This week, due to travel, different time zone, holiday and a cold to boot, I’m posting some old faves. Today a reader question on how to figure out where you are going when you have not yet tested who you are. The question is from a 20-something who is “wandering aimlessly” — a feeling many of us have had!
As an early 20-something, how do I know who I am and what my strengths are in the midst of wandering aimlessly through life? I have graduated from college with a degree that I can’t use until I graduate from grad school. Due to the competitive nature of the field, I couldn’t get into grad school. Now I spend my time looking for (entry-level) work, exercising, and reading in my hometown, where I have no long-term friends.
At first I basked in the freedom from school and work, but now I find myself living at home, unemployed, and lonely for peers. Any advice? How do you “know who you are” if you haven’t had the experience of creating an identity yet?
You are not alone. 20-somethings have always struggled with the desire to leave their unique mark on the world (right now!), but having no clue what that mark is going to be. You don’t have to have it all figured out today – that’s what your 20s are all about. But you can take a proactive role in trying on who you may be. Instead of wandering aimlessly…wander purposefully!
1. Get a job. Don’t wait for the perfect job or your “passion.” Work at a temp agency, intern or even work for free. It’s a great way to get some experience under your belt, learn about different careers and explore your strengths.
Work for temp agencies. You can try different things and hopefully find something you enjoy. One day after I was temping for a while I walked into a job and within thirty minutes of being there I knew it was where I was supposed to be.’ I talked to a bunch of people there, worked hard and ended up with a full-time job. I never would’ve even been considered if I had interviewed through the normal process because I had no experience, but they got to see that I did a good job.” – 40-something, Los Angeles
2. If you can’t get a job. Travel. So many 40-somethings wished they traveled and exposed themselves to different cultures and experiences.
Travel. Figure out a way to make it work. Go stay on people’s couches. You think you have to get a job. But you don’t. You have less responsibility now than ever…and you can live cheaply. I’d say travel, travel, travel. See how other people live and you will learn how you want to live.” – 40-something, Cleveland
3. If you can’t travel, volunteer. Getting outside of your world and your issues and understanding other people’s issues can give you the broader perspective to see where you fit. You will also gain people skills and perspective that will benfit any career.
I believe in community service. People in their 20s don’t realize how fulfilling it is to help others. It helps them but it helps you much more.” – 40-something, New York, NY
4. Visualize. Just going through an exercise to visualize what you want and who you want to be can help you determine the path to get there.
If you are living at home or in a small apartment and you don’t have the job of your dreams and you’re not even sure what that is, it’s easy to get discouraged. If you could just visualize…what would the best job possible for me be? What would the best possible career be? I’ve read a lot of interviews with successful people and they all had a visual of what they wanted. Take the time to literally create a visual of what you want. Then you can stay attuned to the possibility.” – 40-something, wellness entreprener, New York, NY
5. Join, participate. Try. Part of getting to know your strengths is trying new things. There are opportunities all around you to find an interest. Don’t just be afraid to try. Not trying is a decision to do nothing. And of course it’s a great way to meet your peers.
Find a book club. Take an art class. Go to a wine-tasting at a wine store. Explore community boards and local meet–ups to find people who share your interests. Tons of charities and art museums have junior memberships and committees to allow younger people to take advantage of the arts on a budget. Many towns also have social clubs revolving around sports.” – 40-something, New York, NY
6. Take some time for yourself. Do something for your mind or body whether it be spiritual, mind-body (yoga) or therapeutic it will help you focus on what you want.
Spend time on mindfulness practices. When things get rough and you’re not sure about something, if you can keep your mind off negative thoughts and onto staying present, it can help you stay focused on what you want and what you can do rather than what other people think or what you don’t think you can do.” – 40-something, New York, NY
You don’t have to do all of these but see what fits for you. Try a few. The more you expose yourself to things in your young adulthood the more you will understand your strengths and the less likely you are to float through your twenties trying to figure it out.