Don’t Know What You Want to Be When You Grow Up? You’re Already Something

Julie Bauke

28 June 2015

I must admit that when I hear this from someone who is indeed grown up (over the age of 21, let’s say), it’s all I can do not to roll my eyes. Clearly, the person who says it knows he or she is grown up, so I guess it is meant to be cute. It’s not.

What’s that? You don’t know what you want to be? You are already something, so I guess what you’re really saying is that you are not happy with where you find yourself. That’s a very different statement. The problem is, many people make no effort to move beyond that statement. Are you hoping for a visit from the career fairy? Good luck with that!

The bad news is: it’s all you. The good news is: it’s all you! We live in remarkable times. Opportunity has never been more plentiful, and technology has virtually changed how we can work. We don’t have to work for “the man”—we can be “the man!” Depending on how old you are, that thought is scary or exhilarating, or some of both. I vote for exhilarating.

When Boomers graduated from college, they only knew the option of taking a job within some sort of traditional corporate structure and hoping for the best. We were promoted when we had “paid our dues.” We moved throughout the organization, often being pulled by someone else’s string. And there were very few conversations where we were actually encouraged to express our career preferences. Part of paying your dues meant doing jobs that you were told to do. No wonder so many of us ended up in career misery.

As a career coach, I speak to people from all generations; one thing that we all have in common is that no one ever taught us how to manage our career, or that our careers were even manageable! But here we are, in an era when many organizations make it clear that your career is yours to manage, and yet, in too many cases, those same organizations are still treating you like you are property.

Make no mistake—your organization’s leaders wants you to stay until the day they don’t. And how do (too) many of us respond? By staying loyal. The question is: loyal to what? To whom? What if you were loyal first to yourself? What if your career mantra was that you are going to stay where you are until it is no longer in your best interest to do so? Hmmmm.

I hope we can agree that (if you are over 21) you are grown-up, and your first responsibility, career-wise, is to yourself. Therefore, if you don’t know what you want in your career, you need to get your giddy-up on and figure it out!

Here are some simple, doable steps to help you get moving:

 Clearly identify what you have enjoyed and been good at in every job, project, community activity, etc. that you have ever taken on. Write it all down, even if it seems trivial. Believe me, all self-knowledge is helpful!

 Share your findings with those with whom you have worked closely to get their input regarding what they think are your best skills and behaviors. Others’ input can be valuable in confirming what you already believe as well as getting new insights into how the world views you. If you think that you are going to be the next Taylor Swift, but all humans and animals within earshot run away whenever you exercise those pipes, maybe not.

 Take a good look at your life outside of work. What does it require of you? What are your values, priorities and interests? How will, or how can, those align with your career?

 Put your detective hat on. Talk to people who work in jobs that intrigue you, or for organizations that you admire. Ask them how or where you might fit. Connect with friends, past colleagues, people in professional associations. Use LinkedIn to learn about jobs, roles and companies.

 Consider how you might work for yourself or at least how you might start moving in that direction. (Wouldn’t it be great to actually reap more of the rewards for all of your hard work?) Maybe the time is not now, but if self-employment interests you, why not power up your thinking and dreaming now?

 Connect, connect, connect! You will be amazed by how helpful people are in your quest if you are genuine, professional and curious. Sharing your goals will ignite your vision. But you have to connect.


 And finally, you must believe that you deserve to be Career Happy, and that the world needs more of what you have to offer. I get that this can be difficult, but so is living someone else’s career. It’s your choice, you big ol’ grown-up, you!

Now it’s your turn:

What are the values, interests and priorities that drive you? How can you use them to go after your passion?

Did you enjoy this post? Here are some ready-made tweets to share:

Click To Tweet: Don’t Know What You Want to Be When You Grow Up? You’re Already Something #Leadercast

Click To Tweet: . @JulieBauke wants you to know that you are a grown-up in charge of your own Career Happiness #Leadercast

Click To Tweet: Feeling stalled in your career. Discover how to take charge of your career happiness. #Leadercast

Julie Bauke

Subscribe to our newsletter