Ask a group of seven-year-olds the question, "What do you want to be someday?" and the answers you'll get are usually declared with sureness, confidence, and excitement: "A dentist." "A lawyer." "An artist." "Beyonce!" "A professional soccer player." "A photographer." "A video game maker."
Ask that same question to a group of adults--adults who may have chosen college majors, pursued degrees, dropped out of programs, started new ones, found jobs they've loved, found jobs they've hated--and often it's a little bit harder for them to do. Their experiences, their mindsets, the amount of money in their bank accounts, their desire for comfort and predictability, and myriad other factors affecting their life circumstances often paralyze the confident response they may have given as a seven-year-old.
So, what do you as an adult when you're asking yourself what you want to do? What do you do if you want, or need, to explore new or alternative career options...and fast?
For nearly fifteen years, Roadtrip Nation has talked with thousands of people--from lobster fishermen off the coast of Maine to the CEO of Starbucks, and everyone in between--and asked them how they got to where they are today.
What we have found is that it is possible, at any age, to let go of preconceived ideas about who you are and what you should be, and to build a life doing what you love.
Here are some tips about how you can also find what you want to do and how to get started right away:
Shed The Noise
Between the advice you receive from your peers, your family's expectations of you, and the voices in your head telling you that you're not good enough or smart enough, there are a ton of exterior factors acting on your life choices. At Roadtrip Nation, we call all of these outside pressures "the Noise," and unsurprisingly, virtually every leader we've met on the road has spoken to us about the importance of letting go of that Noise and instead listening directly to your own desires.
Here's how Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Linklater (Boyhood, Before Sunset) described his loved ones' encouragement of the safe route: "Everyone around me was saying, 'You should go to medical school, you should go to law school.' But do they really want you to be a lawyer? No. It just sounds good." Instead, Richard chose to shed his Noise and take an alternate path, and has since become one of the most well-respected, creative, and critically acclaimed independent filmmakers in the business.
Ask yourself what Noise exists in your life. Reflect on your day, your week, or even on the past year. What advice, feedback, and interactions have you had from others that have affected your career decisions? Is there a way for you to shed this Noise and confidently pursue something you love?
Explore Your Interests - And Then Combine Them
If Roadtrip Nation had to write a thesis on what they've learned from years on the road, it would be this: The thing that most of the people we've met have in common is that they didn't think in terms of "career." Instead, they thought in terms of "interest," and when possible, thought of ways to combine their interests and explore the opportunities that fell within that overlap.
Elise Benstein, a food scientist at the Jelly Belly Candy Company, combined her love of science and food, and now helps create innovative Jelly Belly flavors.
David Neeleman, founder of JetBlue, combined his love of starting businesses and traveling.
Ariel Helwani, an MMA sports reporter, combined his love of sports and journalism.
Over the next few days, use this perspective to think of as many examples as you can of jobs that combine the things you are interested in. Look for the lawyers in TV show credits, the architects that built restaurants in your neighborhood, or the graphic designers that design the uniforms of your favorite sports teams. Ask yourself which careers could be possible if you combined the things you love to do.
Take Action - One Baby Step At a Time
Once you have identified your interests, combined them, and explored potential careers aligned with those interests, capitalize on that momentum and do something--anything! When you're guided by your interests, the small choices you make as you explore potential careers will lead to new relationships, new perspectives, and new opportunities. Vicki Smith, a video game designer, summed it up like this:
Just go for things. If you move forward, you'll find your way because your way will be informed by who you are. At some point, you need to stop wondering what you are going to do with your life and just go out and do something.
So take a free online class. Talk to someone already in the field. Cold call an organization you're interested in and ask if you can talk someone out to coffee to pick his or her brain. Follow people you admire on Twitter or Instagram. Read blogs. Buy books. Update your resume and send it to companies you'd like to be a part of.
Each of these actions may seem like a small, insignificant drop in the bucket when it comes to searching for a career. But it's precisely these small steps, and their cumulative effects, that will lead you to a place where you'll have the confidence to respond with excitement the next time you are asked, "So, what do you want to do with your life?"
Annie Mais is the Education Product Manager at Roadtrip Nation and the co-author of The New York Times bestseller, Roadmap: The Get-It-Together Guide for Figuring Out What to Do With Your Life. Follow Annie on Twitter, @anniemais.
eduInnovation and Getting Smart have partnered with The J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation to produce a thought leadership campaign called Generation Do-It-Yourself (GenDIY)- how young people are hacking a pathway to a career they love - on The Huffington Post and GettingSmart.com. This campaign about reimagining secondary and postsecondary education and career skills will explore the new generation building a global economy and experiences that are impact driven and entrepreneurial. For more on GenDIY: