Sometimes we can get stuck in a real rut, especially relating to our careers and what we are “doing” with our life. Well, here’s a reality check–whatever you’re doing now, that’s what you’re currently doing with your life. If you aren’t happy with it, you do have the power to change it.
People of all ages, but especially young people, struggle deeply with this issue. Choosing a job or career used to be a lot more straight-forward: you would do whatever skill was necessary in your village and would have a mentor to help you get there, eventually taking over his position. Work was just a way to make ends meet, not a “soul purpose.” In some ways, modern day work puts a lot more pressure on people, and many people define themselves by their work. We have to pay to go to school, so there’s a lot more pressure to like what you go to school for, and feel like crap if you don’t.
I myself have struggled with this too. And some days I still do. I was thrown into a college far away from home right after graduating from high school. I was still a kid, and being far away was hard for me. I was living on my own for the first time without my parents, in a new state, and I was navigating my independence. Add that to a full course load, the stress of trying to make new friends, ruining my body with copious amounts of alcohol on a bi/triweekly basis, figuring out who I was as a person… College is just a super stressful time. Sure there were plenty of fun moments mixed in, but overall I found myself to be stressed out about 75% of my waking hours. It really wasn’t a healthy environment for my mind, body, or spirit, and I don’t think it is for many others either.
And yet, this was the environment in which I was supposed to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I might sound like a spoiled brat to complain about this, having the opportunity to go to a great school in a new city. But I felt immense guilt that my parents were paying beaucoup bucks for me to attend school out of state and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I felt trapped. I had no time to figure that out for myself either, going from the grind of high school AP classes straight to the intensive science courses I took in college. I was pressured from well-meaning family members, friends, and society to study certain subjects and avoid others. Basically, I was really lost and confused. I thought college would be like it was in the movies–nonstop fun and no real worries. But I wasn’t prepared for the guilt, the homesickness, the “sleep-social life-grades triangle,” and all the other things that came with being an 18-year-old female.
This is a mental health blog, so I want to circle back to that focus. I think that having/finding your purpose and finding happiness in your career (AKA enjoying what you do for the majority of your days) is crucial to your mental health. It’s really quite straightforward–enjoy what you do, enjoy your life.
Here are 5 ways to start figuring out what you want to do with your life that have helped me:
1. Take a personality test. Seriously. Do it now. This is what really helped me the most. Heres a link to the one I used: https://www.16personalities.com/free-personality-test. I’ve taken these type of tests a few times and I usually get INFJ though sometimes I get INFP. Your results are broken down into key areas including the best careers for your personality type, along with how you may act in romantic relationships, your strengths & weaknesses, and your ideal friendships. In case you are interested, some of the careers that would be ideal for me were in creative fields such as writing, and also in helping fields such as healthcare, counseling, and psychology, especially those of the holistic variety. That pretty much sums me up completely.
2. Make a list of things you liked to do as a kid. This is the second thing that has really helped me discover what I ultimately want to do. As a kid, I liked doing a lot of things, from watching TV to playing with Legos to riding my bike around the neighborhood. But what made me stand out from many other kids was that I really liked to read and write. Those hobbies made up a big part of my childhood, but unfortunately the school system kind of took a lot of joy out of that for me. (If you can’t already tell I’m bitter about our education system…) I did rediscover within the past few years that I do still really enjoy reading and writing and that I have a lot to say.
3. What are your current hobbies and interests? Think about what makes you truly happy. Personally, I love animals, being outdoors, and reading/writing. Whatever motivates you and makes you want to wake up in the morning. Because seriously, life is too short to go to a job you hate everyday. I do realize we have to be realistic… If you really do hate your job though, you should quit as soon as possible. It’s not good for you. It might be a lot of work to get to a point where you can do what you love, but you’ve gotta start somewhere. You only get one shot so you might as well try. (Cue all the cliches) You might even want to try volunteering with an organization you care about and see where it takes you. Spend time looking for opportunities online. See what’s out there. Get in contact with other people who work there. You’ll never know if you don’t try.
You might even try some unconventional routes–currently I work as a transit planning intern after becoming interested in the positive impacts of public transit a year ago when I traveled through Europe. In the interview I talked about how I enjoy writing, and my first assignment is helping write up a study. Though I wouldn’t say it’s my life’s purpose, I do find it fascinating– both the topic, and the writing part– and when it comes to a job, I think one of the most important things is that it keeps you interested. Plus, I can still keep my interests in writing and psychology/personal growth on the side.
4. Meditate, exercise, spend time in nature. Any aspect of slowing down and taking care of yourself (AKA, raising your vibration), will work, really. Put yourself in a healthy environment. Several times I’ve meditated for a specific purpose, based on the law of attraction–asking for what we need and receiving. This is a little hippie dippy and out there for many people, but for me it works. This has been especially true for me during/after exercising outside. That’s when some of my best ideas have come to me.
One time I was surfing and was just sitting on my board, relaxing, and the thought of being a school counselor randomly popped into my head. For a while, I was really excited about it, and could still end up circling back to it, but the idea of working in a school and dealing with the bureaucracy in a way that would prevent me from helping others to my full capacity deters me from it. (Did I mention I was bitter about the education system?) However it did lead me to realize even more strongly that I want to work in a psychological field.
5. You might consider working in an area that has impacted your own life. For me, dealing with the loss of my mom and my own mental illness have hugely impacted my life. Greater than anything else really. It changed my whole perspective and led me to what I believe is my purpose–sharing my own experiences and potentially doing psychology research one day. Not everyone has been through such an earth-shattering experience as I have, but this could also relate to any event in your life that you remember being really interested or divested in. If you haven’t already, you might want to learn more about it to see if you’re still potentially interested in it.
Of course, sometimes we just need to get through a period in life in order to get to that next step of truly enjoying our work. This might be by working at a job in order to make enough money, or by taking the time to earn a degree. For example, by my last year of college, I was SO over it to the point that I would have weekly mini-meltdowns of wanting to drop out. But I’m ultimately glad I powered through it and now have a bachelors degree (even though most of my professors read their lectures straight off the PowerPoint and it made me want to bang my head against a wall…).
Also, I think we put way too much pressure upon ourselves to find the “perfect career.” It probably doesn’t exist. A lot of people are surprised to hear what I currently do because it’s not what they expect of me, but I enjoy it so far. And that’s all that matters. It might be part-time and it might be low-paying, but I make ends meet, and the key part of it that brings me joy is that I am helping others.
If you do have to work that shitty job with the shitty hours because you need the money, do it for as long as you have to but no longer. Don’t convince yourself there’s no way out. Because if you’re not happy, and your job where you spend the majority of your time is contributing to that, run for the hills! I can guarantee you that working in a shitty job you hate is not your life’s purpose.
For me, jobs that I consider shitty where I DO NOT do well are customer service-related jobs like being a server or businessperson where I have to interact with lots of people all day long. For me that’s just exhausting and I’m no good at it. I’d honestly rather clean up roadkill off the streets. But for some more extroverted people, they might thrive doing those types of jobs. So in my opinion, there really is no such thing as a shitty job per say, but only jobs that feel shitty because they might not suit your personality well. And that’s totally ok.
I want to sum this all up into a key point: The purpose of this post is not to necessarily find your life’s purpose, but to narrow down your likes and dislikes in order to get you on that path, starting with a job or direction that will bring you joy in this particular moment of your life.
It’s ok if it’s not your dream job, and it’s ok if it’s not even on your direct “path.” Especially in your 20s, many of the jobs you land are just for you to pick up skills that will help you in the future. In my case, I want to help people in my career, and I currently work somewhere I feel helps people. It may not be perfect but I do feel fulfilled by it.
On another note, work really should not be the center of our lives. Life just has so much more to offer. Side hobbies are important to have too, and who knows, they might even grow into a career one day.
I feel like I should end this post with a ~NaMAsTe!~ Be well my friends.