How to Determine and Design Your Dream Career

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What do you want to be when you grow up? We’re often asked this question from a very young age and throughout adolescence. Unfortunately, with as many as 70% of people admitting to being dissatisfied in their career (Gallup 2013) many adults are still asking themselves this question. A majority of college students determine a major and spend the next four or more years dedicating their lives to it before actually having an understanding of what their true career calling is.

Other college graduates are confident with their decision in a field until entering the workforce and realizing that the day-to-day reality of what was once their dream career is actually not a fit for them at all - a harrowing realization after devoting so much time, money, and energy into one particular niche.

So what can career-minded students and graduates do to prepare themselves and ensure they’re making a decision that will actually put them on the path to long-term fulfillment? When considering a major life decision like where you will ultimately be spending 40 (or more) hours per week, a combination of honest self-reflection and exploration is critical in discovering the best next steps to take, wherever you are in your journey. Here are steps to reflect on and find answers to this difficult question.

1. Stay Open-Minded

While focusing on one career path and niche internship opportunities in school does provide experience and expertise in one field, it can also give a limited view of the vast opportunities that are available. With as little as 27% of college graduates actually working in the field they majored in (Washington Post, 2013) it’s important to keep in mind that entering the workforce, networking, and gaining real world experience is going to offer insight that wasn’t available with a narrow school curriculum. Staying open-minded to different opportunities, especially where you have transferable skills, will broaden the job search and potentially allow you to realize a passion for a career you may have never originally considered.

2. Consider What You Do in Your Spare Time

Are you known for your eye for design? Coach your friends in their health goals? Enjoy reading about finance? In our digital age, it’s easier than ever to turn hobbies into lucrative and career building opportunities. Finding ways to incorporate what you do for leisure into your work will open new, more fulfilling doors.

3. Be Willing to Work to Learn

If there’s something of interest outside of your chosen field, be willing to intern in your spare time, start freelancing when possible, or offer to volunteer with an expert in the industry you’re curious about. The worst case scenario is growing your network and expanding your skill set; at best, you will build career changing connections and a portfolio of work that can lead you to your ultimate calling. While it may take some trial and error, the learning process is never a waste of time.

4. Determine Your Ideal Workday and Work Environment

Visualize your happiest, most authentic self in the workplace. Are you more introverted or extroverted? Do you prefer an open office and highly team-centric culture, or do you work better individually? Are you happiest when you’re engaging your creativity or your analytical abilities? Take the time to self-reflect and be honest with yourself about what your strengths and genuine ideal workday looks like, then put the effort into basing your job search on whatever that means for you. When the job is an authentic fit, everything will come naturally and prevent changing jobs too frequently, which can be detrimental to your resume.

5. Still feel stuck?  

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