations or titles. That’s too much pressure and confining. Just look for what makes you tick, what interests you, what makes you come alive, what you find ignites some spark in you. 

One way to do this is to observe yourself for a week and write down all the things you’re drawn to and find enjoyable. It’s a pretty illuminating exercise as it builds a picture of “you” and may show you that you actually know more about yourself than you think you do. While experiences can help us understand who we are, it’s not always necessary to get “out there” to discover ourselves. It’s also true that who you are is right here in this moment looking out through your eyes onto this page. You only need to tune in and listen to what is coming through as genuine desires. 

Next, you can begin to think about how your interests might translate into an economic equation called a job. If it’s not immediately apparent, you can reflect on why you like what you like – what’s the underlying desire? I love reality TV because (regardless of how actually real it is) I have a desire to understand what’s really going on in people’s lives. I’m drawn to the humanity. This just one of the many reasons why coaching is a good fit for me. 

Aim for intrinsic enjoyment 

If you want to get up and enjoy how you spend your days then you need to find what brings you intrinsic enjoyment, what you like doing not because of what you have to show after you do it, but because you enjoy the actual act of doing it. You need to learn what it feels like to do something because you actually want to, not because you should. Most of us have spent our lives dedicated to “shoulds” – so look to the next point for help with this. The video player is currently playing an ad.

Follow what feels good 

When trying on different ideas for your new career direction, test out how it feels to you in your body. Mentally put yourself in the position of doing this new career you’re thinking of and see how it actually feels to do. You want to locate and follow what feels good, not what sounds good to your mind with all its arguments as to why you should want to do something. Sometimes we can think we want something, but it’s only because our mind has convinced us we should want it. Learn to spot the difference. And one way to do that is with your body. Oprah’s life coach, Martha Beck, calls this the “Body Compass.” It knows the way. And a tip: of course you may feel fear, but that shouldn’t stop you from pursuing the excitement.

Find what’s meaningful to you

People often tell me they want to do something meaningful, but haven’t given much thought to the obvious next question I ask, “What do you find meaningful?” Then there’s silence. If you’re having a hard time answering this, here’s a question that can help you back into an answer. What would you do if you could do anything? If money and resources were no object, you knew you could not fail, you did not have to worry about the opinions of others, etc.?

This usually illuminates what’s truly stirring deep in one’s soul. I’ve heard answers like save the planet, work with children, help people understand each other, be an artist. And these answers can point to environmental conservation, education, photojournalism, starting an Etsy shop or others.    

Put the opinions and voices of others aside 

It’s likely that listening to them is what got you into this mess in the first place. So you can see how, however well-intentioned, others aren’t able to tell you what’s right for you. Sure, take advice into consideration, but it’s your voice and inner knowing of what’s true for you that matters most. Your mentor may have the strategy to get into a corner office somewhere in 5 years, but you’re the one that has to get up every day and do the work, live that life. And if that doesn’t feel exciting or remotely good to you, that’s a giant red flag. Heeding it is how you avoid finding yourself however many years down the road in the same situation. You have an opportunity now to get to live your life for you, on your terms, with your happiness in mind. Take it. 

I empathize. When I was right where you are now, I had no idea where to turn. I found help in some random places and I’m lucky I did because I could have easily ended up depressed and given a pep talk by those around me to force myself back into the jobs that would look good on paper or to my parents etc., but were all wrong for me. The way through is in deeply listening to you and honoring who you are and what you want. One day sitting in an interview for one of those ill-fitting jobs (the interviewer scanning my resume seeing only the person I was presenting), I realized that if I wanted to have a life that felt good to me I’d have to walk away from these jobs and show up here in the world as the real me.

This article was written by Sara Young Wang who is a career change coach for professionals and entrepreneurs. She helps them find what they want and make changes to go after it! Prior to being a coach, she ran a social impact startup and worked for a global management consulting firm and the United Nations in Europe. 

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