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by Taylor Tobin via Fairygodboss | July 08, 2019


guy thinking with trees

If you’re a millennial or a Gen Z'er, you’ve probably been taught that the key element to choosing a career involves “discovering your passions.” Perhaps a counselor, teacher, or parent has even told you that “if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life!” It’s a goal constantly pushed on us (and, honestly, a pretty novel and exciting concept to Gen X-ers and baby boomers predominantly raised on a different set of priorities). 

However, “find your passion” is also a pretty vague standard around which to build a career. After all, just because you enjoy a particular activity or course of study doesn’t necessarily translate it into a successful work situation. Therefore, it helps to focus on more specific questions when trying to determine the shape of your career, like these examples:

1. How can I use my skills and interests to help others?

According to The Muse, “There are probably a million things that you want to do, but likely fewer that you can do, and even fewer that you can do for the greater good.” Focusing your attention on your own abilities and experience and how you can utilize those traits to help others can help you sift through potential career options and identify a path that suits you in terms of your strengths, your interests, and your desire to pursue a goal larger than yourself.

2. What do I want my ideal work day to look like?

Some workers thrive on a typical nine-to-five schedule with a one-hour lunch break, while others do better with a more freeform work day. Thinking about your own work habits and determining what type of daily structure fits you best can be a crucial element of discovering your ideal career path. The Muse encourages you to consider these questions: “What would the perfect (work) day look like to you? Do you get to have tea on your porch in the morning? Walk to the office? Have flexible hours? Physically meet with people on your team? Go to the gym in between meetings? Have dinner with your family? Whatever it looks like, this is your new professional goal.” 

3. What kind of work environment is the best fit for me right now?

Like the matter of scheduling, finding an office atmosphere that inspires you to work to your true potential puts you in an auspicious position for snagging your “dream job." Do you thrive in a close-knit workplace with shared spaces? Or are you more likely to succeed with the flexibility to work from home? Figuring out your dream work environment may enable you to narrow down career possibilities.

4. What are my workplace deal-breakers?

The Muse states that “knowing what you don’t want can almost be as helpful as knowing what you want.” Therefore, if you know that a job that requires frequent social interactions with coworkers and clients isn’t a good fit for you, that information can prevent you from applying for roles that won’t bring you satisfaction. “Focus on what your values are and what they are not. Certain positions will align more with your values, plus you’ll be able to use this information to craft your perfect day,” The Muse advises.

5. Which of my own abilities make me feel most confident?

It’s likely that you have plenty of strengths to offer in a work context, but honing in on the ones that make you feel most confident and effective will ultimately result in a professional life that brings you personal pride. 

6. What are my biggest non-career-related goals for the next year/five years/ten years?

Devising a fool-proof “plan” for your future rarely works out in the end. However, it can be helpful to consider your long-term life goals when selecting a career path. For instance, if you know that you hope to start a family within the next year, accepting a job offer that requires very long hours and regular travel could impede that aspiration.

7. What new skills do I want to learn on the job?

Learning on the job is an excellent way to increase your knowledge base and to gather new skills and experiences. A career that teaches you valuable abilities can improve your life in countless ways, so it’s smart to seek out a work environment that encourages your growth.

A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.