From (way too) early in our lives, we’re followed by the question “what do you want to be when you grow up?”
It seems harmless, but it sets us up with one giant false belief: that there’s a finish line.
We think that someday, we’ll wake up and have arrived at adulthood, with a career, a home, and maybe a family. No one tells you is that adulthood is not a destination – you’ll never know if you’re “doing it right.”
This is especially true in our careers. Back to that question:
What do you want to be when you grow up?
I don’t even recall the first time I was asked this, but I do remember coloring activities that evolved into weird career matching software by the time we hit high school. When you’re applying for college, it’s expected of you to select a major. “Undeclared” is still frowned upon, but when we’re there, no one is around to say:
- You can major in one thing and work in a completely different field.
- It’s okay to change your mind halfway through college.
- You can choose to hold off* on college to travel and experience different professions.
(Side note: I won’t say that you can cut out college completely, because regardless of the education options out there, a degree in anything can still provide a helpful platform on the job hunt.)
What I’m saying is, there is no straight path, there is only your path(s). This may sound strange coming from someone who graduated from a specialized major, but before I went into architecture, everyone thought I was headed for IT or computer engineering.
I would often take apart my home desktop & eventual laptop just to see how things connected. At some point, I became the de facto tech support for my whole family. Before that, (and still intact) came my lifelong love of reading & writing. It started with my father’s encouragement, and I am still an avid reader. My blog & newsletter to give me the creative space to write, so my first love is still a huge part of my life.
Is it possible to balance so many things?
Yes and no.
The hard part is choosing which of those things matter the most, at your current stage in life. I’m not suggesting that we disregard the future, but embrace its abstract nature – for now, what we are currently doing is most likely what we will be doing tomorrow. Unless we decide it’s time for a change. Yes, it’s that easy, and no, I’m not oversimplifying. When you truly decide it’s time for a change, that becomes your passion project. When you feel the urge so deeply that it disrupts your daily patterns, you’re ready to begin taking steps towards that change.
The easiest way to explore your commitment to a change is to treat it like a second job.
Explore it in your spare time.
Schedule some time in your week dedicated to your next move. For example, set aside an hour or two on the weekends to read relevant news, books, or pick up a documentary if it exists.
Envision what it would be like as a full-time gig.
Before this gets too “woo-woo,” I’ll let someone else explain the value of visualization. Seeing yourself do it can be a powerful driver when you actually attempt it. If you have a hard time visualizing, get literal. Sit down with a notebook and write out what you think a typical day would be like. Ask yourself some questions like: Would you work in an office, from home, or somewhere else? Would you start early or work late into the evenings (or both)? Do you report to anyone, or are you managing a team? Thinking through the day-to-day activities can help you dig into what the reality could be like.
Join a relevant industry interest group.
There’s no better place to learn from than the people already doing what you’d like to do. If you’re interested in photography, there are a ton of groups on meetup, or if you’re looking to learn how to build apps, you may want to look up an ecourse (many will have a group-based setup so you’ll have classmates or join a General Assembly class. Even though some options aren’t free, the network of like-minded individuals makes it worth it.
Connect with a professional in that field.
Whether you find a local group or not, do some digging in your LinkedIn connections. Chances are that someone you know is either doing the job you want or knows someone who is. Try to arrange a meeting through a friend, but don’t be afraid to put yourself out there – more people are willing to talk about their careers than you’d expect. Sending a message asking if they’d be willing to answer some questions or meet for coffee can’t “go wrong” – the worst that can happen is that they don’t respond..
“Apply” for a job / actually apply for a job.
While I’m happy with my career and want to continue to grow within my industry, I’ve applied to jobs outside of architecture throughout the years. Even the process of searching for jobs in a different industry can grant some insight. Go through the motions of searching for open positions and tailoring your resume to them. Write a fake cover letter, craft a portfolio, and if you’re feeling brave, send it in. At best, you’ll get an interview, and at worst you won’t get a response.
Don’t limit yourself.
When you’re chasing a dream, there’s no room for fear. Or rather, there’s no room for inactivity because of fear. Being afraid of trying something new is normal and healthy, but don’t let it stop you from taking steps towards your happiness. If you feel lost in your career wanderings, surround yourself with the other dreamers in your life and keep each other motivated. It is always worth it to explore, and even more so when you have friends along for the ride.
Now it’s your turn!
- What are you passionate/curious about?
- Do you have a side grind / are you pursuing it in your spare time?
- How will you start pursuing it if you haven’t already?
Can’t wait to read your responses!