Right after graduation I found myself hearing three strong statements:
“A job is called a job for a reason,” said my mother.
“I don’t even know what I want,” said many of my friends.
“Find what you give a shit about, and do it. The job will come,” said my mentors.
All three of these opinions show the stark contrast between what was, what is, and what could be. For a generation of job-seekers it’s clear that the rules of the game have changed. With more and more time and energy spent at work, Gen X and Y employees are demanding more and more out of prospective employers. But how do you get there?
First step is to start talking to people in your network. Get curious. Choose five people who know you from different walks of life: your best friend, your office secretary, your old professor, parents, boyfriend, or even your doorman. What do other people think you are good at? What do they see you being drawn to? Build linkages between what others are saying about you and what they feel like you are most passionate about. Write notes. Don’t focus on talent. Ask about what they feel like are most interested in. Passionate. Even what makes you happy. Identify people who have seen you in various roles and capacities be it work or play. Seek out second opinions.
Many people make the mistake of thinking just because they are good at something they should turn it into their career. This is not true. Find people that support your dreams. Remember-haters gonna hate. Early career is about building skills, and acquiring knowledge.
A great deal of insight comes from reflecting on where you have been and where you want to go. If you don’t already write, take 10 minutes every week to write about what you liked, and didn’t like about your job or activities you are involved with. At the end of the month, you’ll have a good composite of where your interests intersect with your job, and where you are falling up short or unsatisified.
Building time to be alone is great for prioritizing what you desire for your future. Turn off your phone, computer, tv, and take time to unplug completely. If you’re feeling deep, try mediating, doing yoga, or even hiking to put some energy to use while sorting it out. Then go home and put some of those positive thoughts on paper.
Do something you love, even if it doesn’t pay much or at all.
Find your side gig. Remember the things you used to love as a child? Creativity allows you to come to great realizations about life and what you are capable of achieving. Don’t have a hobby? Try something new every day. Go on a Groupon spree and invite some friends. Take a staycation and explore things you love in your city. Make sure you share this experience with others. Give back to the world around you. Be gracious for these opportunities.
Unless you have lived under a rock, you probably have seen the Holstee Manifesto. Read it. Take it in. You will love it. Pinterest all these cool findings, and show the world how you are inspired by it and showcase how you have implemented in your own life. Cowbird your story. You will connect with others who share the same passions and gain support with your newfound community.
Make a plan.
Use your reflections as your life outline. Now imagine your perfect world. What would it contain? Where do you see yourself in one year, five years, ten years? Make a map of it.
Visualizing your life the way you imagine it to be is a powerful tool to creating the life you want in the future. Two of my favorite Chicagoans, Saya Hillman of Mac and Cheese Productions, and Patty Huber, Director of Groupon’s Grassroots team introduced me to the idea of making a vision board to help identify personal and career-oriented goals. Idea is pretty simple: grab some magazines, rip out what inspires you, and make a poster of it. Place it in a prominent area you are going to see every day. Strangely enough, these small reminders give power to your words and actions. Whether your board speaks to big goals, or small goals, I have personally seen dreams come true when someone makes a visual map of what they want to happen for their life-no matter how crazy it may seem. Dream crazy!
Sheryl Sandberg’s speech at HBS spoke directly to this idea. She said, “Careers are not a ladder, they are a jungle gym.”
Moving into better jobs and the path you truly wanted to be on has never been more difficult. I love speaking to new graduates who begin their journey into the real-world, only to find out the amount of trade offs and compromises you encounter within your first two years of working. This can be really disappointing. Don’t be discouraged-we have all been through this. You are not alone.
Unlike your parents, it is not common for our generation to switch jobs or even careers every few years. It is difficult to find a job that will meet all your needs. And you probably shouldn’t expect it. Just keep working towards it.
Find avenues to build connections in industries you are interested in. Learn and cultivate opportunities from those mentors who you spoke to previously. Try short-term experiences just to learn from it. Experimenting will allow you to build bridges toward a career you never expected.
Another important objective is to speak with others can who inspire you. How did they figure it out? What did they look for? How long did it take them to get to Point A to Point B?
As much as it is important to draw inspiration from mentors, it’s great to find peers that inspire you as well. Our generation has the arduous task of figuring out how to adapt to technology and build skills faster and faster. Be inspired by our own changemakers. Or even your fellow Levo Leaguers! Connect on the community level and start getting accountable of how we can help each other become the women of tomorrow that can shape and find our own paths to purpose.
Be okay with the struggle.
It is not easy to know what you should do with your life. Or what your purpose in life is. It’s meant to take time. It’s hard place to find, stuck somewhere between frustration and unknown territory.
In one of my favorite books of all-time is Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor, explains the significant role death and struggle plays to determining our outcomes. One of the stories he shares is Jerry Long, a man who broke his neck and suddenly became quadriplegic. Jerry began attending college after his accident using a special telephone and a mouth stick to type, “I view my life as being abundant with meaning and purpose. The attitude that I adopted on that fateful day has become my personal credo for life: I broke my neck, it didn’t break me. I am currently enrolled in my first psychology course in college. I believe that my handicap will only enhance my ability to help others. I know that without the suffering, the growth that I have achieved would have been impossible”.
Let these words serve as a reminder that your struggle is a sign that you are on the right path. Keep trying. It is easy to settle for less. But for those who want something more, it’s up to you to figure out what you want and how you are going to get there.
Erin Little is currently a fellow with LGT Venture Philanthropy based out Mumbai, India. Previous to this she was leading CHICAGO+Acumen and running a startup. Catch her adventures at her blog or follow her @teetertother.