Getting Past “I Don’t Know What I Want to Do” in Your Career

A common theme emerges among job seekers who aren’t 100 percent certain about where they want to go next. The big question: “How do you find your career path?” There’s a lot of advice out there that says to follow your passion; however, award-winning author Elizabeth Gilbert has an interesting twist to add to this maxim.

“Follow your curiosity,” she says. It’s simpler and more realistic than following some loosely defined passion.

Why? Because we often don’t take the time to identify what our passions are. So, how do we go about finding things that feel unknowable to us: a job we will love; that city that feels just right; a life that feels like a perfect fit?

If you find yourself adrift in your career, you need to do some soul searching. It’s critical to get focused enough to set clear goals in your job search. Here are a few concrete ways you can hone in on your curiosity and find the job of your dreams.

Start a career curiosity journal

It’s easy to put your education behind you once you enter the professional world. But becoming curious means getting in touch with your inquisitive side. You might find yourself asking, “What is that all about?” or “Why isn’t this better? I want to know more about that!” Re-engage a sense of curiosity about the world around you.

On the flip side, are you passionate about running, but never go running? Do you claim to be passionate about cooking, but never cook? Stop fooling yourself. Whatever you actually spend your time doing is a clue to finding work you’ll enjoy. Keep a journal of all the things you begin to notice about yourself. You might be surprised by what you find!

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Set a goal for action

Now that you’ve made note of what you’re attracted to and where your aversions are, follow your inclinations. Take baby steps or giant leaps — whatever feels best to you! The important thing is that you set a concrete goal. For example, your goal might be to:

  • Set up one informational interview per month in an industry you’re curious about.
  • Attend two local networking events in industries you’re drawn to but don’t fully understand.

Volunteer to learn about yourself, and get work experience

Volunteer with organizations that reflect your curiosities and passions. Do you really care about the environment? One way to let it shine in your interview is to talk about volunteer experience with an environmental organization — it shows personality, enthusiasm, and commitment to a cause — all valuable traits in any employee. Volunteering is one of the best ways to find out what you want to do, and it also makes you more enticing to potential employers down the road.

Figure out your culture fit

In a world where employers hire for personality fit as much as for your skill set, job seekers today need to show they not only can get the work done, but also fit the culture of an organization.

What’s the best way to do this? Mark Zuckerberg may have the answer.

At a Portland luncheon sponsored by the Oregon chapter of the International Association of Business Communicators, Ekaterina Walter spoke about her new book, “Think Like Zuck: The Five Business Secrets of Facebook’s Improbably Brilliant CEO Mark Zuckerberg.”

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Walter said that Zuckerberg hires people who are passionate. He doesn’t care what their passion is as long as they are passionate about something. He believes he can channel that energy into a purpose that aligns with his vision.

That’s one reason it’s a good idea to show your passion in your cover letter, resume, and the job interview. Employers with an entrepreneurial spirit look for passionate people who will join them in their vision. Are you that person? Share your passions in a hobbies section on your resume or in your online portfolio.

Read for career inspiration

If you like the idea of finding inspiration in books like Walter’s, you’re not alone. Reading is hands-down one of the best ways to pique your curiosity and understand what you might be happiest with as a career. Here are a few more books you should check out to help you answer the “What if I don’t know what I want” question:

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Bonus: Molly Mahar, founder of Stratejoy is another great place to start! She has free resources to help you find your calling. Scott Barlow of Happen To Your Career is also a great resource for career advice and following your passion.

These are just a few titles and sites, and the multitude of career self-help books out there means there’s something for everyone. So, what’s stopping you from finding out what you DO want to do? There’s no time like the present to dust off your library card and put in the time to explore your career potential.