How to Figure Out What You Really Want to Do In Life

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Graduate college, move into your own adorably modest place, buy an aspirational duvet cover from Anthropologie, host candlelit dinner parties for your friends, start going to bed by 10PM so you can wake up for sunrise yoga, visit farmers markets on the weekends, think about eating less gluten, vow to get Tracy Anderson’s arms. The post-grad movie in your head probably holds the promise of fulfillment, self-betterment and the chance to live your best Pinterst life. But as a lot of graduates know, finding a job — the right job — is the first step on the path to GOOPy nirvana.

Current seniors and more than a few post-grads can tell you that finding a job isn’t easy. The application process can feel like you’re throwing your resume into the Grand Canyon — there’s often no followup aside from the format “Thank you for applying for XYZ position. Someone will be in touch if we feel you’re a strong candidate for the job” email. And guess what? Apparently you’re not a strong candidate for 43 companies in 9 major cities because not once have you heard back from an HR rep. Guys, I’ve been there. It sucks.

As someone who has come out the other end and landed what many would consider a dream job — heck, I get to run this site and hang out with you guys everyday — lean in and let me tell you a few of the things I’ve learned along the way.

Like I said above, you need to change your focus from finding any ol’ job to finding the job that’s best suited for you. How do you do this? It all comes down to having some really truthful talks with yourself, asking questions of people who currently hold positions that appeal to you and just doing a lot of general research. You could very well read about incredible positions you didn’t even know existed (case in point: this restaurant employs a “dreamweaver”).

One of my favorite resources for career research — and I promise this isn’t a promotional plug, these people don’t even know I exist — is Career Contessa. They feature really insightful interviews with women in all kinds of professions all over the country. Each interview asks the women where they started, what their career path has been, what inspired them to choose their field and what their daily schedule is like. Seriously great info! Here are a few of my faves:

Kate Driscoll, Director of Events for Buzzfeed

Caitlin Coble, Social Media Director for TOMS

Jess Levin, CEO & Co-Founder of Carats and Cake

Alli Webb, Founder of Drybar

It’s ambitious to think that at 22 you’ll know exactly what you want to be doing at 42, so don’t feel pressure to come up with a super specific endgame. Aim for things like “I want to work in a leadership position for a large creative agency where I have the freedom to work remotely,” or “I’d like to gain firsthand knowledge of small businesses now so I can become self-employed and start my own business later.” With guidelines like these, you’ll know which section of the (proverbial) classifieds to start looking in first.

I realize that when it’s been 3 months since you’ve graduated and you’re still unemployed, it can be next to impossible not to scream to the Employment Gods, “Please! I’ll do anything! Just pay me and give me something to do 40 hours a week!” Additionally, so few of us have the luxury of being able to live without any sort of employment. At some point, you might have to make a compromise. That’s okay. Knowing where you want your career to go in the long run will give you the perspective to recognize when you’ve strayed from the course, as well as the push to get creative in your journey to the finish line.

Are you an entry level financial analyst with dreams of becoming a fashion journalist? Start reading fashion mags and niche blogs compulsively, know who’s who in the fashion industry, identify up-and-coming brands, take journalism or blogging (yes, that exists) classes through your local continuing education program. The bottom line is that a resume doesn’t necessarily need to be restricted to your in-office experience, and a cover letter is prime real estate for talking about your passions. Whatever you’re doing now and wherever you want to go, you need to convince people you’re an asset.

Investing in yourself, even when you don’t currently have the career of your dreams, is so incredibly important. Don’t be afraid to take risks, recognize that you’ve gotta bust your butt for a while before you make it and know that this isn’t a competition. I don’t care what your best friend does for a living or how happy she says it makes her. You do you, baby. One step at a time.

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