In his classic book Oh, the Places You'll Go, the great Dr. Seuss said "Congratulations! Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!" This epitomizes the excitement new graduates experience as they pick up their diplomas and eagerly set off on their new career paths. But this sentiment can quickly turn to discouragement with the realization that launching the perfect career is not as easy as you may have thought; and perhaps your college degree doesn't smoothly transition into the job track that's best for you. My most recent book Stage Climbing: The Shortest Path to Your Highest Potential addresses this exact issue, as many new graduates have accomplished something great educationally, but feel stuck when it's time to find their own career path. Here are some important ideas for getting your mind in the right place and gaining a clearer direction when thinking about your future:
Work backwards -- When people ask me for career advice, one of the first things I typically ask is "where do you see yourself in five years, ten years, and perhaps even ultimately?" When looking for a first job, this is something a lot of people forget about, since it feels so far away and less urgent than getting a job now. Once you've come up with a picture of what your whole career might look like down the road, you can consider if potential job opportunities will contribute in a positive way to that greater goal. For example, if a current job opportunity is not as lucrative as you'd like, but it's a stepping stone to a more long-term goal, it might be a better choice for you than one that merely pays a little more money right now.
Utilize your role models -- Ask yourself who is/are the person(s) I admire the most in my field or my favorite mentor(s), real or imagined -- in the area I would most like to make my best contribution(s)? What do or would these mentors inspire me to do? If your mentor is available in the flesh, you can obviously ask directly for a perspective about his/her own career course and yours; but, even if this is merely someone you know only by reputation (for example a business owner, an iconic professional in your field or a successful musician whom you don't have access to) you can use your image and knowledge of this accomplished virtual mentor to help you map out your long term goals. Then work backwards. What could you do to put your career on par with theirs over the period of time you've set?
Tap into your passions -- When you chose your college major, you may or may not have considered what you're truly passionate about. So consider this. If you could spend your career doing anything in the world without regard to the money, what would you be doing? Make a list of at least five things that answer this question. Then focus on job possibilities that allow you to be conducting your career according to those passions you've identified.
Know what motivates you -- Lastly; acknowledge what typically motivates you to do your very best. Sources of motivation vary from person to person and different jobs offer unique motivators. Choosing a first job that offers incentives that speak to you and your particular personality style is important. For example, some are motivated satisfactorily by financial compensation, while others need to be creative or in a position of power or leadership to feel motivated and do their best. Some need to be surrounded by likeminded coworkers, while others need to be in an environment where the tasks are self-initiated. What have you liked or disliked about past jobs or internships (even small summer jobs) and why? What has motivated you to achieve non-work related accomplishments in your life, like doing well in school or at athletics, for example? Take the time to evaluate what really moves you to do your best, before you accept a first job.
When you've zoomed in on where you are going, the path to success can be illuminated. Then use every resource at your disposal. So, in the words of Dr. Seuss, " be sure when you step, step with care and great tact. And remember that life's A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you'll move mountains."