“What should I do for a living?”
It’s a question everybody has to ask themselves at some point in their lives.
Some of us are looking for a job. Others seek a career path. You may be searching for a destiny or a calling of sorts.
While not everyone has the same recipe for the dream job, there are clear steps that will help you answer the question, “What should I do for a living?”
No two career reinventions look the same, because everyone has a unique set of values, skills, and interests.
How to discover what to do with your life in 5 steps
Some people start out with a childhood dream job in mind. But what about the rest of us?
Making a big decision like what to do for a living is easier when you break down the process into smaller steps.
Step 1: Examine your core values
What do you value most?
It’s an important question that not many people have taken the time to really answer.
But when you don’t identify and live by your values, you will find it much more difficult to answer big life questions like what to do for a living.
Outside influences, like family, friends, or social environment, easily pull you in different directions and influence your career choices. If your decisions don’t match who you are at the core, you’ll feel that dissonance in your soul when you don’t live according to your truest self.
So when you find yourself dissatisfied with your career, start by taking a deep dive into your core values. Ask yourself, “What matters to me the most?”
Some examples of core values include:
- Working smarter, not harder
- Work/life balance
Take some time to think about it. Talk about it with a friend, mentor, or coach to help better understand what matters to you. It may help to write down a long list of possible core values and narrow it down to three or five of the most important ones.
During this step, you may notice right away how some of your most precious values don’t line up with your current job position. Alternatively, you may notice some areas that match up perfectly.
Through this exercise, you will clarify where you are at versus where you want to be when it comes to making a living.
Keep in mind that values are personal. What matters the most to you may not mean much to someone else. They can also evolve over time. When you feel like your life doesn’t match with what you want, go back and reexamine your values from time to time to see where you stand at this stage of your life.
Step 2: Uncover your strengths
If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”).Cal Newport
When you recognize your strengths, you can nurture those aspects of yourself and reach your fullest potential.
Strengths aren’t the same as talent. Talent can only take you so far. A basketball player may have the natural ability to jump higher, but it’s the athlete who has dedication to train, day in and day out, who really makes it to the big leagues.
Strengths, like stamina, courage, and commitment, will see you through the long haul.
- Aspects of yourself that you can grow and improve through practice
- Something you do well, and enjoy doing
- Something you repeatedly excel at
- Any activity that makes you feel energized and empowered
- A skill that frequently evokes praise or notice from others
- An interest that makes you “lose track of time” when doing it
When you identify your strengths, and build upon them, you will feel more confident and competent. You will attract more opportunities suited to your abilities, where you can shine.
Step 3: Connect the dots
As you take inventory of your values and strengths during the first two steps, you will likely gain some idea of what you like, or don’t like, about your current career path and where you’d like to head next.
You may discover some obvious callings. For example, if you value health and have a strength for listening to others, you may consider shifting a career into public health, medicine, nursing, or therapy. Alternatively, if wealth matters to you a good deal, and you have a knack for detail, a career in accounting or finance may suit you.
Draw a venn diagram and identify at least three to five career options in the middle section of the venn. Try and connect the dots between your values and strengths. This will give you some ideas of your next direction.
Perhaps you don’t discover your dream job right away, but you may have a better idea of your next career move.
Step 4: Assess the marketplace
To answer, “What should I do for a living?” you also need to consider some of the practical matters: who’s hiring, salary expectations, job requirements, and so forth.
A little research can help you take calculated risks, rather than jump in blindly. Some aspects of the industries and positions you research may intersect (or conflict) with your values — like where you want to live, earning potential, or room for growth. You may also discover positions or opportunities you didn’t even know existed.
Before you make your next career move, research the marketplace to understand potential opportunities out there and your current situation. Consider some of the following:
- Pay attention (and possibly avoid) to saturated markets with more competition.
- Who’s hiring? Consider industry shortages as possible career paths. For example, many places lack trained OBGYNs, according to studies. Google “talent shortage” or “job positions with shortages” for some ideas.
- What kind of education/background would you need to qualify for a particular position? Consider the time, money, and effort you need to commit to get there, and if you want to make that investment.
- Do you know anyone currently working in the field? Reach out and ask them questions to learn more about what that kind of work involves before taking the plunge.
- What’s the payoff? Consider the costs of training and education and the average income for someone in that field.
- How much risk would a big change involve? Do you have a safety net, or someone in your family, such as a parent or spouse, who can support you as you shift careers?
- Could you find a way to fulfill your passion as a hobby on the side, rather than a full blown career change?
Step 5: Experiment
Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work.Chris Guillebeau, The $100 Startup
At this point, you have ideas of the direction you want to take in career reinvention. But thinking your way into a job has about a one in a million shot at landing you in a satisfying and rewarding position.
Now it’s time to take action.
Take a leap! Try a side job. Test a new hobby. Apply for a position outside of your industry. You can even take a bridge job, something that simply pays the bills as you explore your options.
You don’t need to find a dream job right away. Be willing to experiment and play. New experiences and experiments will teach you more about yourself, what you like, and what you don’t like.
Don’t fall into the sunk cost fallacy way of thinking. You may find out you don’t like a new job, even after investing time and money into getting there. It’s okay to walk away. After all, life is a learning experience.
8 tips for answering the question, “What should I do for a living”?
As you take the steps toward career reinvention, keep in mind these helpful tips along the way.
1. Connect with a career specialist
You can easily find apt and ready career specialists who excel at helping you find your next job. They know the ins and outs of what it takes to land that dream job, start a business, or get that big promotion.
Plus, pursuing a dream job requires a lot of courage and confidence. Having someone on the sidelines to give you a “pep talk” before a big interview or meeting can empower you to perform at your best.
For example, Amy Adler is one of our go-to’s. She specializes in upgrading your LinkedIn profile, redoing a resume, and helping you search for job openings.
Again, you’ll need to know the direction you’d like to go first. Once you take personal inventory, a consultant like Amy will help you take the next steps. During a meeting, she may ask you to send 3 to 5 job listings which you feel inclined to explore. Then Amy excels at helping you go in one or more of those directions.
2. Consider the anatomy of a job
Every job is different. Work hours, company culture, job requirements—all of these “traits” come together to comprise the anatomy of a job. Even the same job title can look very different between two companies. For example, working as a project manager for Google may look very different than the same role at a university.
When you pursue a new career opportunity, consider some of the following “traits” to guide you. The first traits (knowledge, traits, and skills) represent what you bring to the table and what the job requires of the person in that role. The last four (geography, people, salary/level, and working conditions) describe the position itself and what the company has to offer.
- Knowledge: Your work experience and education background
- Traits: Strengths and personality characteristics that make you stand out from the competition
- Skills: Specific skills you have developed relevant to the position
- Geography: Location of the job, commute time, or flexibility to work remotely
- People: Who will you work with, departments (such as HR), and size of the company
- Salary/Level: Salary, benefits, and responsibility level
- Working conditions: Hours, amenities, physical demands, health and safety standards, workplace rules, and employment contract
3. Re-think your opportunities
“To change ourselves effectively, we first had to change our perceptions.”
― Stephen R. Covey
We often hold tight to our career as identities. But who we are evolves over time. After all, your values and strengths in your 20’s can certainly change by age 45.
I can personally relate to this. After spending years of my life working in education, I decided to make a big career change. Teaching just didn’t feel like my calling anymore. I had checked out emotionally, and I knew it was time to listen to that feeling in my heart and re-think what I should do for a living.
You can start a new career after 40 — I’ve helped many clients do this, and I’ve done it myself. It’s never too late, or too early. In fact, research shows that middle aged startup founders are the most successful.
When you identify too strongly with a job, it can feel devastating when you change your mind or things don’t work out. Anyone who has dealt with a sudden lay off can surely relate to just how difficult dealing with unexpected change can be. It’s a scary experience, but it’s not the end of the world and can lead to a new beginning.
Even if you spent time and money to pursue a career path, you may still change your mind at some point. Consider the possibilities of exploring new opportunities when one has ended.
4. Read, learn, and get inspired
Learning has the power to change our way of thinking and open our minds to new perspectives and ideas. Audiobooks, e-books, podcasts, TedTalks—we’ve got so many great resources available to provide helpful strategies to successfully navigate a career change.
Joey Reiman’s book Thinking for a Living really shifted my paradigms around finding a new career. The message in this book leapt off the page and into my heart. I had given 15 years of my life to my job at that time. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed a change. I knew my current position wouldn’t fulfill my future vision and fully leverage my strengths and interests.
For inspiring ideas on what to do for a living, I also recommended The $100 Dollar Start-up by Chris Guillebeau. The pages of this book are littered with example after example of how people reinvented, how they make a living, and how they often got there by accident.
Keep an open mind. See potential possibilities. You never know, with the right mindset, you might just stumble into the opportunity of a lifetime. It happens more than you think!
Other career development books to consider:
- What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There by Marshall Goldsmith
- Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One by Jenny Blake
5. Try out a side gig
If you want to find that career path that really makes you feel full of purpose and passion, you’ll need to take some risks.
You don’t have to overwhelm yourself with a big leap, like quitting your job outright. You can always experiment with part time jobs or side hustles to experience new avenues for earning a living that you love.
You can also seek out unpaid opportunities that allow you to gain experience in return. For example, if you want to become a writer, you can seek out contests to get your work published. Join a creative writing workshop to practice your skills and connect with likeminded people.
Besides being great courage exercises, these activities may inspire you to discover your next steps or connect you with people who can help.
6. Find joy outside of work
Your life’s passion doesn’t have to be the thing that keeps a roof over your head. You can compartmentalize work into a box of activity that brings home the bacon. Then find ways for personal fulfillment outside of earning a living.
You may discover, along your path of experimentation, that it suits you just fine to find fulfillment outside of the office. Maybe you find your true calling volunteering for your community or supporting a social cause with your time and talents.
Perhaps you find enough satisfaction devoting your free time to your favorite hobby, like yoga, painting, or playing guitar. Maybe you just need more work life balance, to spend more time with family and friends.
The passion and the freedom found in one’s personal life can override the need to get freedom and passion from a job. Some folks find a way to earn a living, and then live their lives with gusto, maximizing their time off and taking periodic retreats.
Get creative and think of scenarios that could include your passions and still pay the bills. If you live for travel, perhaps you could establish an agreement with your employer to take off a one month period every year. During this time, you get to unplug from the office and spend your days exploring new places.
I work with a client who works entirely remotely from her home office. She doesn’t love her job, she doesn’t hate it, but she completes her work by 1 PM each day. At 1:05 PM, the day belongs to her, and not her employer.
She sets aside time to do whatever brings her joy in the afternoons, to devote herself fully to her core values. She found a way to pay the bills while still nurturing her passions and creating the life she wants.
7. Regroup. Recalibrate. Reevaluate your priorities.
Studies show that strategic breaks have the power to refresh your brain and help you stay motivated when taking on difficult tasks. Sometimes when you find yourself trying to make a tough decision, you just need to take a step back and rest.
Take a step back. Reflect on where you can improve and come up with new strategies that work. You can always get back into the ring, this time with a clear head.
8. Meet with a coach
Your road to career reinvention can take you through all kinds of twists, turns, and deadends. You may shift gears along the way and head in entirely unexpected directions. It’s an ever-evolving process of experimentation and discovery.
Staying focused and motivated can get tough. So it helps to have someone in your life who can support you along the way. A career coach can provide that motivation you need, help you manage your time more effectively, and support you in daily planning to succeed.
Keep in mind that even though your loved ones may have their best intentions at heart, they may insert their own bias when giving career advice. For example, a spouse may try to sway you to stay in your current job for practical reasons, even when your heart is telling you otherwise.
A coach can also give you an outside, neutral perspective. Then when you make decisions, you’ll have all your cards on the table, with the supportive, caring people by your side.
Ready to start building a fulfilling career?
Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.Rumi
When your heart strings pull you in a new direction, but you can’t quite navigate the next step, consider working with someone to guide you.
Our online Reinvention RX program gives you six months of step-by-step guidance designed to support you to remove doubt, make sense, and put you in charge of configuring a better future.
We’ve been in the reinvention business for over 20 years and can guide you on your path to discovering what to do for a living. We’re here for you, and we’d be honored to help.