Many 20-something women I speak to experience anxiety about not knowing what they want to do. We all feel like the first young people to notice that not everyone is happy in their job and are thus determined to find a fun, fulfilling, cool job we love. But we don’t all graduate knowing exactly what “our thing” is and that can feel disconcerting. That tension is only intensified as you see friends who seem so certain about what they want to do. If you feel that anxiety… you’re not alone. It’s okay not to know. You have time, you can change your mind and you can figure it out.
Here is one woman’s story of her path from not knowing to knowing and strategies to get there yourself. She went from having no clue to working in publishing to getting her PhD en route to becoming a college professor to ultimately teaching secondary school. It may not be your path…but it’s a journey you can learn from.
1. You Are Not Alone. Don’t Panic.
I remember thinking, “It’s done. We’re graduating from college and everybody is going off into their destined career path and I don’t know.” I felt totally inadequate compared to my peers. My whole life people told me, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up. You can do anything.” It felt scary that there was that much choice in some ways. How do you know what it is?
I thought maybe I’ll do publishing. Maybe graduate school. Maybe I should just take time out and write. Maybe I should travel the world and explore. But mostly I was anxious because my close friends seemed to know what they wanted to do. They were in consulting, banking, public service and some in medical school. I felt like everybody had some sort of inspirational, light bulb moment and I was waiting for mine to happen.
2. It’s easier to be unsure when you have a salary.
I remember my father pointing out that it’s a lot easier to be unsure while you’re earning a salary than it is to be unsure while you’re not. I felt like I should have some cause or some mission in life and I really didn’t so I got an office job at a publishing company. I had all this anxiety thinking this is not for me. I was just killing time while I was trying to figure out what to do and at least I had a job.
3. Interview people in different jobs.
One of the things that helped in ultimately deciding what I wanted to do was looking at other people’s positions. I talked to women who had jobs in different industries and tried to imagine what their life was like. That was the first time I really 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 book.”
I talked to different people and 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?”
4. Take advantage of your current workplace to learn about other jobs and paths.
As the entry-level person, I was on the phones and writing the letters. That was eye opening because I got a little bit of an education about all of these other kinds of businesses that were out there and all the potential professional opportunities.
Once I took care of whatever business I was calling for, I would shoot the breeze for ten minutes. “Okay what do you do? How did you get into that?” By default, I talked to people from lots of different industries so I learned a lot.
5. Think about the times in your adult life that you were happiest and identify what you loved about it.
My light bulb moment was thinking that I was really happy in college, not simply because I was living with all of my friends, but because there is active investigation and pursuit of knowledge. I loved being in a community where everybody is actively pursuing knowledge and interested in getting together and talking about ideas. So I thought I’ll be a professor. I’ll go back to school and get a PhD and I’m going to be a college teacher.
6. It all works out.
Now I am forty and one month. The best thing is that it all works out. That’s what is interesting to me about $0:20 Vision because, especially working with younger girls, I care about showing them that it will work out.
It worked out for me. I have a professional life and family I love. It worked out for all those friends I thought knew exactly what they wanted. A couple of them cast around for a while during various worthwhile things before they settled down with their main career. My friends who went to law school absolutely they knew they didn’t want to be lawyers but they ended up learning what they wanted to do. One of them has a pretty high up job in the Obama administration. And a couple of friends whose first start was a false start, regrouped and went on to do something they liked. It will all be okay. – 40-something, married, mom, high school teacher, PhD, Los Angeles, CA