03 June 2014

what do you want to be when you grow up?

A while back, I blogged about living in your sweet spot - making room for what moves you and saying no to things that don't align. I spent a lot of time auditing my extracurriculars to figure out what fit, and to make room for a little bit more slow in my life. 

But I've noticed a question coming up a lot lately for those around me. Beyond our activities and free time, I've noticed many friends asking themselves:

what do I want to be when I grow up? 

What do I want to pour my time, heart, soul and energy into every day?

I believe this question keeps coming up for those around me because many of us are reaching a point in our careers where it's finally relevant. We've had a few years in the real world and understand what we love and don't love in the workplace. We've begun to understand our strengths as employees and are beginning to see how those strengths can help us shine. 

Also, I think, at difference phases in life, we all go through a period of realizing: holy smokes, I spend 40+ hours a week on this! Is it what I want to be spending my time on? 

For most people, I don't think there is an exact formula for figuring out what moves you. We all know that more passion around what we're doing can lead to greater success. But how do you translate passion into a career?

I hesitate to say this for fear it might sound a little retro, but I believe that women often feel more freedom to explore their dreams when it comes to their careers. From what I've seen, I've noticed that men, inherently, feel more pressure to be a long term breadwinner. While women certainly want to and should earn as much money as men, I've noticed that we, as a whole, feel less of the burden.

Right, wrong or indifferent (or possibly super old-school thinking) need not matter. Leverage that freedom if you feel it! 

As always, I'm certainly no expert on this subject, but here are a few pieces of advice I've gotten along the way to figure out what the heck we should be doing with our time:

1. What makes you feel alive? What do you dream about doing when you fall asleep? What do you think about on your runs? Ignore practicality and think clearly for a moment: if I could do anything with my time every day, it would be XXX.

2. Figure out what you want to fix in the world. What burden do you want to relieve? It doesn't have to be a dogooder activity. Not everyone gets excited by causes and that's OK. I have a friend who is a total grammarian and she truly wants to fix bad grammar - so she's in communications. Editing makes her feel alive, and she's merged that passion with the inevitability of bad grammar in the world. 

3. Find the intersection of #1 and #2. What allows you to combine both of these things? 

4. Understand that there are no perfect jobs. I love the sentiment that when you're living your dream job you never feel like you're working, but I have a hard time believing it. I think that the minute you have to do something is the minute it often feels like work. Don't chase after perfection. But have your non-negotiables.

My brother, Duke, will never have a desk job because it is so far away from who he is. He will, instead have a job as a professor where he's interacting with people all day. He knows that. Does that mean his job will be perfect? No. But he knows his non-negotiables. 

5. Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. There will be things you can do - probably well - but that doesn't mean you should be doing them. If it frustrates you or drives you nuts, it's OK to outsource. 

6. Research. Set up informational interviews and ask people about what they love and don't love about their careers. Don't use this phase as a crutch to avoid taking the plunge, but don't plunge too quickly without doing your homework. 

7. Remember, it's not forever. I think that sometimes we put a lot of pressure on ourselves prematurely. Both in dating and in careers. I often tell readers not to rush the first few dates by asking "oh my gosh is he the one!?" Just slow down and enjoy it. Take the same approach with your career.  Don't feel pressured to ask yourself "do I want to do this for the rest of my life?!" The guy might be good for just a summer fling and the job might be perfect for just a few years. Embrace the now. 

8. Stop waiting. I feel like, in our 20s, we often are waiting to get married so we can begin the next chapter with our other half. Stop waiting. Yes, you and your husband might make an awesome Peace Corps team, but you might be awesome at it on your own, too. And he might be able to support you so you can open an antique business, but maybe you're supposed to do it on your own, without the safety net. If you're too afraid of falling to leave the nest, you won't be able to fly. Fly!

For a while, I didn't want to go to Africa because I wanted to go with my husband some day. And then I woke up and realized that was silly. I can go twice! :) 

9. If all else fails, organize your purse. Pretty much any moment in my life in which I'm overwhelmed, my mom tells me to organize my purse. And she's right: it gives me an immediate sense of control and relief. If you're overwhelmed by where to go next: organize your purse. And then make a list! 

PS: Interesting career-related read - On Not Leaning In


  1. My absolute DREAM job is working with endangered wildlife :)

  2. #8 - chu talkin' to meh? hehe jk. love this post & you!

  3. Oh, this post speaks to me! There is so much pressure as a twenty-something woman to figure it all out right.now. I love the philosophy of slowing down and doing what makes you happy in this moment, knowing the future may hold completely different things for us.

    Also, I read that article by Zosia Mamet in Glamour last month and loved it. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Love this post - I'm about to make a big change and this post helps confirm I am doing the right thing!

  5. This might sound depressing, but...I was obsessed with finding my dream job and passion in my mid-20s. Then someone once told me to forget about finding passion in my work. Do a job that allows me to do the things I'm passionate about OUTSIDE of work. Curiously enough, embracing this idea made me truly enjoy the job I was already in more. A job is just a job...it shouldn't define your life!

    That said, everyone has different priorities when it comes to your career. Mine has evolved quite a bit. After having a baby, flexibility is #1. My current employer luckily allows tons of flexibility with my schedule and it would take a lot to pull me away!


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