If you’re choosing currently in school, or graduating school shortly, it’s common to feel like you have no idea what career you want.
However, it’s also fairly common to feel like you have no idea what career you want even if you’ve had an extensive working career. Lots of people work for many years in a career path that they never feel like is not truly for them.
Maybe they chose that path because it’s what they studied in school. Or maybe it’s because it’s the only job they could get and feel stuck with that path.
Whatever the particular reason, you are not alone if you’re in your 30s, 40s, or even 50s and still feel like you don’t know what career you want.
To that end, this article is written for people that have no idea what career they want. We’ll unpack whether or not it’s normal to not know what career you want, offer recommendations on what to do if you find yourself in that situation, and unpack how to know if you’re in the wrong career.
Let’s dive in.
Is It Normal Not to Know What Career You Want?
Yes, it is very normal not to know what career you want. In fact, a recent survey stated that 52% of school students agreed with the statement “I have no idea what I want to do with my career.”
And I would imagine that many people that have professional careers feel that way as well.
And why is it that so many people don’t know what career they want?
In my opinion, there’s likely two reasons for that.
The first is that there’s simply so much choice. There are more career paths available to people today now than ever before. To the point that it’s overwhelming and can cause people to feel massive uncertainty.
And on top of that, people have more freedom to choose their path than ever before. It used to be that you would simply take on the craft of your father or work in the family business. Now, you may not have enjoyed that work, but the decision about what you were going to do was made for you so you knew you at least knew what you were supposed to do.
I think the second reason is a lack of experimentation. You’re forced to choose what to study in college when you’re 18, you major in that, and then you’re off to work in that field.
It’s tough to know if something that you chose to study at 18 is really going to be worthwhile work to give your life to. Ultimately, it take experimentation and it takes trying different things to get a sense of what fills you with energy and enables you to feel like you’re making a meaningful contribution.
Lots of people skip thoughtful experimentation and are thus left wondering if they’re in the right path.
What To When You Have No Idea What Career You Want
Fortunately, even if you feel like you’re stuck and have no idea what career you want, there’s a process that I’ve found helpful to discovering the work that you want to dedicate yourself to.
Included below are four high level steps that you can leverage to discovering what career you want. They’re adapted from our post I Have No Idea What To Do With My Life: How to Get Unstuck, which I would recommend that you read in full when you have the chance.
1. Figure Out What You Want Out Of Your Life
From my perspective, the best way to pick that work that you want to do is to start by figuring out what you want out of your life.
Too often, I think that people start by choosing a career path that they want to pursue, in may cases because they think that it will be financially lucrative, and then build their lives around that career.
To me, I think that’s backwards.
I think the place to start is to envision the overall life that you want to build for yourself and then pursue work that enables you to live that life.
For example, let’s say that you know that you want to build a family and to be the best mom or dad that you can possibly be. Pursuing a career as an attorney may not be congruent with that because the hours can be so demanding.
So, in that case, if you know want to start a family and have time to dedicate to them, then you know that you want a career path that would enable you to do that. In that case, becoming a teacher might be a good option because your work hours would be aligned with your kids. You may also want a job where you can work remote so you can have more flexibility to be with your kids and less commute time.
Starting with the life that you want to build gives you some hard requirements that must be met for any career path that you want to pursue.
In order to figure out the life that you want to build, we wrote a how to create a vision for your life article that helps guide you in how to do that.
2. Figure Out What Career Options Fit Into That Life
Once you have a sense of the high level life that you want to build for yourself, then you can start looking for more tangible career options that fit into that.
To me the best tool to do that is one called Ikigai, which represents the intersection of the following factors:
- What you love to do
- What you’re good at
- What the world needs
- What can generate income
Basically, what you do is you write ideas for all of the things in your life that fit into each of those categories. Do that even if you don’t think they align with a potential career.
For example, let’s say that you love to garden as a hobby. You may be tempted not to include that because you might not think of that as a lucrative enough career path. However, the nice thing about our day and age is that there are endless opportunities to make money online doing what you love. You could start a website reviewing gardening products, create a YouTube channel, sell a gardening course, start a gardening business, etc.
My point is – put it down and there might be more ways to make a living from what you love than you think.
From there, once you’ve listed options in all of the different categories, try and find some options that meet in the intersection of all of the circles in the photos above.
Once you have some options there, then you can evaluate how those would fit against the life that you want to build for yourself and you can prioritize opportunities in our next step.
Having ideas for possible career paths is great, but they aren’t really tangible until you go out and do them.
So, the next step is going out and experimenting with your top two or three possible paths in low risk ways. Think about them as placing small bets.
Basically, try to do things to gather tangible information about what it feels like to do the work and what it’s really like to be in the field.
These could be things like:
- Conducting informational interviews with people that are in the field
- Volunteering in a capacity that’s going to give you exposure to the work
- Starting your own online business in the area
The idea is, you want to gather as much information and first hand experience in your potential paths in as fast and a low of risk way as possible to help inform what works for you.
From there, as you’re going out and experimenting, it’s important to reflect on what you’re doing and what’s resonating.
To me, I find that journaling is a really helpful way for me to process my thoughts.
So, as you’re experimenting with different paths, keep a journal and write about how things are feeling as you’re pursuing them. That will give you information that you can look back on as you decide what work path you may want to focus on.
The steps above really helped me to figure out my own personal path (a full-time marketer in tech and writer/website builder on the side) and helped me to make decisions on career opportunities that are congruent with the life that I want to live.
I hope that it’s similarly helpful for you as well.
How Do You Know if a Career is Not Right For You?
You may be coming to this article in a career path that you’re not sure is right for you or not.
If you’re in that position, I’ll offer up a couple of questions for you to consider, and potentially journal about, to help you assess if the career path that you’re on currently is right for you:
- Does your career path enable you to live the life that you want to live (i.e., are you able to travel, spend enough time with your family, make a difference in your community, etc.)?
- Does your work bring you to life?
If you answered yes to one of the above, or you answered yes to both but still don’t feel like you love your specific job, then you may be on the right path but in the right context.
I would encourage you to explore if joining a different team or company might help you to enjoy your job more, or if there are things that you can negotiate within your current job to better bring it in line with what you want.
If the answer to both of those questions is no, then I’d offer that you should expect more out of work and follow the steps in the previous section to see if you can find something that is more truly your best fit work.
If you’re in a place where you have no idea what career you want, then you might feel a bit lost and discouraged.
However, the fact that you recognized that you’re feeling that way and that your here reading this article is the first step to action.
I’d encourage you not to settle on work that doesn’t bring you to life. Follow the steps above and go out and pursue your own best fit work work.
Good luck to you!