Bottom Line’s social-media manager resigned today because she has been offered a job as a physics teacher—that is the career she has always wanted to pursue. Why hadn’t she done it before? Because her father had discouraged her, saying that she could never support herself as a teacher…and a professor told her that she wasn’t good enough at physics to teach the subject. But now, in her late 20s, she is pursuing the path of her dreams. While we will miss her intelligence, skills and care, I couldn’t be happier for—or prouder of—her.
She is one of the lucky few who knows the path that she wants to pursue and is brave enough to do it. Many people take a while to uncover their passions, while others spend their careers following paths that were determined by parents, friends, competitors, social media…anyone but themselves.
The pressure on young people today to identify their paths is enormous. On every college campus tour, prospective students are asked repeatedly about their intended major and told about the internship programs offered in that area. The intent is good, since a primary goal of college is to get a job upon graduation. But the unintended pressure placed on those individuals who are unsure of their paths is immeasurable and very real.
The truth is that it takes time to find your path—or paths. Some people know from the start what they want to be. Others take more time to uncover it because, frankly, there are many careers out there that they simply don’t realize exist when they are starting out. Everyone knows about doctors, lawyers, teachers and police officers. But no one grows up wishing to be a textile designer…a fulfillment manager in charge of product delivery and customer service…or an ocularist.
Among my 24-year-old daughter’s close friends, only two out of seven are in the same job and on the same career path they started upon graduation two years ago. Most of them tried one path and realized that a change was needed. That is true of my daughter, who took a job she was offered upon graduation because she felt the pressure to “have a job” without fully considering what her days would be like. No dishonor there. As I said earlier, there are many jobs that you’re just not aware of when you’re 21. And to me, first jobs are primarily training grounds, meant to simply ease an individual into the adult world. Rarely is the first job “the path.”
It takes time to learn about how you want to spend your days—the structure of activities…the size of the company…the independent versus interactive tasks…the corporate culture…and, oh yeah, the actual industry and work product you want to be involved with. Millennials are searching for workplaces to call home where they can fit, belong and connect to the purpose. That’s not so easy to do. And truthfully, many older people who have been in the work world for decades are still searching for their right place.
So, how do you find your path? Whether you are 22…28…or 58?
I have coached many young people on their early career choices. In an interview I did with Nancy Collamer of MyLifestyleCareer.com, we discussed at length the questions to ask yourself to help discover the passion and the practical…
- What do you like to talk about? This helps make you aware of the things that interest you at your core.
- What would you do if it was impossible for you to fail? If there was no way they could fail, some people might say that they want to be a professional quarterback or climb Mt. Everest. Nice but not practical for all. But Nancy then suggests that you ask the follow-up question…
- What makes that so compelling? Perhaps you want those jobs because you like the physical challenge or because they’re not desk jobs. There are other ways to be physical and away from a desk.
- What are you the go-to person for? Why do people come to you for advice? There are things that you are naturally great at but that you may not view as a career path because they’re so innate. In fact, this could lead you down a unique path.
- What kind of environment do you prefer to be in? Large? Small? Formal? Casual?
- What don’t you want to do? Are there things that you just can’t fathom spending your day doing?
When searching for your path, don’t expect to find “the one.” Our social-media manager believes she is onto it. But I think there rarely is a single one—rather, there is an evolution of paths that changes over time. When I graduated from college, I wanted to teach special education. For assorted reasons, including economic ones, I did not pursue special education. But teaching and mentoring have always been part of who I am. Much of my role in business today is as a mentor to everyone at Bottom Line as well as to many people outside the company, helping them to find and pursue their paths.
It is important to be realistic about your skills. As much as I might wish it, I could never be an astronaut. There are far too many parts of that job that are simply outside my abilities. But beyond pure skill limitations, don’t let anyone get in the way of your passion. If you are choosing a path that won’t make a lot of money, that’s your choice. You may have to make other choices, such as living in a smaller home or driving a humbler car, but that’s all part of the package of finding what is right for you.