Figure out what to do with your life

Figure out what to do with your life

By Rachel Segal Hamilton IdeasTap 03/07/14

About to graduate and not sure what to do next? Been working for years and are worried you’ve taken a wrong turn along the way? Don’t stress. Here’s our guide to deciding how the hell to spend your time on earth...

Too often we confuse what people do for a living with who they are

Your job isn’t the sum total of your identity. Take Superman, for example: a successful journalist, he finds time to volunteer in his community as a lycra-clad, airborne baddy-fighter. Still, what you do for a career shapes your life. And since you’ll spend more time doing it than you do anything else – bar sleeping – it’s worth getting it right.


Ask yourself what would suit you

This is the hard part. Lucky I’ve kindly devised a four-step formula to help you (knew that B in GCSE Maths would come in handy one day). It goes like this: 

I + V + P + S = C 

Interests + Values + Personality + Skills = Career 

Now, grab a piece of paper, the bigger the better. Scribble the above categories as headings and circle them. Around each circle, note down how each relates to you. 

Interests: What inspires you? If you’re on IdeasTap, probably something creative, but don’t limit yourself to this. Go as wide or specific as you like. Music? Buildings? History? Stories? Images? Obscure B-movies about aliens? 

Values: What matters to you? Making shit loads of money? Making the world a better place? Family? Power? Fame? Status? Is it important for you to get public recognition for your achievements or are you fine staying behind the scenes? 

Personality: How do you actually enjoy spending your time? Around people or by yourself? Are you indoorsy or outdoorsy? Do you love to travel? Are you at your best under pressure or when you take things at your own pace?   

Skills: What are you good at? Writing? Organising? Public speaking? Analysing information? Coming up with new ideas?  Listening? Solving problems?


Do your research 

Look into careers that cater to as many of your interests, values, personality and skills as possible. Go to our Job of the Week section to read up on what working in different arts jobs involves. You’ll also find career profiles on Creative Skillset, Prospects and Future First

Once you’ve narrowed it down a bit, spend time scouring jobs boards, checking out job descriptions and person specifications not just for entry-level roles but for jobs that ask for more experience, too. The stuff you’d love to do one day. Download them. Screengrab them. Save them in a folder called “Job shizzle”.


Talk to people 

Find out whether anyone you know has any connections in these jobs or industries. If not, get online and look for people working in organisations that appeal. Contact them. See if they’d be up for answering some questions on the phone, by email or over a coffee  – your treat, of course.

You might have always wanted to work in film. Only by chatting to people who develop scripts will you realise that you’d be happier working with writers than spending 15-hour days on set, lugging around kit. Equally, you may learn that it takes a long time on shoddy pay, doing boring work, to get to the role you want. Are you prepared to hold out? 

Also, chat to people who know you, and whose opinions you respect, about your interests, values, personality and skills. See how their thoughts match up to yours. Whether you agree or not, what they say could spark ideas. 


Try stuff out  

Until you’re there out in the workplace, you can’t really know how you’ll feel. Volunteer and do work experience – in a variety of organisations, both big and small. Don’t do this forever, though. Take paid work, even if it’s not exactly what you’re after. That first job doesn’t have to determine your entire working life and it will teach you about yourself. You’ll develop new interests, new skills, learn about your personality and values as you go. Remember: you can fall into things and love them; just as you can try things you should love and discover you hate them. 


Be open to change

People I know who’ve been working for 10 years still say they haven’t decided what to do with their lives. It’s an ongoing process. You’ll probably hit a mid-20s slump, you might have kids, you might switch career. That’s OK. Sometimes it’s good to throw all the pieces up in the air and see how they land.

The truth is, there’s no such thing as a dream job. Don’t, please, get hung up on that. There are infinite lives you could live in which you’d be happy and satisfied. And besides, the job you’ll be doing a decade from now might not even exist yet. 


How did you decide what to do with your life? Let us know in a comment!

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Image by Dioboss, on a Creatve Commons license.

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