Lawyer. Teacher. Journalist. Event Planner.
These are all fake aspirations that I have rotated between throughout high school and university. I really wanted to have a solid answer every time the dreaded Job Question surfaced, if only to seem sure of myself, to quell my parents’ anxieties, to justify thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours spent.
In reality, I never knew.
Looking for a career isn’t supposed to just start when you graduate. It’s meant to be a culmination of self-understanding that starts the moment a teacher points out a strength (or weakness – trial and error, people). It starts when you’re dominating at Pictionary and realize you’re a great communicator, or when you’re playing team sports and realize you’re comfortable and skilled with leadership.
The reality is that translating these subtle strengths into a future career path is the hard part.
I thought I was alone in this respect; entering, and then leaving, university without a clear idea of what I was good at or enjoyed.
One in four high school students are undecided on post-secondary education. Of those that pursue that route, half have trouble declaring a major. Statistics vary but even then, 30-60% of students change majors. After school, most graduates struggle with choosing where to focus their efforts in getting a job – Indecision is rampant!
Since I wasn’t able to pick up on 21 years of personality clues, my career exploration started with just jumping right in. I found a job at a media planning agency and spent a year and a half doing a job I hadn’t even realized existed before (“We’re like, the Harry Crane in Mad Men” I’d tell equally mystified people).
Looking back, it wasn’t a perfect fit, but was an amazing opportunity. I worked with and learned from talented people, figured out how a real workplace operated, and had great exposure to a national brand and clients.
I learned my strengths and weaknesses. I learned that I liked project-based work and enjoyed the strategic and creative side of creating media plans.
Some people select a career early on and never waver, but for a lot of us, it’s a moving target.
Your interests outside of a work setting sometimes just don’t translate to what you’re going to love doing in a career. Sometimes you have to break it to your 10 year old self that instead of being the next Jane Goodall, they’re actually going to one day enjoy pivoting some sweet excel data more than roughing it in the outdoors.
It’s been five years since I graduated university. I didn’t become a lawyer, or teacher, or any of those things. There was more indecision and more trial and error than I’d care to admit, however my route to a career that I love has taught me a lot about myself. It exposed me to invaluable experiences and great people, and landed me somewhere I would never had expected five years ago.
My advice is simple: dive in.
You can do a lot of soul searching, but for a lot of us the best way to learn about what you want to do in your career is to learn while on the job. Keep yourself open to the vast number of different opportunities that are out there. It’s okay to find a job that might not be the perfect fit, as long as you can learn about yourself and grow as an individual.