What to Do? Choose a Direction and Permission to Change It

Q. Everyone says, “Do what you love”. I don’t know what I love because I’ve spent my life trying to do what will be “best,” what will “work,” and what will be a success.

I just turned 25 and I’m an executive assistant at a hedge fund, a job I was promised would lead to a promotion after two years when I started in 2009. While I’ve been biding my time studying finance and writing new job descriptions, I’ve been obsessed with starting my own business and being a wildly successful entrepreneur. I have felt this pressure to succeed, to trail blaze since I was in elementary school and I gave myself a deadline to figure out what I’m “meant” to do by 25.

On my birthday, the book, the marketing consultation firm, the financial planning for 20-something women idea and countless other “maybe THIS is it” ideas sat in a folder, none with enough confidence or conviction to evolve beyond notes and idea charts.

Shortly after, I set up a review with my boss to find my once hyped “promotion” was now a “role segmentation,” where I will remain in charge of my boss’ life (his calendar, spam box and family vacation reservations) and the lunch fetching, supply stocking and mail sorting will be assigned to another admin “within the next year.”

I feel like I’ve failed myself because every minute I waste trying to find the “right” idea to run with, I’m losing time to start a new venture. I know it’s okay to make mistakes, but the inaction makes me feel like I’ve already failed before even trying.

I think I just want to know how you know when to pursue things – anything. An idea, a move, a job, a change, travel. No one can predict an outcome but I need to know how to decide whether to take a leap. Has anyone experienced anything like this? What is it and how do you move forward? How much of your life has been the result of conscious decisions and how much is just the result of chance? Where do you draw the line between the two?

A. Just choose something, anything and go with it!

You can be assured that you are not the only 25-year-old to feel this sense of uncertainty. It’s what one group of women I interviewed called “future anxiety syndrome” or what is often known as the “quarterlife crisis”. With so many choices, increased competition and pressure to succeed, one can become paralyzed. But honestly, at 25 you have plenty of time to figure it out You just have to start taking the first steps.

First of all get a new job. It sounds to me like A) you aren’t that passionate about it and B) they’re not really supporting you or your goals. Likely you are really good at what you do and your boss would hate to promote you and have to retrain someone else!

Don’t wait to figure out what you “want to do” if your current job is holding you back from learning valuable skills and stretching yourself. Sometimes people spend so much trying to figure out their passion, they don’t see it’s right under their nose.

Often times, it’s as simple as what you like to do. I spoke to a fashion designer last winter. I was intrigued because he went from being in the finance industry to being a hipster designer. Big switch. I asked him if he had always had a passion for fashion. He said no. But he knew he didn’t want to be a stockbroker so he started thinking about what he liked to do. He realized he really enjoyed buying presents for his friends and particularly liked buying clothes. He turned that into a successful career transition…but not without hard work. He came to intern in NYC and worked his butt off. He wanted to learn as much as he could as fast as possible. As soon as he felt he had mastered something he asked to be switched to a new challenge or he found a new internship until he was ready. So you can’t be afraid of hard work if it’s what you really want to do. Doesn’t sound like you are!

Laurel Touby, founder of MediaBistro shared a similar perspective when I interviewed her for 40:20 Vision earlier this year.

“Most people don’t know ‘what their passion is’. Try different things to find out. Look into your hobbies. Was there anything you gravitated toward in your studies? How do you spend your quiet time? It could be anything at all, whether it’s reading about a certain topic or going to the museum or eating. There are industries built around “enthusiasms” so you just have to nail it down.

Then, go in a direction. Don’t get stuck trying to decide. Get started and once you get into a direction, you’ll find another direction. It’s okay to change directions many times. People get stuck because they think they have to know for certain. Everyone knows for certain at some point and it’s always wrong. You may change directions ten times so you better get started. Right now. Give yourself ten directions.”

Many women suggest finding a general area you like and getting any job you can in that area. Then talk to everyone you possibly can about it.

“One of the things that really helped in ultimately deciding what I wanted to do was looking at other people’s positions.  I talked to women who had jobs in all sorts of different industries and tried to imagine what their life was like. What do they do? Maybe I could do that. And that was the first time I started to put together something beyond, ‘I’m going be a great, brilliant business woman’ or ‘I’m going to be some kind of novelist who has a huge, successful novel’.

I asked myself, ‘In ten years time if my life looks like that woman’s life, how would I feel? What would I want to do? Would I want to stay in New York? Would I want to move to a different part of the country?’ I took advantage of being in an entry level position by developing relationships with all the outside people I was scheduling meetings with to learn about other businesses. I talked to my friends tto help suss out what my strengths were. Sometimes they can see things you can’t” – 40-something, Los Angeles, CA

If you are truly interested in starting a business there are a ton of start-up meet up events in the city. It’s a great way to meet people and learn more about the pros and cons. It’s a very social community. You may also want to check out these previous posts from two 20-something founders on what it’s like to start your own business and how to tell if it’s “for you”.

When it comes to starting your own business, I think the idea that clicks, the one that you have enough conviction to act on, is the one that you can immediately envision the outcome. The idea that you can’t stop talking about. The idea that other people talk back to you about and it takes even more shape. When you put that energy out there you almost have to start to do something about it from writing a business plan, figuring out how it will make money, if people are interested in it and then funding it. It’s the one that you are willing to work nights and weekends on until it is ready to go.

You also mention travel. It is certainly a route many women recommend as a route to self-discovery as well. Here is a link to a post on the pros and cons of travel and some ideas on how to do it.

One other resource, if you aren’t sure what you are good at, one tool I found the other day was interesting. It helps you figure out what your innate strengths are in a simple online format.  Check it out at: http://tribalwriter.com/2011/08/04/discover-your-superpower/

Good luck and keep in touch!


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