“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
You’ve probably been asked that questions hundreds of times in your life – parents, friends, teachers, yourself, movies. It’s a common theme.
For most of us, the decision gets made sometime in our late teens or during college: doctor, mom, lawyer, electrician, plumber, teacher, policeman, musician, actor, soldier, nurse, preacher, engineer, contractor, etc.
But I’d venture to guess that *most* people don’t truly know what they want to do until they’ve been doing something else for a while: I still don’t entirely know what I want to do for a career for the long term – if you’d asked me 5 years ago (as I was in interviews at the end of 2007 – beginning of 2008), I would have said that I wanted to be running a support organization, working towards a professional services operations role. 3 years prior to that, I would have said platform/application architect for flexible large systems. My best guess for what I want to be doing in 2 years now is being an IT/Enterprise data, virtualization, and automation architect for large environments (which happens to line-out with my current title and ‘career path’ with my current employer) – or a US Representative / Senator for my Congressional District / State.
However, the most successful and fulfilled people I’ve met (not necessarily by total ‘wealth’ or accumulated money) have all followed a Blue Ocean Strategy - they’ve invented their own job, or even their own business. That business might not be unique (eg MMM‘s contracting work), but it’s something they’ve decided to do for themselves.
Expand your horizons – browse a good bookstore’s magazine racks, and buy one or two per month that are on topics you know nothing about, don’t like, don’t think you’re interested in, etc.
Visit your local library or bookstore and grab the first book in the history section that starts with an “A” in the title – then go for “B”, “C”, etc. Then do it from some other section of the shelves – maybe relationships, scifi, teen, romance, home improvement, etc, etc.
I am convinced college is not the best path for everyone: there are trade schools, military training, family businesses, farming, etc. I am convinced that going to college straight out of highschool is almost always a Bad Idea™ – at the very least, get a summer job: maybe get a “real” job for a couple years while you figure out what even interests you. Take the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery). Take the ACT (it’s a better predictor of collegiate and work success than the SAT in my opinion). If you’re in college, take the GRE either just after your freshman year, or just before your junior year – the content will be most fresh then (if you’re taking enough general education classes and are not over-focused on your major).
As you start to find out what you’re good at, and what you enjoy to do, do everything you can to improve your communication skills. If you do nothing else at a college, take writing classes – take every class you can that will make you write. Communication is the single most important skill you can have: someone who can write and speak well will go far further than one who can’t. Take public speaking classes. Take classes you need to make presentations for, and follow the 10-20-30 rule. Brevity is highly key, and concision will get you much further than verbosity.
Blog. Blog about what you’re doing, what you’re interested in, what you’d like to do, where you’ve been, etc etc. The more you write, especially if you intend for what you write to be read, the better you will get at it. Aim to write frequently if you’re going to write at all – maybe it’s every first of the month, maybe it’s every Monday, maybe it’s every day, or maybe it’s every 4th of July: but give yourself a schedule and stick to it. Write for personal reasons, write for fun, and write for work.
Teach. When you learn something new, teach it to someone else. Whether you teach by writing, speaking, or showing – teach what you have learned. After communication, the ability to teach someone else to do what you are doing the most important thing you can learn how to do. You never want to become irreplaceable. To be irreplaceable is to be unpromotable. Teach at least one person how to do one aspect of your job as often as possible – spread your responsible skills across your team, and two things happen: first, you can take a vacation; second, you can move up (or out) more easily. The more you teach, like intentionally writing, you better you should get at it – especially if you intend for those you have taught to be able to teach others.
Learn. Strive to learn something new frequently. If you can do it every day, that’s awesome – but just once a month will help keep your mind sharp, and help you become even more valuable to wherever you choose to work (whether it is for someone else, or on your own). Any time your employer wants to pay for training for you, take it – you never know when it may come in handy. I am a proponent of the “Lifelong Learner” – and work to make sure I am learning something new all the time.
Review. Don’t ‘merely’ learn – review what you have learned before. You can do this via blogging and teaching, but take time to reread texts and materials you’re intimately familiar with: this is what David was doing when he wrote, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, And in His law he meditates day and night.”
No one can ever tell you what your niche is – not really. Maybe you want to be a lawyer – or not. Spend some time to figure out what you’re good at, and what you’d really like to do: shadow people in various careers; interview friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc.
Life is too short to not try to spend it doing what you want.