“What do you want to be when you grow up?” is an outdated question. Gone are the days when most professionals work one job for 40 years and then retire. Gone are the days when you had 12 options of what career to choose: Lawyer, doctor, teacher, plumber… Yes, those jobs still exist. The challenge is that 10,000 additional career options have also emerged. And 20 years from now? Well experts hardly know what career prospects will look like.
The exciting news? You do not need to choose a single path and stick to it. In the current work environment you have options – and you will continue to have options. If you are overwhelmed by thinking about what you want to do for THE REST OF YOUR LIFE, the best thing you can do is focus on “What do I do next?”
More specifically think about…
- What experiences will give you feedback on what you are good at and what you enjoy?
- What type of work or learning will help you move forward? Not necessarily all the way to an end goal, just forward.
- What skills can you develop that align with your professional or personal interests?
- What connections can you build to open more doors or earn a reputation that will help you down the road?
Approaching your life with this mentality will not only take some of the stress off of decisions, it will allow you to explore choices you otherwise might not have considered. It allows you to take a class or a job outside of the narrative you felt you were living in and learn something new. It may also give you a lot more than you expected. This freedom can allow you to act with greater confidence and to be led to experiences you otherwise would have written off.
Speaking from personal experience, when I look back at my life since college, at no point could I have never predicted where I would be in 3 years. Never. Not once. Kenya my senior year, getting my Master’s in Library Science, teaching high school in Denver, and moving to Panama are all pieces of my journey I would not have put in the script of my life. Yet these opportunities arose and I embraced the path they were leading me down. I do not regret any of it, and it has all proven key steps on my personal path.
This nonlinear path is increasingly common. Millenials average 4 job changes by the time they are 32. Compare that to Baby Boomers, where 40% of those employed have been with their company for over 20 years. My parents both worked the same job for 35+ years, and remain a bit perplexed by my generation’s behavior. Yet it is clear to see: the times they are a-changin’. (Do people even listen to Bob Dylan these days?!)
So embrace that you likely are not making a choice that will box you in for the rest of your life. Rather, every step can lead to new skills, new perspective, and new doors opening. Stop stressing under the weight of any single step and allow yourself to focus on how each opportunity can lead you one step closer to your version of success.