Still Don't Know What You Want to Be When You Grow Up?
Updated: Mar 30
There's still hope for you
Ever wonder why adults love to ask kids, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Since most of us have not actually fallen into the work that we truly love, we marvel at the possibility of existing once again, like a child, as a blank slate, able to imagine what career to pursue and what new adventures might await.
While we encourage (and vicariously relish) these flights of fancy with children, we have a tendency to shut down these musings as adults in ourselves and our friends. We dismiss them as whims with no toehold in reality or too much bother to really pan out.
I’ve never really understood this. While I know there are hard realities to life – I’m a native Midwesterner of mostly German extraction, so stability and pragmatism are deeply ingrained in my subconscious – but even if you break it down in practical terms, staying in work that is stifling and soul-crushing just doesn’t make good sense.
We spend half of our waking adult lives at work. If you estimate the life of a person working 40 hours per week from age 22 to 65, accounting for 2 weeks of vacation per year, that’s 80,000 hours of work. Since most of us take our work home in the evenings and weekends, add some hours to that already robust number and consider the implications of spending that much time dedicated to something you are pursuing under duress.
The sad reality, however, is that most of us do not like our work. According to an annual survey conducted by the Conference Board, a New York-based nonprofit group that has been tracking job trends since 1987, only 48.3% of Americans reported being satisfied with their jobs in 2015.
I actually love my job, because I get to help people find work that contributes to their daily happiness, brings them meaning and fulfillment and allows them to express their creative gifts. Sometimes this means pulling up stakes and starting a new career or a business venture but it can sometimes just mean reimagining their place in their current work environment or field.
Reimagining an existing career often entails empowering a client to explore new skills and interests within their existing field or changing their work environment – transferring to a different department, a new employer or going freelance – to gain much needed perspective on potentially untapped possibilities.
If fully engage with a commitment to transition your career, it is possible to find a job that speaks to what I like to call the Career Trifecta – a role that fulfills your values, your creative needs and your financial requirements. But it’s not easy.
Before you start, I invite you to, as you go about your day, start to notice what you’re noticing. That is, pay attention to the things around you that bring you joy. I know it sounds very West Coast, but as someone trained as a counselor, I believe strongly that tapping into your subconscious is necessary to truly make a change that leads to long-term professional joy.
This state is similar to mindfulness, a heightened awareness to the world around you. It is tempting, I know, to distract ourselves with iPads and Kevin Spacey TV shows, but for a professional transition to take root, you need to be truly present.
If you meditate, great, but it’s not necessary to this process. You need only be willing to tune into your body and literally notice its reactions to certain stimuli. Gut feelings, researchers have found, are a real thing, but somatic emotional responses are not limited to our stomachs. We react to our environments with every part of our body, and we ignore those sensations and expressions of our subconscious at our own peril.
For one week, make a decision to be exceedingly present and at the end of each day, write down the things you noticed the most. Write it in the form of a journal or a list, whatever your preference. It doesn’t have to take more than 15 minutes, but it’s important to do it every night. Look for themes that emerge and write them down at a set time every day. (Bedtime is a great time to do this, since it’s a great way to wind down the day.)
Be prepared for a transition to take time and patience, both in yourself and the important people in your life. You will only lay a firm foundation for your career switch if the important people in your life are in your cheering section. Communicate to them how important to your long it is that you make a change in your career and start the conversation as soon as possible.
There will be moments of doubt, uncertainty, and discomfort, but know that ultimately you will prevail. The road ahead may be tricky to navigate at times, but if you engage in the process, the destination – a fulfilling career – will make it all worthwhile.
Kristin Schuchman, MSW is a career counselor based in Portland, Oregon who works with creative and mission-driven professionals. She writes resumes and coaches individuals seeking support for career indecision, next steps, work re-entry, advancement, and work-life-balance. She offers a free 30-minute Zoom or phone session and presently works with clients remotely. Find out more at www.sparkacareer.com.