When we see people who are successful in their careers, it's natural to assume they always knew that what they're doing was the "right" path for them, and that they're thrilled to be doing it. That isn't necessarily the case, though. When surveyed, about 70% of people at any given moment are actively looking to change careers, and only 14% are fully content in their jobs without any changes desired.
The typical career path of going to college or trade school, choosing a vocation, and entering that field for life once you graduate has gone by the wayside. It used to be the norm, but that's no longer the case.
Nowadays, close to half the American population changes careers when they're just shy of 40 years old! Additionally, the average person experiences nearly half of the total jobs they'll ever have by the time they're 24.
Are you unsure about what to do your life? You're far from alone, and most people have felt that at one time or another. Below, find the steps to take to help you figure out what to do with your life.
Examine Where You're At
Before you can know where you should go, you need to have a clear view of where you are. Most importantly, you need to understand what you do and don't like about your life right now, because that can help you determine what direction to take in a potential career.
If you spend a lot of time around people, are you happy and fulfilled by that? Or does it leave you feeling overwhelmed and suffocated, and you wish you could spend the bulk of your time alone? On the other hand, if you spend most of your time alone, does that make you content and at peace, or do you long for more consistent social interaction?
Look closely at how you spend your days, and at what activities in them bring you joy. Equally important is to examine what elements of your life you just don't care for. You'll also want to think about what motivates you: Do you want to have a positive impact on society, or is that not vital for your happiness? Do you want to earn high wages, or does that feel unimportant? Take time to sit with these questions, and consider journaling to help you work through your thoughts and feelings.
List Your Talents
What we do for work is more likely to come naturally to us, and to feel smooth and easy, if we're capitalizing on our innate talents and strengths. To go the opposite route, such as becoming an accountant when you're bad at math or a salesperson when you don't like chit chat, could lead to misery.
Everyone has talents, but we don't always recognize them. For example, if you have an easy time talking to strangers, you might assume that everyone does—but that's very much not the case. Some people have social anxiety and may find talking to those they don't know well to be anxiety-inducing. Chances are, much of your personality is actually comprised of your individual talents as a person.
If you're having trouble deciding what your own talents are, ask your friends and loved ones. You might think you just like doodling, but a close friend might consider you a gifted artist. Utilize your community to help you understand what you do well naturally, and do your best to believe what you hear even if you've never thought of the things you do as strengths or talents.
Discern How You Work Best
Jobs vary immensely in terms of process. Some are client-facing, having you interact in person with other people all day; other jobs are remote, with few or no virtual meetings ever. Some jobs are full time, morning to evening, Monday to Friday; others involve nights and/or weekends, or condense work schedules into shorter durations. Jobs can be project-oriented, such as the film industry, or long term stable with a large company.
Think about what excites you when you consider all the various workplaces, times, and methods out there. Picture your body, and what you like to do—if you enjoy using your hands all day, or if you like using only your brain, for example. Understanding how you would fit into a workplace's culture is key to understanding whether it would make you a happy worker. Journaling can also help in this phase, and give you better clarity on your feelings.
Talk to People Who Enjoy Their Fields
Reach out to anyone you know with a career they enjoy, and ask if you can use them as a resource. If they agree, ask them questions about their job. How did they find this field? What made them know it was right for them? What about their job makes them feel fulfilled? How important is their job to their overall happiness in life?
When you receive answers, check in with how they make you feel. If you're excited to hear someone talk about something, that's meaningful, as is a gut response of "Wow, I don't know how anyone could enjoy doing that!"
How to Find Happiness in Your Life
Research Training and Education
Once you have gained an understanding of your talents, how you work best, and how others got into their fields, do some research to find out what potential career paths for you would entail.
Your personal financial resources might feel paramount here, and you might think you have no options except very inexpensive ones. Fortunately, that isn't always the case. There are many types of help available (that aren't student loans). These range from federal grants to financial aid, and there may be specific help available for your career choice or people in your demographic.
Also consider the amount of time involved, and be realistic about how much time you're gladly willing to take to learn everything needed to enter a new career field. Your gut instinct is helpful here, too. If thinking of going to school for several years for a particular skill sounds exciting, that's a much better sign than if it sounds boring and exhausting.
Try New Things
This is the perfect phase of life to give new things a try. Any career you might be interested in will probably have a small scale version available for you talk to someone at, witness for a day, or spend a few hours at the place of business.
Local colleges and trade schools are a great resource here, as they can discuss your options with you and potentially connect you to the businesses you might be interested in. By having the opportunity to spend a few hours or a day somewhere, you'll gain a deeper understanding of what that field would be like to be a part of.
If you're confused or unsure where to begin, or you just want the help of a professional, a career counselor might be the answer for you. Their whole job is helping you figure out the right one for you, and they'll be well-versed in the needed steps to take to get started in any field. You can find career counselors at your local high school, college, or vocational school.
A Word From Verywell
Not knowing what to do with your life can feel incredibly stressful. Know that this is a common feeling most people have experienced at one time or another, and you have countless options. If you're feeling anxiety around this subject, seeking out online therapy for anxiety can help you feel more settled and able to move forward on your path.