How Do I Know What I Want to be When I Grow Up?

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Mark Twain pondering at desk

Whether you are fresh out of high school or college, or have been in the workforce for a long time, you may be struggling with questions like:

“What career should I pursue?”

“Am I in the right career?”

“What do I want to be when I grow up?”

“When am I going to grow up?”

If you can relate to these inner struggles and doubts, you are far from being alone.

In a recent Brazen Life blog, Annie Favreau wrote, “Economist Neil Howe [in his book Millennials Rising] estimates that only five percent of people find a good career match on the first try.” And Jennifer Turliuk (in The Daily Muse article “How I Figured Out What I Wanted To Do With My Life”) said, “…more than 80% of Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs.”

These stats are not meant to make you feel gloomy, but to make you realize that many people can relate to not being in a career that is right for them. You should also know that if your first few jobs or the career you are in now is not your “end game,” that’s okay, as each work-related experience can still help you figure out your niche.

Here are some tips that might help you figure out what career(s) are right for you:

  • Brazen’s Favreau recommends devoting an hour a day (for an entire week, month or whatever timeline works for you) to research the range of careers that are out there, because there might be some that you have never heard of that are compatible with your talents and passions. Favreau recommends looking at anything from career blogs and sites to a completely different section of a newspaper. One neat site she recommends is, where you select a sector and your top skills and it generates a list of potentially compatible careers. For example, if you select “Law and Order” and “Helping People” it pops up with job titles, such as “Mediator,” “Counterintelligence Analyst,” “Chief Deputy Sheriff” and “Public Defender”. (You can also explore our career pages if you are interested in criminal justice.) Once you have written down job titles that interest you, check out job posting sites and labor market sites, like the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, to evaluate employment demand.
  • “I’m so happy that I took the time to prototype my different career options,” says The Daily Muse’s Turliuk. When she embarked on this mission, she was in a corporate job that she wasn’t enjoying. “Prototyping her career options” involved lining up job shadows and information interviews by sending out cold emails, volunteering for organizations and companies, sitting in on lectures at colleges and successfully winning a competition to be mentored by 500 Startups’ Dave McClure. She came to the conclusion she wanted to start her own business and was given the tools to pursue this. Turliuk says many of these activities can be done while continuing to work your current job.
  • In her article “The 4-Step Plan to Get Your Life on Track,” Martha Beck recommends that you embrace your “animal brain,” rather than always rely on the rational part of your brain, when figuring out the career that is right for you. She says first you should “discover your hot tracks”—experiences that have made you genuinely happy—and to follow “your tracks wherever they lead.” She warns that the right path is not necessarily the one that makes sense on paper. For example, one of her clients’ hot tracks included volunteering for political campaigns. By truly analyzing this, she realized her career niche was not in being a politician but as a facilitator of teamwork, so she began a fulfilling role as an event planner.

Don’t be discouraged—be excited! Learn more about yourself as you begin this journey to truly figure out what you want to be when you grow up!