The first question anyone will ask you during your college years will be about your field of study, the second question they will ask generally pertains to your career goals. If you can answer both of these questions and receive that subtle nod of approval, I envy you. I, like many of my generation, have no idea, but even after several years spent with not knowing, I struggle with how to answer such inquiries. In my last article, I wrote about embracing that which is unknown so, after three changes of major, two college transfers, and a year spent out of school, I am here with my Top 15 ways to discover some sort of direction, though even this is still a work in progress.
A word of warning before you set out to find your passion: If you’re not excited and uncomfortable at the same time, you’re not doing near enough exploration.
1. Take a Semester Off, or Take a Whole Year
Work lots of hours to fund your hobbies, meet new people, enjoy your freedom and figure out what comes next. I even took a few night classes so going back to school wouldn’t be so hard but the best part of having freedom was meeting new people and having the time to dedicate to new friendships and the perspectives those brought.
2. Explore An Interest You Haven't Considered For A Career
I began having conversations with a local nonprofit coordinators in addition to attending lectures and community events centered around Mental Health Awareness. I also took the opportunity to be part of a documentary project in my state and learned so much more about advocacy and my community than I ever planned to.
3. Make a List of Things You’ve Never Done, Try Them Out
Kayaking, hiking a state park, taking a road trip to a theme park, attending a new concert, the list goes on. Seek enjoyment and adventure in finding new people, places, and activities that excite you.
4. Learn Something New and Fun
Whether it’s learning to braid your own hair or taking a foreign language, learning something you enjoy can make the idea of finishing your education or learning job skills a lot less scary. I learned to sew baby blankets out of t-shirts for my boss’ child, it was not only a useful skill, but a fun way to have a little creative stress relief that puts the fun back into learning.
5. Volunteer With An Event and Make Connections
Volunteer for something just for the sake of opportunity. Meeting people at events or fundraisers is a great way to make connections and learn from a variety of experiences. I recently volunteered as a Senior Facilitator at the statewide Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Conference for high schoolers and got the same leadership training and experience while meeting lots of wonderful speakers and staff from a variety of careers. Take down email addresses and keep in contact, you never know where the insight of new acquaintances might lead.
6. Do Something That Scares YouAfter a year off and a semester of trying to make it as a Business Major, I transferred from my second small college to a state university, something that terrified me because I had never been in an environment with thousands of other students. What I found, however, was having to make myself heard in order to be more than a number, and making myself heard has led to countless opportunities, new friendships, and advisory connections at a university with an enormous amount of resources. Face your fears and see what happens, it might just work out.
7. Make An Effort to Have More Face-To-Face Conversations”The art of conversation lies in listening” -Malcom Forbes
Face-to-face conversations give so much more than emails or texting. Be present, fully listen, and take whatever information you can gain from your daily interactions with others, it is still the best way to network and understand new ideas.
8. Take An Internship Doing Something Fun
I took an internship I hated just for the sake of gaining internship experience toward my major before I found a different one I loved through college football. Doing something fun while working in a field you enjoy can be a valuable tool in gaining real world experience as well as insight toward what careers may actually interest you despite them not being related to your declared major. If you can't make an internship work, set up a job shadow or ask to be a volunteer at a place where working is fun, it makes the career search less intimidating when you have some kind of professional job experience.
9. Make Time for the Things You're Always "Too Busy" For
Babysitting for a friend, visiting your grandparents, helping out with an event, or reading a good book can be very fulfilling and help distract from the overwhelming dread of not knowing what your future plans may be. Make time for the things that often get pushed to the side and be available to step back from being consumed with college, internships, work, and responsibilities to appreciate where you are today can also be a great way to improve time management skills. I visit my sister on her campus to spend quality time we are normally too busy or too far away to enjoy, it’s always a welcome break from the stresses of life to step back for a bit.
Taking the opportunity to travel on a class trip to Mexico was not only the time of my life, but one of the most fulfilling experiences I could have ever asked for. Traveling gives insight into the rest of the world, new cultures, and new experiences. You never quite know what you’re going to discover, and that’s what self-exploration is all about.
11. Do Things On Your Own
Learning to be independent is one of the best life skills to develop, no matter the direction you choose. Eat lunch alone, buy a ticket without a planned companion, try to repair things yourself, or move out of your parents’ house. Learning to be self-sufficient and at peace with your own company brings wonderful peace of mind along with it. I moved out of my parents' house where I lived while not in a school term and registered for a conference with random roommates, cheers to flying solo and being a big girl.
12. Put Some Positivity In Every Day
I understand not knowing can feel like an overbearing weight on your shoulders, but dancing through life with a smile on your face can make almost anything seem bearable. Stop caring what others think or stressing over what you can’t control, life isn’t so bad when you keep some positivity in your day. I have begun to catch myself doing silly little dances without even realizing it, it usually brightens someone else’s day to see it as well.
13. Do Something Wild on a Whim
I went to a hair salon with a picture of my go-to brown color when I saw a color swatch of purple and thought, here’s a chance to have some fun. I had never before done a vibrant hair color but looking at things I’ve never considered doing before as a way to have fun has made me far more comfortable with trying new things.
14. Cut Ties With Anything that Doesn't Make You Completely Happy
Change your major, quit your job, stop talking to people who stress you out, your head will be filled with less filler and have more space for new, adventurous thoughts. Equally important, however, is spending more time doing what makes you the happiest. Quitting the job I had worked at for over four years wasn’t easy, but I have found a job I get excited to go to every day with amazing coworkers who have replaced some of the people I no longer spend my time with. Getting your future together in your head is stressful enough, don’t let anything that causes you any upset add to that.
15. Make More Short-Term Goals Along the Way
Learning to play guitar for open mic nights doesn’t mean you’ll be in a band for the rest of your life, but enjoying the process of finding your passion is assisted by supplemental goals along the way. I made it my goal to walk a runway and set out to try some modeling opportunities, landing myself a slot in the Final 5 display pieces in a fashion show thanks to the people I met during some of these shoots. It got me out of my comfort zone and helped me reach a goal I had pondered for a long time. There’s something for the Bucket List, even if I won't chase a career in modeling.
While there are countless ways to answer the question of what it is you want to do with your life, there is no truly “right” answer. In saying cheers to not knowing, there is a certain feeling of relief from the stresses of trying to have it all together. In taking action and making a deliberate effort to explore new ideas and opportunities while making connections, you can do so much more for yourself than just passively reading job descriptions online. Envision your future as your biggest adventure yet and take every chance to pursue whatever it may be, you just might find your passion and the tools you need to make it your life along the way.