Stop Dreaming, Start Doing: 5 Steps to Finding Your Career
This post is dedicated to the fabulous young adults who choose to forgo privacy, sleep, and social media to work 24 hours a day, six days a week, as summer camp counselors.
“What am I going to do with my life?”
I hear this question a lot from recent college graduates and those heading into their final year. All of their life thus far was aimed at getting TO college, with college itself as the end goal. So nothing has prepared them for the actual bulk of their life, which happens AFTER college.
Many 20-somethings struggle with what to do for their “real life” career, and the camp counselors I work with are no exception. A few times each summer, I offer a “Life Planning” meeting for any counselors who are interested. At the meeting, we brainstorm their strengths, passions, and action plans to help figure out how to pursue their career goals.
Camp counselors are an amazing sub-section of 20-somethings. Making a positive difference in the world means more to them than making money, so they often have big, lofty dreams, like starting a non-profit or other business. Those big dreams sometimes make it difficult for them to figure out what to actually do next. One of the concepts I try to convey is that success is not linear and that no job is completely perfect in all ways. In fact, they NEED the jobs that aren’t perfect to hone their skills and find their passions. My three summers working as a waitress at Coco’s Restaurant taught me customer service skills, ingrained my work ethic, and helped me realize that I didn’t want to be a waitress for my whole life. I also learned how to cut a grapefruit, which has proven useful at breakfast time.
Regardless of what field or area you think you want to pursue, these five steps are a great place to start.
1. DEVELOP YOUR SOFT SKILLS
No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s a volunteer commitment or a paid job, develop your soft skills. Specifically, actively work on improving your work ethic, grit, and people skills. You need these soft skills to succeed at whatever you want to do.
2. WORK HARD AT EVERY JOB
• Don’t wait for the perfect job (it doesn’t exist for you yet).
• Always have a job, even if it’s not specifically related to your future career goals. You can be working on steps 3, 4, and 5 (below) while you’re showing that you are a hard worker, making connections, and learning some new skills.
• Learn as much as you can at every job.
• Ask for feedback.
• Be the person everyone wants to work with.
• Follow through. Be a “do-er.” The biggest frustration we have as employers is employees who say they’re going to do something and then don’t follow through, finish the project, or clean up after themselves. Employees who require moment-to-moment supervision to stay on task are not helpful. Be a self starter who follows through. Be the person who everyone knows will get the job done.
3. FIGURE OUT WHERE YOUR STRENGTHS, SKILLS, AND PASSIONS COLLIDE
Answer each of these questions and then create a venn diagram (like the one shown) to see where the overlap lies:
• What do you do well (skills/strengths)? Be realistic. Do assessment tests. Ask your friends, family, co-workers, professors, and employers. Remember when your mom told you that you could be anything you want to be? That’s not really true. All of us can improve our skills and get better at jobs, but there are some jobs that are more suited to our personalities and talents. Figure out what your strengths are.
• What are you interested in? What do you like to talk about with your friends? How do you want to make a difference in the world and leave your mark?
• What can you get paid to do? Some of the things you love will always be a great hobby. Others may translate into a job. Figure out the difference.
4. BECOME AN EXPERT IN YOUR FIELD
• Read five books written by experts in your field of interest. You’ll know more than most people know on the topic.
• Research people and organizations working in the field. What companies, organizations, and individual people are doing something that resonates with you? Apply for jobs at those places, even if you’re making coffee or copies.
• Interview people in the field. Ask them about their educational background and how they got involved. I’ve been amazed at how quickly I’ve received email responses from best-selling authors I’ve reached out to.
• Find a mentor. Who’s doing what you dream of doing for your career? Contact them and interview them. What was their path to this career? How did they learn to do what they do? Volunteer to work for them or ask them for ideas of places where you can work or volunteer to get more experience.
5. SET GOALS, MAKE A PLAN, WRITE IT DOWN, AND BE ACCOUNTABLE TO SOMEONE ELSE
• Make a plan with specific action steps and deadlines.
• Get an accountability buddy who will text and harass you to follow through. Make sure they know your deadlines and action steps.
Sample Action Plan:
|(1) Research Peace Corps Job Opportunities||9/30/14||Mary|
|(2) Attend Idealist.org job fair||11/15/14||Mary|
|(3) Contact friend of Amy’s who just returned from Peace Corps||10/15/14||Mary|
|(4) Read Living Poor by Moritz Thomsen||11/30/14||Mary|
|(5) Sign up to volunteer at the shelter in my city||10/15/14||John|
Find out Your Strengths:
• Take a test to figure out your “Signature Strengths”
VIA Survey of Character Strengths (University of Pennsylvania, Free Questionnaire but you’ll need to create a login)
• www.gallupstrengthscenter.com (Strength Finder, costs $9.99)
Five, Dan Zadra: I love this book and frequently give it as a gift to college graduates. I just found this short video about the book:
What I Wish I Knew When I Was 20, Tina Seelig
The Defining Decade, Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now, Meg Jay, PhD.
Or, if you don’t want to read the book, watch Meg Jay’s TED Talk (14:49).
10 Awesome Pieces of Career Advice (Almost) No One Follows
How to Create an Effective Action Plan
The Camp Counselor Vs. the Intern (NY Times, Hint for employers: Hire the camp counselor!)
Skip the Internship, Go to Camp (USA Today,
Want even more resources? Check out my “Success” board on Pinterest or my Facebook Page.