Career Development

‘What Should I Do With My Life?’ | Finding Answers to Hard Questions

“What should I do with my life?” is not only a question that high school students ask when deciding on what field of study to pursue in college or that new graduates ponder after they complete their studies. Most of us keep asking ourselves this question even after being in a career for many years. According to a 2017 Gallup World Poll, 85% of employees worldwide are dissatisfied with their jobs. So how do you go about finding your perfect career? This article will help you find some answers.

How to answer “What should I do with my life?”

  1. Ask yourself a few pertinent questions
  2. Gather information
  3. Gain practical experience

If you’re trying to answer the overarching question of what you should do with your life, your first step is to ponder the reason why you’re asking in the first place. This will give you a clearer understanding of what types of careers might suit you. The next steps involve gathering information about these potential careers and then gaining job experience to ascertain which career path comes the closest to bringing you satisfaction.

1. Ask yourself a few pertinent questions

  • What lifestyle do you want?

Earning a good salary and having job security are not the only considerations when you decide on a career. There are many other aspects to think about, including:

  • How many hours do you want to work per week/year?
  • Do you require flexible working hours?
  • Do you want to work for yourself?
  • What kind of work environment would you prefer?
  • At what age do you want to retire?
  • What are your core values?

Your core values are fundamental ideals that are important to you, such as honesty, ambition, optimism, hard work, freedom or peace. If you are not sure what your core values are, think of a day or a time when you were happiest in your life, and try to ascertain why. You may, for instance, recall being happy when you were an exchange student in Europe. This could signal that you value freedom, new experiences and independence. Your ideal career, then, would involve these values.

  • What are you passionate about?

If you want to be truly happy in your career, you need to take your passions and interests into consideration. This does not mean that you have to become a concert pianist if you love playing the piano. It may simply mean that you might be happy in a career that involves the piano or music in general. Perhaps you could teach piano or edit a classical music magazine.

  • What are your strengths and skills?

Your strengths are your talents and the things you have always been naturally good at. Chances are that you will enjoy, and excel at, a job that engages your strengths. If, for instance, you have always been naturally good at languages, you may want to pursue a career that requires good language skills.

Whereas strengths are inherent qualities, you acquire skills through learning and experience. There are two kinds of skills: hard and soft. Hard skills encompass technical or book knowledge of a specific discipline, subject or trade. Examples of such skills are project management, fluency in French, or proficiency in Microsoft Office or QuickBooks. Soft skills involve your emotional intelligence and attitude. These include a good work ethic, the ability to function well in a team, adaptability and tolerance.

You should take all of these points into consideration when you decide on a new career path. It might be a good idea to create a spreadsheet where you enter all this information to ascertain which potential jobs tick the most boxes. After you have narrowed down potential careers in this way, you should follow the next two steps.

2. Gather information

Whereas the first step in deciding on what to do with your life involves consulting yourself, the second step requires that you gather information from others who have valuable life experiences to share. Here are some of the many ways to do this:

  • Cold emailing: Decide on people you would like to meet and learn from, and start emailing them. You may be surprised how many people will be willing to meet with you to offer advice.
  • Attend conferences, events and talks: Seek to gather valuable information and to extend your network and contacts.
  • Read prolifically: Apart from talking to people, you can also learn a lot from reading. Go to your library or local bookshop and look for biographies on successful people or books that deal with industries or careers you may be interested in.
  • Get involved on social media: Social media applications like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn offer an effective way to get to know people who have lifestyles or career paths you admire and want to learn about.

3. Gain practical experience

The next step in deciding on a perfect career is to gain insight into the day-to-day activities of people in a few career paths you are considering. You can do this by cold emailing companies to secure “shadow experiences” that normally last for a few days. During your time at each company, you can follow people around, ask to execute a few key tasks and generally gauge whether the working environment will suit you. Apart from shadowing, you can also gain job experience in the following ways:

  • Internships and apprenticeships are outstanding ways to gain work experience. Companies normally offer a low salary or small stipend for such positions. You will also be able to add such a position to your CV under work experience.
  • You can do volunteer work at either a nonprofit organization or a for-profit company. Although you will not receive any compensation, volunteering will provide you with valuable experience, and you can also add it under work experience on your CV.
  • Freelancing is another way you can gain work experience. The advent of the internet has brought with it many freelancing opportunities in a wide variety of fields. Payment for freelancing jobs varies and is mostly dependent on experience and expertise.

There is no perfect way to find the answer to what you should do with your life. Perhaps the most salient point to remember is that you need to take action. Use these steps to find your answers and act on them.