how do people find the career path that’s right for them?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have been in my professional career for just over 10 years, and I am still trying to figure out what to be when I grow up. I have never had a clear idea of the “right” career for me, and the standard advice of “follow your passion” has never worked — I am interested in almost everything, but don’t have a defining passion.

I fell into my first job when I was offered a full-time role after completing an internship. It was a good job and I worked with great people, but I never considered it my long-term career. I eventually switched focus areas for similar companies due to some family issues that required me to move back to my hometown. I have diverse skill sets that have helped me do well in these roles, but I never got into one specific area with a clear career path. There have been a lot of changes at my current company that have made me realize it’s time to move on, but I don’t know what to do next, or if I want to stay in my current industry.

I am limited to fully remote work (due to the area where I live, and moving isn’t an option) and am 100% sure I don’t want to manage people, but I don’t know where to begin beyond that. I have read many books and articles about finding the right career without success, and have researched career coaches, but am hesitant to invest in working with one due to a lack of industry standards or required qualifications. A lot of people recommend informational interviews, but I am very reluctant to ask someone for their time without having a specific purpose.

How do people choose a career that is right for them? It seems ineffective to just continue scrolling job boards and applying to things that may be okay for awhile, but it also seems wasteful to invest years in a career that I may not ultimately be interested in. I want to decide on a solid path and work on acquiring the skills I need to excel, but there are so many options that it’s hard to know where to begin. Having a good career is important to me, and I’m worried I will get to retirement age and feel like I wasted my professional life. Any advice?

Readers, what’s your advice?

{ 487 comments… read them below }

  1. Justin*

    I mean. It’s weird, but I have found (and as someone with ADHD, I can NOT be bored and do a good job) that it often starts with what you are confident you’re good at. That could be a task or an industry or a location (I know you can’t move but I’m just explaining).

    From there, it’s what am I good enough at to feel confident in, and then what among those things (you’re probably good at more than one thing) would I want to learn more about? And then, what sort of folks might I want to spend (virtual, presumably, though who knows if your colleagues might live near you and want to meet socially on occasion) time with?

    Within that, often there’s a path to explore.

    If you make a list I’d reach out to folks who do it to learn about their day to day and go from there.

    1. Eric*

      Yes. It’s not so much what you are passionate about, but what you are good at. “I am better than may coworkers at _____ part of my job”. Once you get a good answer to the blank, I think the rest of the pieces start falling into place.

      1. wordswords*

        Yes, agreed.

        And then from there, “what of these things would I be up for doing on an ongoing or long-term basis?”

        For example, I’m very good at breaking tasks down into manageable steps, and I’m a good communicator. I’ve been told that I would be a good project manager. The people who tell me that see that I have a lot of the skills that would be useful for it! What they don’t see is that I find it stressful to stay on top of a lot of moving parts, and I would burn out on it fast and start avoiding everything to do with the job, which is not in fact something that makes a good project manager. I can manage a project in short bursts, but I would be terrible at it as a career. Being a good communicator who can work methodically on a large project that somebody else is organizing, though, is useful in other ways. And so on and so forth.

        You don’t have to be passionate about your work, but it’s very helpful to be interested in at least some of it, feel like you’re good at major parts of it, and not hate the process of doing most of the job’s core aspects.

      2. OP*

        Thank you, Eric! That is a great way of identifying where I feel confident. I hadn’t considered this before, but I will definitely use it.

      3. AcademiaNut*

        I think of it as three parts.

        What are you good at? What do you enjoy doing? How can you combine those to earn a living?

        And it helps to think broadly about the what – Not just school subjects, but things like being patient with people, or meticulous about doing things accurately, or enjoying variety vs routine. I’m very good at math, but while I’m good at being a physical scientist/software developer, I’d be a terrible accountant. Also, you can be good at something and dislike it, and you can love something and not be good enough at it to do it professionally.

        The third part is the practicality. You might love music and be good at it, but making a living as a performer is very, very difficult. You might love cooking and have friends rave about your food, but running a restaurant is more about business than cooking, and those are very different skillsets.

      4. Jaydee*

        It’s the overlap point of a Venn diagram with three circles:
        – “things I am good at”
        – “things I enjoy well enough to do them for ~40 hours a week” and
        – “things someone will pay me to do.”

    2. W*

      Meh. I’m good at math but would hate an accounting job. What do you find interesting? What is important to you? I realized that 1: working with people is important to me, 2: continuous learning and new challenges are important 3: making a positive difference in people’s lives is important and 4: I love learning about biology and pathology. Became a nurse. Still love it.

      1. ecnaseener*

        I think math –> accounting is too simplified — “math” encompasses a huge range of things translating to wildly different types of work-related tasks, and most of those show up in jobs that are not accounting or otherwise super math-heavy.

        1. Justin*

          Yeah accounting has a whole bunch more confusing principles. Frankly the computers do all the math for you anyway.

          1. Ann Nonymous*

            I very much disliked math growing up, but because I was smart and studied, got good grades. Now, looking back, I think the way I was taught math was the actual problem. But my dislike for math carried over into disliking accounting. However, most of my jobs required me to do some accounting, and the better I got at it, the more I liked it. AND people want to pay me for it. Nineteen-year-old me would be flabbergasted that I am now a bookkeeper. LOL!

            1. Weaponized Pumpkin*

              I think this is true for most subjects — math, science, history, literature. We think a lot of things are boring but they aren’t, we just learned them in a way that flattened them out.

              1. Katie Impact*

                It works the other way around too: those of us who actually liked the “boring” rote-memorization and rule-following aspects of a subject often find ourselves feeling a bit lost when trying to study or apply them at a higher level. (Fortunately, it turns out this means I do well in compliance-based fields where my entire job is to make sure that a set of rules is being followed).

              2. Em*

                Yep. I loved algebra because it was a math that finally made sense. Because my algebra teacher was a brilliant TEACHER, not just some guy who was good at math. It was the first time I enjoyed math at school. I now work as an IT analyst and so much of my job is logic based. I never thought I’d end up in this kind of role until I did, but thinking back to my algebra classes it’s not surprising at all.

              3. Quill*

                Yeah. I’m a concepts person. This means that I absolutely did not GET math until it got contextualized in science class, because they tended to want us to memorize steps and not give us why things worked… so after algebra 1 it was a nightmare because I couldn’t make my own context anymore.

                When it comes to building a system mathematically I’m actually pretty good at things? But because higher math was taught with “memorize the names of a bunch of theorems, prove this thing you see is a triangle” I noped out of as much math as possible, which has not necessarily been good for a career in STEM.

            1. No Longer Looking*

              Welllll… Yes and no. Accounting is not usually numbers math, but a lot of it IS kind of like word problem math. “Here, pay this invoice” often becomes “OK, what is this particular purchase actually coded as in the budget? Is it all for this year or does some of it belong in next year? Is it really one discrete thing, or does it need to be split across more than one account?” Accounting is attention to detail, and it is understanding what assumptions you are making.

              1. anonymath*

                Which is why I became a mathematician, not an accountant :) “Let x be a positive integer” — no problem. Attention to that kind of detail?….. um, not me. Big picture all the way. Sure I can buckle down & check the details when needed (proof-writing!) but that is not what I love, nor is it my real skill.

                1. Jmyers*

                  My son is studying math in college (because he loves it and is good at it!) but I wonder what jobs will be available. Can I ask what you do?

                2. Quill*

                  Seconding Jmyers, because while I am not directly math related, I need to figure out how to get a big picture job.

          2. Reluctant Mezzo*

            But sorting all the M&Ms into their right categories? That’s something a computer can get right some of the time, but there’s always something in the accounting field. Besides, the behavior that causes the money to come and go is governed by what *people* do, and computers just cry about that part.

        2. lunalae*

          Yep! I’m technically not an accountant, but work with accounting as a financial analyst. My spouse likes to tease me because I can’t do mental math well at all and I’m like that’s what calculators and Excel are for!

          1. Analyst J*

            Exactly. I’m a literature major working in accounting. Most of my job is research – the math part is done by excel.

            1. Sydney Ellen Wade*

              May I ask how most of your job is research? Research is my favorite thing so I’d love to have that as a job!

      2. Jolie*

        You kind of have to do both.
        First question : what are you good at? Anse+wer: a whole bunch of things. List all of them-as many as you can think of.

        Second question: What is important to you?
        Let’s break this one down a bit’
        – A work culture that’s generally good and that you’re compatible with
        – Money
        – Career advancement
        – Making a positive difference in the world
        – Work that you find interesting /that tickles your curiosity
        -Work life balance, a job that’s easy to leave at the door when you check out for the day

        Which of these aspects does your job have to have? In which departments could you settle for “meh” if the aspects you prioritise are “Wow”? Are there any you’re just not too fussed about at all?

        Third question: Now cross-reference what you care about to what you’re good at, and you’ll have your answer nicely narrowed down and tailored to you.

        1. Anonymous Autie*

          Totally agree with this. I was also going to add from my experience, the second question is really useful for those informational interviews. I care a lot about the day-to-day of a job, and the balance of different types of tasks, which is hard to get to know from a generic career path / job title or from the outside. But if you have a contact who does a certain job, you can ask things like “I’m interested in your area of work and really enjoy doing X, what’s the balance of X to Y in your role, or is it something completely different?” And take the conversation from there.

        2. Duckles*

          I’ve tried this and don’t feel like it helps at all because in the majority of cases, it’s not apparent what job would match the criteria, and hard to know what a lot of careers are in practice. I wish there were career counselors who had this information. I’ve tried them and they also get you to this point and then you’re on your own.

          1. Properlike*

            Agreed. The fields I’ve worked in are very insular. I know I have a ton of transferable skills, but I don’t know what they add up to. The career counselors I’ve interviewed all want to be job coaches; I need a job namer. “You’d be great at x,y,z.”

            1. HelloFromLondon*

              Don’t know how feasible this is, but I recently got a group of friends together who were all thinking about changing jobs/applying for jobs, and it was soooo useful hearing from people from different sectors. We had a designer, an engineer, a cafe manager, a social media/Comms person, someone who works in tech, and an arts administrator. It was super insightful to hear from them what their real days were like and it totally opened my eyes to different options. It started as three of us meeting up, then we each brought 1-2 friends also looking for jobs, we just met at a pub for a few hours and each took it in turns to talk through what we’re thinking or worried about with jobs, and then the others gave thoughts.

              1. RowdyDow*

                This is a great concept!

                Wish they did this thing back in high school – it would have saved a LOT of us a LOT of angst. Personally, I think it’s silly to have fresh-faced teen-agers jump right into college to declare a major – when many have difficulty just learning to “adult”.

                1. Quill*

                  Also, when and where I went to middle and high school, you got your “career advice” from an elective course with a thirty plus year old textbook. Not that things wouldn’t have changed by the time I got out of college, but it would have been a step in the right direction if the textbook for “business” class hadn’t been an entire generation out of date.

            2. Wanderer*

              yes, this is what I was thinking. I can list what I am good at and I can list what I am interested in and have can see where those intersect, but translating that into a job or career is the hard part. a job named is exactly what I need! I have done all the career tests and they all say I should be a therapist or social worker because I like to help people. but I would burn out sooo fast from that kind of a job. also, I’m an empath so I would carry all of that around with me. I have some medical problems that don’t affect my job too much, but do mean I have to take sick time unexpectedly more than others so that affects the type of job I have and no test accounts for that type of stuff.
              I guess this is more of a rant than an answer but I feel your frustration. maybe this is where AI can come in.

      3. Dorothy Zpornak*

        Agreed. There are a lot of parts of my job that I am good at but hate doing. And while I enjoy doing well at things, if the thing itself isn’t enjoyable, then I end up stuck on extrinsic motivation (other people telling me I’m good or getting rewards for being good) instead of being motivated for the sake of the task itself. Which also means I get incredibly frustrated when I’m not getting enough recognition or external validation that it seems to balance out the inherent unpleasantness of the task.

        Besides, that doesn’t narrow it down to the point where you could choose job. Don’t most of us feel we’re good at most things? There’s only a small segment of jobs I feel I really wouldn’t be good at, but LOADS that I think I would hate doing.

    3. Peon*

      Yes! I’m “good at math” but that’s because I’m good at the logic and pattern recognition, and I’ve found a job doing QA testing/software development that uses both that I really enjoy.

    4. Kes*

      Yes, when I was considering what to do as a career (back in high school) I considered three aspects: what am I good at, what do I like to do, and what are the job market and working conditions like. This helped me narrow down to my current career which admittedly I was fortunate was an easy choice as it clearly fit all three aspects and led me to put aside other interests as things I would keep more as hobbies instead.
      If you’re already in a career, I would consider more specifically from the jobs you’ve been in what aspects of them you liked, did well at, didn’t like and didn’t do well at. This may help you pin down what types of work you like doing and from there look into what jobs do that kind of work (how much interaction do you want? desk job or more physically active? do you like analysis? are you a problem solver? are you good at communicating things? etc)

      1. Kes*

        I should also say I have used this through my career so far as well, in terms of taking note of what parts of my current job I’m most enjoying and using that as a factor to determine what kind of path I want to take, what future roles I’m most interested in and what areas I want to lean in on and be known for (while also keeping in mind what roles are available and the prospects of going down those paths).

        1. OP*

          Thank you, Kes – I think including market prospects is a wonderful point. I really appreciate the questions that you offered and will be taking some time to really answer them for myself.

      2. Michelle Smith*

        The job market is a really excellent point. You might be great at and passionate about X job, but if it doesn’t pay enough for you to live on or the market is so saturated with X workers that the competition is going to be extremely stiff, it’s definitely a good idea to consider other options.

      3. No Longer Looking*

        To be fair, those questions back in the early 90s dropped me into Data Entry. It was a solid step up from retail work, but it (obviously in retrospect) let to absolutely no advancement for 10+ years until I finally stumbled into a data entry job that grew into customer service, which grew into Membership Support, which merged with Accounts Receivable when our company was sold, and that finally dumped me into Accounting – which ironically I’d decided I didn’t want to do back in the early 90s but what I really didn’t like was Inventory Accounting and Taxes, so I’ve avoided that.

        1. OP*

          Thank you, No Longer Looking! The path you’ve outlined reminds me of my own career path so far – moving into different roles that fit well at the moment. I appreciate your insight that this can lead to a role that you’re satisfied in.

        2. Mallory Janis Ian*

          That’s kind of how I ended up in my current role in accounting / bookkeeping.

          I started in retail, and for a while each job I took was to get away from an aspect of my current situation that I didn’t like. My primary desire when searching for my first non-retail job was that I wanted to go the bathroom whenever I needed to without having to wait for someone to give me a break; I landed as a customer service rep taking phone orders in the office of a natural foods warehouse. That gave me the clerical experience I needed to bridge the gap between retail and office work.

          My next wish was to move further away from customer service, and I got an admin job in a university department supporting the department head and about forty faculty members. I handled all the travel, purchasing, scheduling the department head’s and associate dean’s time, compiling the annual reports, and organizing events. I learned a lot, but it was heavy and I was stretched thin. I wished that I could focus on one side or the other of the job (either the fiscal responsibilities or the people-support ones, but not everything all at once).

          I moved to an admin supervisor role in a larger department, where we had enough staff to split the work among three people. My role was supporting the department head, annual reporting, and supervising the person who supported the faculty. Another person handled all the fiscal responsibilities and had little to do with direct people support.

          By the time she retired, I was fairly burned out on people-facing roles, so I proposed to the department head that I could take the fiscal role and hire someone to replace me. From there, I applied to my current role on my college’s accounting team, and moved even another step further away from people. I’m still a people-person socially (and am thought of as one of the ‘social ones’ on my accounting team), but each step away from directly serving people and toward working on my own tasks has been a huge improvement in my job satisfaction.

    5. ecnaseener*

      I would also specifically consider the things you’re good at and enjoy that other people don’t like. If you’ve been that weirdo who actually likes [paperwork / proofreading / bureaucracy / presenting / data entry / etc] when no one else does, follow that.

      1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

        Absolutely worked for me. I basically made a career out of an area that most people weren’t interested in, which also led me to other opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

      2. OP*

        Thank you, ecnaseener! That is an excellent point. There is a lot I enjoy that my co-workers hate (I am the weirdo who loves making Visio diagrams) so I really appreciate this insight!

    6. ferrina*

      Something you’re good at + something people will pay for = a career.

      I started in Career 1, which had a very clear career path. That got derailed during the Great Recession.
      I temped for a bit, and a random temp job turned into Career 2. I wasn’t super passionate about Career 2, but it was fun enough and I was really good at it. It also had a clear career path.

      I happen to be terrible at following clear paths. I grew well enough in Career 2, partially through the career path, but partially through having unusual technical capabilities and really strong soft skills. My skills from Career 1 ended up being a rare asset in Career 2. I got pulled into unusual projects in unusual roles.

      Finally my company created a role just for my skills. My job does not exist anywhere else; it is custom designed based on what my company needed and what they wanted me to spend my time doing. I had a really unique niche skills–Career 1 and 2 have nothing to do with each other and no clear overlap. I have no idea what I will if/when I leave this job, but I know what kind of things I’ll look for in job descriptions and I have the accomplishments to show success at some really valuable skills.

      1. Chauncy Gardener*

        I think this is really a more usual type of career path.

        I always tell my dad’s career path story because it illustrates this so well. He got out of the military and went to law school. Then he went to work for a couple of different legal firms in the same city as his law school. Then the law school asked him to come back and be dean of students. So he did that for a while. Then, because he knew so many lawyers and so many companies in the area, people started calling him to see if he knew of a lawyer with XYZ background or if a company needed ABC type lawyer. So he fell into founding his own “lawyer matchmaking” company and made a ton of money doing that and loved it!
        So without all the previous steps, he never would have been able to do the last role.

        I think it’s just about keeping your eyes open for opportunities and not looking for a career path that is etched in stone.
        Good luck!

      2. OP*

        Thank you, ferrina! This has happened to me twice in my career – where the company created positions specifically for me that don’t really exist elsewhere. Each instance is unique with very little skill overlap. I had looked on it as a problem when job hunting because there was no clear stepping stone to the next role, but I like your insight of identifying the particular points to look for in a job description.

    7. sea tonic*

      This is all true! Although my caveat (that I had a hard lesson in very recently) is that you can be demonstrably really good at something–get consistent praise and accomplish your goals–and still find it more exhausting than your day job really needs to be.

      My experience was trying to run a highly social student life program for a year. I am VERY good at faking extroversion, and having emotional conversations with students, and keeping organized enough to run big events. Reader, I went to work with dread daily. I had to let go of my hang-ups about leaving a “high-impact job” to pick something that let me exercise other skill sets. And that’s fine! You’re likely good at more than one thing, and having a job doesn’t mean committing to it for life if you’re wrong about what you’ll find rewarding.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, sea tonic! This happened to me during my time as a manager – I received great feedback, but I hated every day. What you said about leaving a high impact job for something that allows you to exercise your skills really resonates with me. Thank you for the great advice!

    8. WorkplaceSurvivor*

      Seconding this great advice!

      I’m another person with ADHD, and I picked Marketing because it’s just so broad. I’ve worked hard to become a “jack of all trades” style marketer so that I can ping from the creative side to data analytics to project management. I’m clever with hard problems, and I’m good at writing. The diversity of tasks keeps me interested. I also pick jobs in the Entertainment Industry because something is almost always a little interesting to me.

      All this to say: I’m not very passionate about “Marketing”. But I love graphic design, psychology, and riddles/problem-solving. So I find my dopamine there.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Workplace Survivor! I love the insight about picking a career because it’s broad. I have been ending up in roles that are very broad / vague in departments with very micro-focused roles. This was really helpful!

    9. QuickCoach*

      I completely agree with this. I recommend you write down all your tasks from all your jobs – from the mundane to the fun (I borrowed this from Atomic Habits). Next to each task, indicate how much you like to do each task with an up-arrow (enjoy doing), down-arrow (despise), and neutral mark (don’t like, don’t hate).

      See what kind of theme the up-arrows have. Try to find a job that doesn’t have ANY down-arrows. Try to find a role with mostly up-arrows (and some neutral ones). For example – if answering phones is disliked – don’t apply to jobs for a front desk person.

      Obviously, we will have some things we don’t like, but my job got a LOT easier when most of my tasks are tasks I really enjoy. Life is made up of the day-to-day, minute-to-minute tasks. It’s important we build our jobs around the things we enjoy.

      (Sidenote: some people are very uncomfortable with indicating tasks they don’t like. I tell my team – we all don’t like/dislike the same things. Some people love meetings, some people strongly dislike meetings. It’s important for everyone to enjoy/be good at different things, because it helps our organization function. Diversity is a good thing.)

      1. OP*

        Thank you, QuickCoach! This is wonderful advice and I will definitely complete this exercise. As a side note – Atomic Habits is on my “To Read” list but I haven’t gotten there yet. I’m going to move it up on my list because of your reply. Thank you very much!

    10. Inkognyto*

      Look for jobs where your skillset and strengths are primary focus.

      here’s my example:
      I’m in very good at analytical thinking. Even though my career focus is Information Security, I’ve been brought in to help think through problems that are not even in my areas (or in IT) before and they are stuck. Because I can step through processes to help find solutions. If the area is in my career, I can find solutions alone because that’s my area, but the overall process is similar. I just assisted others by stepping through the process and asking about the specifics that is their expertise.

  2. word nerd*

    I’m a pediatrician turned copyeditor, and I had no idea that I would love proofreading and editing as much as I do (despite majoring in English in college) until I started volunteering to proofread for Project Gutenberg (the website that makes free electronic versions of out-of-copyright texts). I totally became addicted to proofreading, and it led to freelance editing, which I’m much better at than straight-up writing. I think there’s a lot to be said for continuing your full-time job but open to exploring other areas you may be interested in as little side gigs, hobbies, volunteering, etc., and you may hit on something you love and want to develop further.

      1. word nerd*

        Yes, distributed proofreaders! I used PG just because more people are likely to have heard of Project Gutenberg.

    1. Job Pivoter*

      I’m not the OP but proofreading for PG sounds so cool! Thank you for sharing, that’s something I’m going to explore (former English major here as well.)

      1. word nerd*

        Awesome! My username there is “aninum” and I’m very active on the forums, so please feel free to message me if you start proofreading at DP!

    2. El Camino*

      Wow, I hadn’t heard of Project Gutenberg or the DP before – thanks so much for sharing, fellow word nerd and English major :) What a cool project!

    3. Kafka*

      Similar way I moved into my current job from medical social work. Started making complex spreadsheets to track video game things in games and other sites werent offering or not tailored enough to what I wanted, friends asked me to make them ones, I started thinking about databases and how to pull this info automated, taught myself sql and database admin stuff, helped my friends baseball analytics website (another thing I’m passionate about) etc etc here I am however many years later doing this professionally.

      The proof reading for Gutenberg rules! I didn’t know it was volunteers but that makes absolute sense.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Kafka! I also have a spreadsheet for everything and have been researching SQL and database management. Glad you found a way to apply these skills professionally! :)

    4. OP*

      Thank you, word nerd! I also love proofreading, but hadn’t considered it as a critical component of my career. I really appreciate these ideas (and love Project Gutenberg).

    5. Burger Bob*

      I have toyed with the idea of pursuing proofreading several times in my life. Unfortunately, I’m not in a financial position to do it more than very occasionally. Maybe someday.

    6. Jack Straw from Wichita is*

      Volunteering for an organization I was passionate about led me to both of my careers. When you’re not a paid employee with a set job description, I find it’s much easier to try things out and find work you’re good at.

      I work in education & training and do large-scale event management gig work on the weekends—both are as a result of people realizing I was great at onboarding/teaching new volunteers and having people say “Jack Straw helped out at Event B and was great. See if you can get her to do ___ for Event W,” one too many times until I was running the thing.

  3. I should really pick a name*

    Could you see yourself continuing to do what you’re currently do (just at a different company)?
    If it makes you miserable, then yes, you probably need a change, but would you be okay with something similar?

    “Follow your passion” isn’t necessarily useful advice.
    If you can find a job that you’re comfortable with and pays you what you want/need, that’s not a bad place to be.
    I’m lucky enough to like my job, but I wouldn’t say I’m at all passionate about it.
    It keeps my brain engaged, I feel proud of my achievements, and they pay me.

    I do the stuff I’m passionate about in my evening and weekends.

    1. I should really pick a name*

      Follow up question:
      What does it mean to you to have “wasted my professional life”?

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yeah the fear of having “wasted my professional life” doesn’t seem like a good foundation to build from, to me. You could apply that to so many things (marriage, hobbies, kids) but it’s better to put it aside and look at some of these other more productive questions like “what am I good at” and “what do I enjoy day to day” and “how important is salary to me.”

      2. ToDoList*

        I think this is a great point. One way for the OP to start narrowing down their options for what kinds of jobs to explore might be to figure out how they’d define what it would mean for them to ‘waste’ their professional life. What criteria would they use to figure out what that would look like? The criteria they discover might be indicators of a professional direction for them.

      3. SansSerif*

        That’s what caught me eye, too. There’s nothing wrong with doing different things throughout your career. You don’t have to have 40 years of a carefully, narrowly built path. Often, having different jobs that accentuate different strengths and interests not only show you what you like the most, but also keep you engaged because you haven’t been doing the same thing for 20 years. And often you end up being qualified for higher paying jobs that require a diverse set of skills – that you have, because you didn’t just stick with one narrow area.

        If you come to retirement someday and look back on a career filled with different types of jobs in different areas, with each one interesting for different reasons — that’s not a waste at all. Your career isn’t a race. There is no specific finish line you have to reach. Keep doing things that appeal to you. Because of your diverse experience, you may end up finding the exact right job with the exact right mix of skills. Or you may go happily throughout your career, experiencing all kinds of different jobs and challenges.

      4. OP*

        This is a great question. When I wrote my letter, it was the wording that came naturally and I hadn’t really considered what it meant, but I will definitely give it more thought. I don’t want to get to the end of my career and feel like I haven’t accomplished anything I’m proud of or helped anyone / contributed to something bigger than myself. I think my mistake is looking at my work as being my main opportunity to make this kind of contribution, instead of considering other ways I can do so (probably because my jobs up to this point tend to take up most of my waking hours – this is something I am working to change).

        1. Just me*

          Yeah! I think this is the crux of the issue, and chewing on it will help put you on the right track.

          Also, even if some of your life’s big, proud accomplishments happen via work, they don’t have to be the work you get paid to do.

          For example: I’m a journalist, so you might expect that my effect on society comes from reporting important news. But it turns out I don’t have huge ambitions there.

          I’m most proud that I helped unionize my workplace. I stand up for my coworkers’ right to fair treatment and help them navigate miserable work-related situations. I make an effort to be a person who’s safe to talk to when colleagues (especially early-career ones) need a sounding board. I try to honor the generous mentors I’ve had by being a generous mentor to others. I create space for often-overlooked colleagues’ voices to be heard.

          Sure, I produce good work, but my proudest career accomplishments are all about making a healthier, more equitable workplace culture. I probably could do that in any field.

          1. HelloFromLondon*

            I love this example!! I similarly realised I love helping other people achieve their goals and have so far got that satisfaction from line management, facilitation, and mentoring outside of work..

          2. OP*

            This is a fantastic example, Just Me, and is definitely something to be proud of! Thank you very much for sharing it!

        2. Clare*

          As a follow-on to this, before thinking about retired you, it might help you to try imagining 50 year old OP. Who do you imagine them as? Who would you like them to be? Who is somewhat-realistic dream OP? Who is pragmatic future OP? Are there multiple, equally appealing 50 yo OPs?

          Is there an older more senior person working a certain role who you would like to be like? Is that because of the way they do their role, or the role itself, or just certain aspects of the role? Is there any chance you could talk to them about how they got to the position they’re in and how you could set yourself up to acquire similar skills and opportunities?

          Alternatively, is your dream you living a certain lifestyle and working any old job but in a certain way? Would you be satisfied with any old career path so long as it meant that you could maintain your current lifestyle or achieve certain goals? (For example, you might be happy to to whatever job so long as you can live in a cottage with a nice garden and dress dark-academia style every day, or you might aspire to buy a house with a pool, pay a housekeeper, drive a Tesla and wear expensive watches. Or you might just want to be one of those people who does their remote work in the local cute little internet cafe while looking out the window at the rain with your headphones on like you’re the centerpiece in a low-fi video. Not that I’ve thought about this myself or anything…)

          Is dream OP benefiting the world by developing some new idea or technique? Are they an expert in their field who is now giving back by training young people? Are they the owner of a successful business, finally getting it right instead of making the same annoying mistake every other business in your field makes? Do you just want to make your parents proud and any old ‘success’ marker would do? Why, exactly does your professional life matter to you?

          My point here is that clearly your subconscious has some sort of goal that it wants to achieve, but it might not be a traditional or an obvious one – hence your difficulty in identifying it. Once you work out what that goal is, it’s a lot easier to narrow down on ways you can achieve it.

          1. Clare*

            P.S. your goals don’t have to be noble ones, either. If you want to be successful because you want to write your autobiography and have lots of people read it, or you want to be rolling in money, or to stick it to the teacher who laughed at you in highschool, or to build up a network and a reputation so you can pivot into politics and run the country that’s fine. Nobody’s going to know except you. But you can’t set about either achieving (or changing, if you don’t like what you see) your goals unless you’re clear with yourself what they really are.

            Alternatively, humble little goals like “no mortgage and enough free time and money to do plenty of wood carving and buy the occasional box of donuts” are fine too. If that was the goal of everybody on the planet we wouldn’t have wars.

            What did 7 year old OP want? Did they want to be royalty living in a palace, or a fire-fighter, or a teacher, or a parent, or a zookeeper, or a student at Hogwarts, or a merperson, or ruler of the world? Honestly, the closer you can get to that, either via lifestyle or career, the happier you’ll be. We might gain maturity over time, but who we are doesn’t fundamentally change. It’s never too late to start planning your financial path to swimming pool ownership or starting a PhD, even if you wouldn’t want to be a professional mermaid or a wizard.

            1. OP*

              Thank you very much, Clare! This is a wonderful way of considering what I actually want (incidentally, I am in the cottage with the dark academia style dress :) ). I love your point that all goals don’t have to be noble, and that who we are doesn’t fundamentally change (7 year old me wanted to live in a library). This was very helpful and I will definitely be applying your advice – thank you for sharing!

        3. Random Dice*

          I’ve always been this way, I need to feel like I’m part of something bigger, like I’m helping improve the world.

          I spent a lot of time in jobs where that “heal the world” aspect was obvious on the surface, but underneath it was rotten.

          I switched to an industry where it felt like there was no larger mission to believe in… but the interesting thing is that I found a powerful mission there!

          And now I’m a self-appointed mission evangelist, teaching others about why the work we do everyday – routine, repetitive, boring at times – has this beautiful inspirational mission, hidden from view but powerful.

          So what’s the lesson here that might apply to you? Hmm. I think it’s that it’s possible to find a worthy mission even in humdrum jobs, or that it’s possible to choose to create a mission for yourself.

          My brother hated his job, and focused on creating a caring and engaged community with his coworkers. He became the emotional soul of the office, and came to genuinely care about his coworkers as people, and vice versa. Was the work itself the mission? Not really. But the community was his mission, and it feeds him still.

          1. OP*

            Thank you very much, Random Dice! I have fallen into a similar trap, and appreciate your insight that you can find a way to contribute to something bigger even if it’s not the proclaimed mission of the organization. Thank you for sharing this!

        4. Me...Just Me*

          I actually think this is a great starting point. For some folks (myself), having a job that provides a sort of moral or “I’m helping others” component (or is the very basis of the profession/career) can be *the* thing to focus on. I just felt that if I was going to be spending the majority of my productive hours doing something, I probably should be doing something that I felt helped others. For me, that meant stepping off the banking/financial track and going back to school to become a nurse and then a nurse practitioner. I’m not super money motivated, so I’ll never be rich – but I do get the satisfaction of helping people all day, every day. I do make a comfortable living, though. If you have a similar thought about “not wasting my professional life”, you might consider something in healthcare. There’s a whole lot of varied, important work there and with so many different roles, I feel that a variety of skillsets and personalities can thrive.

          1. OP*

            Thank you very much, Just Me! My career has been in support departments on the business side of healthcare (following the exact train of thought that you laid out here), but I have been wondering if it’s still the right fit. To your point, it is a wide field that touches on most industries, which I will definitely consider as I plan my next steps. Thank you very much for sharing!

    2. Gingerbat*

      This exactly!!! I have never felt the need to define myself by my job. As long as i can solve interesting problems and earn a good salary that is enough for me.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Gingerbat! I think this is an excellent point. I have struggled in this area and am working to change my mindset to recognize a job as an exchange of skilled labor for currency, not as something that defines me.

    3. Mbarr*

      This. I’ve been working in tech since 2010, but I’m not specialized. I started as a tech writer, but discovered I liked helping my team figure out how to use our various software more efficiently. Suddenly I’m developing processes for the team, troubleshooting stuff, etc, where I get to bounce around, help team mates, and each day is a bit different.

      Then I went to a bank where they recently introduced new software. Same thing – I got to train people, help them establish processes, play with new software features.

      After that, it was off to another tech company where I dove into the world of SAP and joined the tail end of its implementation. I became a subject matter expert on the software, helped out where needed, etc.

      Now I’m at an engineering company, helping instructional designers become more efficient on our learning management system, creating processes for my team, etc.

      I don’t have a career path, but I’ve developed skills that are needed to bridge the gap when the specialists are focused on day to day output.

    4. ThatGirl*

      I generally agree with this. I found that I liked what I was doing well enough to want to keep doing it, so I did. I am good at my job, there are ways for me to learn and grow and expand my skills, I’m proud of what I do… I am not passionate about it! And that’s fine!

      1. Lala*

        Yes, I really wish we would stop telling people to “follow their passion!!” because it’s terrible advice. I can’t seem to find it now, but I once read an article arguing that the “follow your passion” advice isn’t just silly, it’s also backwards. You aren’t going to be passionate about something that you aren’t good at. Passion comes after you’ve invested enough time and energy in something to be skillful at it. And I would say that’s true in my own career. My answer to “What are you passionate about?” used to be “lots of things but nothing in particular, I guess?” but now…well it’s probably the same answer, honestly, but I do enjoy thinking and talking about psychology and trauma a whole lot.

        1. OP*

          Thank you, Lala – I agree completely! I’ve never had a “passion”, but I have a million interests (great when choosing hobbies, challenging when narrowing down to a career). I think we need to stop giving the “passion” advice – it really is awful advice.

      2. OP*

        Thank you, ThatGirl! I really like your perspective of liking what you do well enough to want to keep doing it. This is a great attitude to have about your career and I am going to try to implement it.

    5. OP*

      Thank you, I should really pick a name! I could see myself continuing to do aspects of my role, but not other roles within my industry (meaning I look at what many of my co-workers do and know it’s not for me). I agree 100% that “follow your passion” has not been useful advice for me, and like your insight that having a job that you’re comfortable with and that pays a decent wage is a good place to be. I think I’ve been a victim of all the “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life” propaganda.

    6. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’ll go so far as to say that I think “follow your passion” is terrible advice as far as a career is concerned. Both because it sets an unrealistic standard for how invested/engaged you have to be in working but also because what easier to suck the fun out of something you really enjoy than doing it as a job?

      I don’t think your job should make you miserable every day, but I think that being able to make a living in one’s “passion” is vanishingly rare to the point it’s not a useful thing to set your sights on.

      1. allathian*

        Yes, this. Passion is also such a loaded word. If I’m entirely honest, I don’t think I’ve been passionate about anything in my whole life, *certainly* not anything job-related. Passion just isn’t a part of my makeup, and that’s fine by me. I don’t miss what I’ve never had and wouldn’t understand if I did.

        There are certainly things I care about in my life and in my job, and I absolutely enjoy the validation I get from being able to do something most people can’t do, at least not well enough to get paid for it.

        1. OP*

          Thank you, allathian! I really like your point about getting validation from doing something well enough to get paid for it.

      2. OP*

        I agree, Not Another Manager. I think “follow your passion” is the cliché advice I have heard throughout my life, but isn’t really applicable for my situation. Thank you for reinforcing this!

  4. Lily Rowan*

    I don’t have an answer, but just wanted to note that looking into career coaches doesn’t necessarily mean a huge investment. You could meet with someone once or twice and get something out of it (or decide you aren’t getting anything out of it!). It’s some investment, yes, but an outside perspective can be really helpful!

    1. Jolie*

      Depending on your circumstances you may also be able to get some free coaching from an advice charity. If you’re in the UK look up Work Rights Centre, that’s the one I work for

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Jolie! I am not in the UK, but I will look for something similar. Thank you for your advice!

    2. Autumn Leaves*

      Seconding this. I did about 4 sessions with a career coach and she gave me a great structure and framework for my job search.

    3. Sparkle Llama*

      In my us state, MN, there is a government agency or contracted nonprofit that provides free career exploration sessions. The people may or may not be helpful since they tend to work most with unemployed, dislocated, laid off workers, but could be worth a shot.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Sparkle Llama! I will do some research to see if I can find something similar in my area. Thank you for your advice!

    4. OP*

      Thank you, Lily, that is a good point! I think I was concerned about falling into an bottomless “maybe the next session will be the one that changes things for me” hole, but you’re right that I could try a session or two to decide if it’s helpful. Thank you for your advice!

  5. Panicked*

    I think if you’re content, it’s okay not to love your job or even your chosen career path. For some people, a job is what allows them to continue chasing their personal passions. While I do very much like my job, it really just gives me the money I need to pursue personal growth and ambitions. I’m not a ladder climber, I’m not trying to set any records. I’m just trying to do good work, earn a paycheck, and spend the rest of my time doing other things that are more fulfilling.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I agree, and since OP is ten years into their career already, I think it makes more sense to focus on some of these questions versus trying to find an amazing passion for a certain career. There are people driven by great passion, but most are not, and if you’ve been working for a decade with no idea what it might be, I don’t know that you’re going to realize you wanted to be a chef / zookeeper / astronaut all along now.

    2. Hats Are Great*

      I worked passion jobs for most of my 20s and 30s and I was undercompensated and burned out. Now I work a corporate 9 to 5 that pays me well, where nothing is critical and the worst thing that will happen if I screw up is some other people will be annoyed at me.

      What’s a good fit about this career is that it uses SKILLS I’m either passionate about or enjoy using — I get to write a lot, I get to teach and train people, I get to dive into new areas of knowledge regularly. But I can close my laptop at the end of the day and spend my time on the things and people I’m passionate about, which turns out to be much better than spending all my passion on work.

      I do feel like this is an asset in my job. A lot of my colleagues are defined by their careers and can get deeply emotional about conflicts at work. I’m known as calm and levelheaded and easy to work with, and it’s basically because — while I care about doing my job well, and I care about my coworkers — I don’t care THAT MUCH about the corporation or its direction or any specific projects. Being a little detached from my work makes me a much better colleague and employee.

      (I just spent all of last week in a series of high-tension meetings where people were really upset with each other over the direction of a project, and everyone kept commenting on how calm I was and how I didn’t get drawn in to taking sides or getting upset. And that’s really because I DO NOT CARE. Both directions for the project are valid, and I will provide support whatever direction it goes. (I am in an advise-and-support role, not a decision-making role, so I don’t have to care.) But I’m not going to get emotionally involved over whether we paint the teapots with llamas or alpacas this year.)

      1. Hats Are Great*

        (Oh, so my actual advice to OP is, thinking about the parts of your jobs that you’ve really enjoyed — organizing? creating processes? graphic design? editing? meeting with clients? — and see if there’s a throughline there that points to a particular kind of job — maybe you’re a salesperson trapped in an editing job, or vice versa. And if there’s not, evaluate the job descriptions you look at based on whether you’d get to use the professional skills you enjoy and avoid the ones you don’t enjoy. That may point you in a particular direction, or allow you to target careers or industries where you’ll do well.)

      2. Jill Swinburne*

        YES THIS! Think less about what you want the job to be, and more about what you want to do in it. Think about your strengths – we’re always happier and more energetic when we can use our strengths and zone of genius (but…that’s not to be confused with things you’re good at but don’t enjoy that much).

        1. OP*

          Thank you, Jill! I think this is an excellent point and I will absolutely do so. Thank you for sharing!

      3. OP*

        Thank you, Hats Are Great! This is an excellent perspective. I have also gotten too invested in roles and worked overwhelming hours, and really appreciate your perspective that not doing so can be an asset in your role. Thank you for sharing this!

    3. OP*

      Thank you, Panicked! I think this is an excellent perspective, and something I need to adjust my mindset towards.

  6. Dana Lynne*

    I honestly don’t think there is one right answer here. From my own career, I started out in journalism and had a clear desire and goal there. That went fine until I had kids and wanted something less demanding. I had never intended to teach but was able to slide into teaching journalism instead, and finished out my career doing that (and was fortunate enough to get an old style pension from the state; very grateful). Things happen that we don’t expect.

    My sister, on the other hand, wasn’t sure what she wanted to but had loved cooking from a young age so she got a hotel/restaurant management degree. Over the next few years she had several short-lived jobs in food service — corporate cafeteria manager, baker for a gourmet local restaurant (damaged her lungs but gave her lifelong friends), manager of a gourmet fast food chain restaurant (awful), then got into a financial manager job through a friend’s company, then went back to school for another degree in her forties and worked hands-on, manufacturing high tech miniature medical equipment. Now she is semiretired and bakes wedding cakes in the resort town where she and her new husband moved. She has time now to pursue lots of art projects and keep bees.

    If I were you I would make a list of the things that are most important to you — stability? the opportunity for a pension? adventure and variety? people or solitude? numbers or softer skills? — and steer by that. It sounds like you have some fixed parameters already: It needs to be WFH and you need to stay in the town where you currently live. So that will limit your options in a good way as well — it will be larger companies that have the resources to allow people to work remotely.

    It’s totally possible to make a good living in a field you are not passionate about and you know that already. I would suggest you examine closely what you mean by the possibility of “wasting your career”. Do you want to make a difference, and the type of work you are doing so far is just corporate stuff? Or do you want to achieve some kind of personal success/wealth/advancement?

    It may not be important to be in a specific industry — more important to meet whatever your personal goals are. And they can change along the way too. I love that saying — when you plan, leave room for surprises. Best of luck to you.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I would suggest you examine closely what you mean by the possibility of “wasting your career”

      Yes, this is a really good place to start. Come up with a few definitions of “wasting your career”, and then flip them. You’re worried about never being able to say, “I’m a [BLANK]”, and having people recognise what that is? OK, so status is important to you. You’re worried about working a series of jobs that teach you diverse things, but never being a confident expert in ONE thing? OK, so learning and specialisation are important to you. You feel like you’re a failure if you don’t retire on a six-figure sum with an excellent pension pot? OK, so money is important to you. You’ll feel like you’ve wasted your potential if you get to the end of your career and have made a lot of money but it’s all in soulless private sector environments, and you feel like you should have helped more people? OK, so some kind of public service element is important you. (Also, people tend to assume this stuff is obvious, and say, “well, everyone wants to make lots of money, don’t they?” no! some people really don’t care, or at least don’t care that they’d prioritise it over something else! It’s really important to realise that this stuff isn’t just how *everyone* feels, it’s how *you* feel and that’s valid and useful information!)

      All of these are totally different sets of priorities, and you probably have different versions too, but if you don’t have a clear Best Case Scenario, then really getting specific about your Worst Case Scenario and using that as critical information is really helpful.

      1. A Girl Named Fred*

        This is really great framing, thank you both! I’m not OP but definitely struggle with this as well and have a tendency toward pessimism, so I think being able to flip those worst case scenarios into useful information will be really helpful to me.

        1. OP*

          I agree A Girl Named Fred – I also have a tendency towards pessimism, so this will be a great exercise to try.

      2. Sloanicota*

        It’d be interesting to rank some of these factors. Sometimes being forced to choose one or the other is how you realize what you care about.

      3. OP*

        Thank you very much, bamcheeks! I think this is a wonderful idea. I haven’t looked at it this way before, but I am definitely going to take some time to work through this exercise. Thank you very much for sharing!

      4. uncivil servant*

        You’re worried about never being able to say, “I’m a [BLANK]”, and having people recognise what that is? OK, so status is important to you.

        Love this whole response, and thanks for explaining my own career motivation to me so clearly.

    2. french fry*

      Dana Lynne and Bamcheeks have excellent questions to ponder that frame finding a career path in the positive. It can also be most helpful to ask yourself what you would absolutely hate. What kinds of jobs? Workplace settings? Tasks? Workplace missions/visions? Time requirements? Work vs. personal life requirements? Etc. would absolutely make you miserable if you had to do it? Sometimes the ability to eliminate a lot of options from your list can help you focus on what really matters to you. Best wishes, OP!

    3. OP*

      Thank you very much, Dana! This is wonderful advice. I will need to closely consider what wasting my career would actually look like to me so I can identify what I really want out of it. I really appreciate the stories of you and your sister; it’s good to remember that I don’t need to have the next 30 years planned out. Thank you for sharing this!

  7. Looper*

    If you don’t feel that your work needs to be your creative focus/a core part of your identity, look for careers that support the overall life you want to live. Do you want to be in a lively collaborative atmosphere; do you like task-based work; would you trade off more pay for more time off; do you like to be a key decision maker or work more in implementation/support; what areas of the country/world would you want to live in; these are all great questions to help narrow down the incredible number of options someone in your position has before them. Think of work as a resource to support your lifestyle and what career would meet your needs holistically.

    1. ZZZZZ*

      Related to this – think of the things you like outside of work. I got this from the great book “Design Your Life”. It said to brainstorm about other stuff you like, and look for commonalities. I really like planning kids birthday parties- NOTHING that’d Id want as a career, but I always have fun. So I wrote out what I liked: brainstorming, operating under constraints, doing a lot of things under time pressue and scheduling out timelines, learning new things and being a bit uncertain if I could pull it off (mostly how to do different crafts in this context), thinking about an audience, then having people enjoy the fruits if my labor. I went through some other hobby/personal life things and found out that learning new things, sharing them with people, and having a lot of balls in the air scheduling-wise were the throughline. I ended up changing directions in my career recently, and not how I thought I would when I first starting thinking about leaving my last job. But the position I took checked those boxes – and I am happy. Had a I sat down to brainstorm “what I like about jobs” and “what I want in my career”, I’d have come up with a different answer. That might have been fine, but I think this turned out better. So yes to everything from Looper! But consider specifically in a non-work context.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, ZZZZZ! I have added “Design Your Life” to my read list – thank you for the recommendation and for your insight!

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, Looper! These are wonderful questions and I will be taking some time to really consider them. Thank you for sharing them!

  8. Catwhisperer*

    I think the idea of a lifelong career that’s “right” for you has become a myth in our current economic reality. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published a report last year showing that the median tenure of people in the private sector is 3.7 years, compared to 6.8 years.

    I’m in my mid-30s and have already changed industries once, because I’ve never seen a clear path for progression at any company I’ve ever worked for. I don’t think companies are structured in a way that supports long-term careers anymore, so the best way to look at it is whether your current job meets your needs and expectations in the moment and start looking elsewhere when that stops being true.

    This means we’re all having to accept a certain amount of insurability that previous generations didn’t have, but I don’t see a way around it without massive cultural and social changes.

      1. DramaQ*

        I read What Color is your Parachute a few years ago and he said you won’t just have several jobs in your lifetime but several CAREERS. The idea that you pick a career at 18, go to college, get a job in said field and that is what you do for the rest of your life doesn’t work in this economy anymore. I’ve somehow managed to stay employed in science after getting my biology degree in 2006 but I’ve hopped all over. I originally wanted to get my PhD and be a professor but I didn’t at the time know what I was getting into. I stuck it out for 14 years in academics before leaving. I’ve done pharmacy, neuroscience, immunology, microbiology, tried medical science and hated it, and now I’m in food science. I still have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. I’d kinda like to look into getting into grant writing. I worked with a career coach she didn’t cost a lot but it was hard finding someone who didn’t rely on generic personality tests. So do your homework and make sure whoever you pick allows a free consult so you can decide if they are a good fit for your needs before handing over any money. She helped me identify the things I need to be happy/content in a job and that gives me better direction when asking questions in interviews. I decided I am done with the idea of a “career path” and I am mostly content with if the job I am in meets the majority of my checklist. If it does not it is time to move on. I just don’t see with the way the world works anymore finding one company, path, job that I will stick with for another 30+ years. Constant reinventing seems to be the only way to keep pace with inflation and keep yourself from falling behind.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      I think you’re talking about tenure in a specific position though. That’s not what the word career means to me. If I were an accountant and moved around to 10 different companies over 40 years, I’ve still had a career in accounting.

      Changing industries is probably changing careers, but even then, maybe not. You can do QA or project management or IT support just about anywhere, but you haven’t changed your career because you moved from a factory to a hospital.

      1. Catwhisperer*

        Removed. You misunderstood the comment you’re upset with — they were talking about the statistics (the 3.7 years) referring to changing jobs rather than professions/fields, not about your own personal experience. – Alison

        1. Catwhisperer*

          Alison, it seems you missed the commenter’s direct reference to my statement about having changed industries in their second paragraph, which is definitely talking about my personal experiences, not the statistics, and what I was responding to in my comment.

    2. Beth*

      Agreed. In theory your career should be your track for progression that follows you across jobs. But I’ve been struck in my 30s by how many of my peers really don’t have that. Most of us seem to have made at least one complete switch–new industry, new role (not just a level up but, like, switching from marketing to IT, or training to business development), gone back to school to get into an entirely new field, quit the workforce to parent or start our own business, etc.

      OP, I’ve done the “chase your passion” route and it’s overrated. All the standard stuff you hear about “if you do your passion every day it just becomes work” is true, but also, being so invested in one path is often not good for your economic well being! My advice would be to lean into your flexibility. You want remote work, you have a diverse work history that’s probably let you develop a solid range of skills…start thinking about what fields commonly offer remote work and what roles you’ll be able to convince a hiring manager your skills transfer into in that field. It’s a less straightforward way to run a job hunt than “this is the obvious next step for the obvious career path that I’m on,” but it can be very successful, and being in that mindset about your career–you can do so many things, you just need to be able to sell someone on your ability to do it–is really good for you in the long run.

      1. Sloanicota*

        Yes I think maybe OP is overly wedded to the idea of what a career is “supposed” to look like rather than focusing on what she needs to be happy right now and what she might want to do next. Use a 3-5 year horizon.

        1. Catwhisperer*

          +1, in the long run adhering to an idea of what your career “should” look like can be incredibly limiting and result in missed opportunities

      2. OP*

        Thank you very much, Beth! This is a great point and I will definitely consider more ways to lean into my flexibility. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Hlao-roo*

    A lot of people recommend informational interviews, but I am very reluctant to ask someone for their time without having a specific purpose.

    Would you feel more comfortable asking for informational interviews if you included a shorter version of your letter with your request? I think it would be helpful for the person you’re reaching out to to know “I have diverse skill sets that have helped me do well in these roles, but I never got into one specific area with a clear career path. There have been a lot of changes at my current company that have made me realize it’s time to move on, but I don’t know what to do next, or if I want to stay in my current industry.” You can add a line or two to say “[industry/job person is in] seems like it could be a fit for me, and I’d be interested in learning more about it. Are you open to meeting for 30 min to discuss what the day-to-day of [industry/job] is like?”

    Basically, your purpose is “learn more about [job/industry] to see if it is worth applying to those job ads,” and you can let the people you reach out to for informational interviews know that.

    1. Beth*

      Agreed that informational interviews can be helpful even when you’re not that targeted yet! I went through a period of questioning my next step, and spent a decent amount of time taking friends-of-friends to coffee to basically be like “what do you do, what’s the actual day-to-day work like, how did you get there, what do you like/not like about it?” Everyone was really thoughtful and kind about it, and I both learned a lot and got to meet several lovely people who I had a loose connection to but didn’t really know.

      1. daffodil*

        I’m happy in my current career but I love learning about what other people do. I’m a college communication professor and started bringing in alumni to my senior seminar class. Honestly I think I’m enjoying it more than the students because I get to learn about all kinds of different industries with a common thread or skill-set and hear about what people think are the best and worst parts of their roles.

        1. OP*

          Thank you, daffodil – it is a great idea to bring alumni into your class and I’m sure your students will benefit from it!

      2. Informational Interview Fan*

        I also had good luck with informational interviews without a clear target! I began with one person who had an executive level position in a field adjacent to my grad school focus (he was a friend of my sister’s, so slightly lower stakes). That conversation helped me to identify a couple of aspects of my current work that I wanted to look deeper into, and my sister’s friend made a handful of introductions that eventually led to a job interview in my current field. It felt like a dream job I never knew existed and today, 10 years later, I’m an executive in that field.

    2. Michelle Smith*

      I agree and you may feel more confident asking for these informational interviews if you do your research and are very intentional. Want to know what it’s like to be an entry-level X role? Target your inquires to people in that role or one step above rather than someone senior. Worried you won’t have specific enough questions to ask? Prepare for the interview by drilling down really clearly on what your skills are and what you value in a work context and use those things to probe your interviewee for the kind of info that matters to you and can’t be found from a cursory Google search.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, Michelle! This is excellent guidance and I will be applying it if I do informational interviews. Thank you for sharing!

    3. OP*

      Thank you, Hlao-roo! This is a great approach. It never occurred to me to approach them this way, but I will definitely consider it. Thank you for sharing!

  10. ZSD*

    Don’t hesitate to ask people for informational interviews! Most people are happy to give their time. Basically, you’re asking them to talk about themselves, which most people love to do. And it’s not “without having a specific purpose”; the purpose is for you to learn more about what their job is really like and thus learn whether it’s a job you’d be interested in pursuing. Long ago, I did info interviews with two paralegals, and I learned that I didn’t want to be a paralegal. So investing two hours of my life in interviews saved me from spending three years in a career I wouldn’t enjoy!

    1. AK*

      “informational interviews” are really just conversations with people about their jobs. What they do, why they like it, what strengths it requires. Talking with people can also give you a sense of your strengths, as people sometimes have a better sense for that than we do about ourselves. Lastely, sometimes there’s an “aha” moment! I went to visit some friends for the weekend, one has an MBA and another works in business and I was like “wow! that’s what i want!” and I applied that year and transitioned careers. Another friend was talking to people and someone mentioned occupational therapy, and she realized that it sounded perfect!

      1. OP*

        This is a great point, AK! You’re absolutely right that those “ah-ha” moments often hit in these types of conversations. Thank you very much for sharing!

    2. OP*

      Thank you, ZSD! This is a great perspective. I have always looked on informational interviews as inconveniencing someone to help me, which I am reluctant to do, but I think you have a very valid point that most people are happy to share if you are upfront and honest about where you are at and what you are looking for. Thank you for sharing this!

  11. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I think the notion that someone should find a career path and follow it is oversold. Especially in the current employment climate. In many cases job changing is the only way to get promotions, raises etc.

    Find a job that suits your current needs, pay attention to the parts of the job you like and don’t like. Keep your eye on the job market and don’t be afraid to at least explore jobs that spark your interest. If there are jobs that spark your interest that don’t fit your current remote requirement, keep them in mind for later. Your circumstances now may not be your circumstances later.

    If something does spark your interest, whether or not you are a fit for it, learn about it. Take online courses or go to a workshop or read a book about it or whatever. Talk to people in the industry if you have the opportunity.

    Keep learning and growing and taking chances and don’t fall into a trap that you have to know THE ANSWER now or you have wasted your time. Everything teaches you something.

    Also, not all careers have to be your passion. Most have to provide you the means to live a life that you desire. For many trying to turn a passion into a vocation kills the passion.

    1. Trippedamean*

      This. All of this. I did a job I was passionate about for a while. Not only did it pay poorly, it made my passion feel like work. I haven’t done it as work for years now but I still don’t love it as much as I once did.

      But also, life is surprisingly long. You aren’t going to be the same person throughout your life. Your passions may change and you have to find a way to be okay with that. One way a lot of people do that is to change their job, field, or career trajectory. It doesn’t mean anything other than we’re human.

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, NobodyHasTimeForThis! This is a very valid point, and I think I need to adjust my mindset to focus on a job that I am generally satisfied with and that lets me leverage my strengths, as opposed to “the one career to rule them all”. Thank you for sharing!

  12. Restored*

    The letter writer just articulated my personal dilemma. Like you, I know that I don’t want to manage people ever, but I don’t know what to do in terms of a career. I want work-life balance, a job that allows me to clock in and clock out, without taking work home or receiving work calls after hours.

    1. Lily Rowan*

      I don’t think you really need to have ~*~A Career Path~*~ if you can string together a set of jobs that you like well enough, that pay well enough, etc.

      My father definitely felt like he was wandering from job to job until he could look back and see the path.

      1. Restored*

        @ Lily Rowan, I feel like I have been wandering from job to job too, but mostly doing the same thing (executive assistant) just in different industries and places. I don’t want to be an executive assistant anymore. I don’t know where to go from there though

        1. Michelle Smith*

          Write out the things you like about your work and the things you don’t. Write out the things you’re good at, either as an exec assistant or in other aspects of your life, and that you would enjoy doing as part of your job. Write out the things that you value about a job or career (e.g., do you need to make a certain amount of money, what kind of environment/team you want to be in/on, etc.). Write out the things you’re interested in. Then start searching based on those things.

    2. Nalgene*

      I worked my way up in sourcing and had great work-live balance, 40 hrs/wk, I had a cell phone but never used it outside of work hours, kept the notifications to an absolute minimum and never worried I would be contacted during leaves or vacation. My career progression looked like this: procurement assistant, buyer, buyer/planner, category manager, strategic sourcing project manager.

      When I took the procurement assistant position I had no idea I would like “sourcing” as a profession and would probably never have chosen it without necessity, but it’s been a good fit. I am honest, like working with lots of different kinds of people, I like learning new industries, manufacturing processes, quality requirements, etc. I took a couple classes on negotiating and really enjoy that too. I don’t love math but I can and do use Excel to do some basic calculations to present a business case. If you like sourcing, you can get certified credentials through ISM or APICS. I would love to be a manager one day but have had a great experience without managing a single soul.

      Something will come that makes you perk up. Take it and run!

      1. Restored*

        Nalgene, I enjoyed reading your post. And what a great career progression you’ve had, well done.

    3. Stuckinacrazyjob*

      Same. But I’d also rather have the least amount of screaming possible so that’s hard

    4. OP*

      Thank you for sharing, Restored! I appreciate knowing I’m not alone in this. Wishing you all the best in your career – I hope you find something you really enjoy and are happy with!

  13. A CAD Monkey*

    I’ve been doing cad drafting/architectural design for 17yrs + 5 yrs getting my BofA degree and it still doesn’t feel like what i want to do with my professional life. it’s just a job and not anything i’m passionate about. I commiserate with you LW, but have no advice unfortunately.

  14. Dinwar*

    I think the best option is to just do something. It may not be ideal, but at least you’ll be able to rule out certain things (like you did with managing people). Plus, you never really know what’s going to happen. I never in my life thought I’d be doing the work I do–I only vaguely was aware it existed–yet here I am, you know?

    The other thing is to let go of the idea of a perfect fit or a dream job. Not that such things don’t exist, but they’re EXTREMELY rare, and even they have their problems. Shoot for 80% satisfaction–a job you’re mostly happy with, there are some bits you don’t like but the good outweighs the bad. Even better if the bad stuff is kind of fun as well–I like outdoors work, and “I was stalked by a mountain lion” (which happened on several jobs) is something I can look back on as a funny story.

    If you’re constantly looking for perfection you’re going to always be disappointed. Better to look for “Good Enough”, with an eye to something better if the opportunity arises.

    There’s a scene in “Two Years Before the Mast” that bears on this. The author was a law student that joined a trade ship as a common sailor, and wrote about his experiences. At one point he was essentially abandoned (he was re-assigned to a tanning shop for months), and was assessing his career prospects. He realized that if this voyage took five years he’d never get back into law, so started studying the economy of trade between the Eastern Seaboard and California with the intent of buying his own ship. The lesson I took from that was, figure out how to enjoy the job you’re doing, even if it’s not what you set out to do.

    1. Mother of Corgis*

      Seconding the “just do something.” I worked in CAD for ten years and loved it, then moved to be closer to family in a rural town that had no CAD positions, so I took some admin jobs. My current company, I started as receptionist knowing I would hate it (phones are the bane of my existence), but would stick it out until I could find something I enjoyed. They moved me into Payroll/HR after seven months, and it turns out I love that role and can see myself doing this and staying at this company until retirement! You never know what may come along, and like you said, at least you’ll have ruled some things out for sure, or come across things you may want to pursue further.

      1. Patent Paralegal*


        I had a year to kill while I waited for now-spouse to graduate, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so I signed up with a temping agency. And it turned out I’m good at general admin tasks like spreadsheets and forms.

        So then I was sent on a maternity cover at a firm of patent attorneys. I had no idea patent attorneys existed, nor what they did. And most of the work I was doing was typing plus forms and spreadsheets. But it turned out that I was also good at deciphering what scientists are waffling on about, and manipulating dates and numbers, and remembering obscure facts about countries and laws. My temp role was made permanent within a couple of months, the firm supported me to move to another branch when spouse graduated and we needed to move cross-country, I qualified, and I have been in absolutely the right job for me ever since.

        It’s an incredibly specialised role, which means that although I have a useful transferable core skillset all the things that make me a rockstar wouldn’t translate into other fields. And that’s OK. Because as long as we have capitalism we’ll have patent administration.

        1. OP*

          Thank you very much, Patent Paralegal! I appreciate you sharing and am glad you were able to find something that fit well for you!

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, Dinwar! This is wonderful advice (and I can now add “being stalked by a mountain lion” as something I definitely don’t want in a job – never would have occurred to me otherwise :) ). Kudos on being able to keep your head and tell the tale!

  15. Bird Lady*

    When you find an answer to this question, please let me know!

    I used to love retail management/ HR, but after one too many violent incidents and a sharp increase in mass shootings in malls, I decided to go back and get my Masters degree in something I was passionate about. I spent a lot of money on a degree to get a job in museums. And to this day, I love museums! But each organization I worked for had structural issues that were not solvable and resulted in exploitive situations. So now, I volunteer and it’s great.

    I currently work in the publishing world, and the same skills that made me great at museum operations make me very good at my job. My work is 100% remote, and my company treats me incredibly well. For me, finding a company invested in its employees and their professional development was critical. Will I be in this role for the rest of my life? Probably not. Do I want to stay with this company and advance? Absolutely, because the company wants its employees to advance and grow. Do I sometimes regret an expensive degree I don’t use? Sure.

    But I’ve found I enjoy volunteering for museums and other non-profits more enjoyable because I don’t need to combat the structural issues for my own sanity. I can step away for a few weeks if I want to or need it. It’s sort of the best of both worlds.

  16. ZSD*

    Instead of thinking about what career you want to pursue, try reframing this as two questions: 1) What activities do I want to do in the course of a day? 2) What do I want to feel like I’ve accomplished at the end of a week/month/year?

    For 1, you say you need to be fully remote, but does that also mean you don’t want to interact with people much, or will you thrive more if there are lots of Zoom calls? Do you want to spend your days writing, reading, making things, advising people…? There will be multiple career paths that offer any given set of activities you find desirable.

    For 2, do you want to have changed our country? Changed your state? Made an individual person’s life better? Created something that will last? Earned enough money to buy a second home?

    Thinking about how you want to spend your time, and what you want the end accomplishment to be, can direct you to some possibilities.

    1. t-vex*

      This is perfect advice. You don’t have to start out on a capital-C Career, you can get a job with things you like and adjust until you have a career.
      This happened to me – I knew I liked animals so I got a few different animal-related jobs and eventually found one that fit, and then grew my skills to move up when I saw an interesting related opportunity, and now it’s 25 years later and I guess I made a career out of it after all. I’m proud of my accomplishments and still learning every day.

    2. christy7h*

      This is what I was coming here to write.
      1) What do you want to do in a day? The specific tasks. Be in meetings, work in spreadsheets, do presentations, write documents, etc. If you aren’t sure what you like, then at the end of the day, write down your favorite part of your work day and your least favorite. After a couple of weeks, look at the pattern. A friend of mine did this, and realized she liked jobs where her days had a ton of variety, and she wasn’t chained to a desk. I like jobs that involve editing, data analysis, presentations, and a ton of people contact – so I’m in management over a finance area with a lot of written reports and presentations.
      2) agree on this, the bigger picture about what matters. I work in government, I’m not as driven by money. My brother wants to support a certain lifestyle and sought a job that would do that.

      Informational interviews – these can sort of happen unstructured too. If you meet someone new and they do something you are interested in, ask what they like about their job.
      The question “describe a typical day” – for a ton of jobs, you’ll hear “every day is different” and that’s true, but not helpful. Instead asking people more specific questions about the items you’ve figured out in #1 – ” I really like editing documents, is this a significant part of your job?” can get a better answer.

      I started my career in graphic design, figured out it wasn’t enough people contact. Switched to running a government purchasing program (mostly marketing) and dipping a toe into finance. Did some information interviews, which led to real interviews at a legislative agency. Switched from there to finance leadership at a government agency. This is over 20 years – you don’t know where you will wind up. It’s really about figuring out just 1 next step.

      1. christy7h*

        Also, advice a friend got from a career coach.
        If you are deciding to stay or go from an organization, at the end of the day write down a rating for the day, 1-10. Don’t overthink it. After 2 weeks, if the average is below 7, you should make a change. Go look at patterns for the lower days, and see if it’s something you can give away (a meeting, a task, etc). If you can’t, then you may need to consider switching jobs.

      2. SciDiver*

        Agreed! I think the day-to-day responsibilities is a *vastly* undervalued part of the equation in finding a job you find satisfying. This is good advice for anyone too; before I went to grad school a previous advisor suggested I really think about what I did and didn’t like doing before I picked a research lab. For example, she hated pipetting and working at a lab bench, so she pivoted to research interests that didn’t involve that and does a combination of in-the-field and computer modeling work. Here, think about what you want to be doing on a daily basis: do you want to be interacting with clients/customers, writing or proofing documents, managing schedules and coordinating tasks? Or if you’re still not sure what you want to be doing, make a list of the things that you really don’t want to be doing!

      3. OP*

        This is wonderful, christy7h – thank you very much! I love the idea of tracking the best part and worst part of the day over time and looking for patterns, as well as just looking for the next step. Thank you very much for sharing!

    3. Lala*

      This is almost exactly what I did, and it worked for me! I spent most of my twenties feeling both directionless and overwhelmed by all the available options for jobs. At some point I realized that I was getting too hung up on the content of work (i.e. “should I work in the arts? Healthcare? Travel? etc.) and instead focused on the types of work I enjoyed doing and what was important to me. For example, I identified that I like working directly with people, either one on one or in small groups. I’m good at analyzing and problem-solving, and I like doing work that makes individual lives better in a direct and observable way. I also decided that being in charge of my own time was more important to me than making boatloads of money. I landed on therapist, and many years later I can say I really love it. The path wasn’t always so smooth – there were many times in the first few years after grad school when I really believed I had made the wrong choice – but now that I have my own private practice it really feels like a dream job for me. I think these questions can really help you filter out the noise and find what works best for you.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, Lala! Getting hung up on the content of work is a big part of what I’ve been struggling with. Thank you for sharing and for your insight!

    4. OP*

      Thank you very much, ZSD! This is fantastic advice. I’ve often thought about your first question, but never really considered the second (although I will now). Thank you very much for sharing!

  17. Caramel & Cheddar*

    If I follow myself from point A to B to C over the last twenty years or so, each subsequent job I’ve had has always been an expansion of something specific I really enjoyed doing in the previous job, e.g. working part time at a llama farm made me realise how much I really like llamas, so I went to school for llama admin. Next job might be working at a llama therapy org in administration, where I got to use the llama database as part of my overall duties. Discovered I loved the llama database work, and moved into something where I could focus on the llama database full time, etc.

    None of that was planned, but it allowed me to expand and grow into a job I currently love and is probably the best role I’ve ever had and that I’d like to continue doing. If you asked me this twenty years ago, it would never have been on my radar.

    1. Job Pivoter*

      This is such a great way to explain your career journey — an expansion of something specific you really enjoyed doing. I’m only about 10 years into my own career, but I’ve worked 4 different roles in different industries and that’s exactly what I did, following the work I most enjoyed and leaving the other stuff behind.

    2. Awkwardness*

      If anything, this is the closest to my approach.
      I ancient times, I worked as engineer and was responsible for a certain type of software. When laid off, I looked for jobs in my original field and for jobs where I could use this software knowledge. I ended up in IT and loved it. I did a lot of training (people!!), a lot of reporting (Excel!) and problem-solving. I changed jobs, and the daily tasks were completely different. Only a little bit of traing, only a little bit of Excel, but a lot more documentation and project management.
      I am quite sure I would not have fallen in love with IT if my first experience would have been with the second job. Job descriptions for both were similar, but in different industries and in companies of different size. Sometimes it is not necessarily the wrong career, but the wrong culture. And maybe only little changes can help you!
      LW – maybe you find a common denominator within your employers, some “trap” you always tend to fall for? You say these are similar companies.
      Also, you talk several times about missing a “solid career path” or a “clear career path”, but not about what that means in your daily life. Are you dissatisfied with your job, do you miss recognition in form of promotions? A career can be right for you even if there is no path leading to promotions.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, Awkwardness! This is an excellent point – I think I should focus more on my daily life and less on trying to create a perfect plan for the next 30 years.

    3. OP*

      Thank you very much, Caramel & Cheddar! This is a great example of how you can build your career as you go. Thank you for sharing!

  18. Allonge*

    What worked for me:
    1. Forget about passion. Obviously look for things where the basic idea does not make you want to throw up, but a whole lot of people are not passionate at all, or not passionate about work. That’s very ok.

    Corollary: I have likes and dislikes, and things I am good at and bad at. There is some overlap, but less than you would expect. Being good at something can be, to a certain extent, more rewarding (in all kinds of ways) than liking it overall but being so-so at it.

    2. Don’t consider working in a place/field for five years wasted, even if you change fields later. I know this goes against what you say about wanting a solid career, but seriously: there is no prize for ‘found what I wanted to do by 20/30/40 and kept doing it until I dropped dead’. Fields change, work conditions change, whole professions disappear or grow out of nowhere. Try things that look interesting, be willing to learn and switch and specialise by combining fields.

    3. A lot of this is just pure luck.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Allonge! I really appreciate your note that changing fields doesn’t mean the work I’ve done so far has been a waste. This is a big part of what has been bothering me, but I hadn’t realized it until I read your comment. Thank you for sharing!

  19. TooAnonToFunction*

    Personally I think it’s fine to just have jobs rather than a career. As long as you’re content doing what you do, and earning enough of a living to be comfortable and have a good work life balance… why tie yourself to a ‘career’?

    I was set on becoming a museum curator when I was younger. I went to school for it, got a degree and a post grad qualification, got an internship and then graduated right into a recession and an arts sector that was having funding cuts all over the place. Very few of my graduating classmates still have their museum jobs, either because their position was cut because lack of funding or they couldn’t get a job in the sector in the first place. They are employed in a variety of industries – one is even a local radio DJ now!

    The necessity of paying rent drove me into the world of admin, which seemed pretty stable, but I never pursued a ‘career’ as such. I always just had ‘jobs’, mostly lower level that paid enough for me to live relatively comfortably.

    I now work for myself as a freelance writer which is something I never saw myself doing, but I have the pandemic and mass layoffs to thank for that.

    1. LunaLena*

      I kind of agree with this. There’s something to be said about a job that’s just somewhat enjoyable, but pays the bills and allows you to pursue your hobbies. I work in a creative field and previously had a job that required my technical skills but very little creativity. The work was boring and unfulfilling, but it paid the bills and had good work/life balance (no after-hours calls or overtime EVER) and I had plenty of time to plan my own projects, so I had lots of untapped creative energy to implement as soon as I got home. I love my current job and would not go back to that old job for many reasons, but sometimes I do miss that excitement of getting home and having energy to work on something purely for fun.

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, TooAnonToFunction! I think this is a very valid point and appreciate you sharing!

  20. greyemk*

    I feel a lot of this – especially about lacking a defining passion.

    The role I have – which suits me very well – is a generalist position in a team of specialists (think, IT person embedded in a team of project managers). This lets me do a bunch of different tasks and develop skills in related disciplines that I wouldn’t necessarily get to do in an IT department. I’d recommend looking for something like this because it lets you get exposure to a bunch of different types of jobs quickly (both the things in your field that you need breadth in, plus the specifics of those in your team, which may be new to you). I’m content at this point being a career generalist without a specific “path” because I like the variety so much, but I’m also constantly learning new things and open to what the future may hold.

    1. SmoothViolet*

      Yes, this! I’m the only administration/office person in a small team of specialists for a not-for-profit. The variety of tasks I do each day and week is huge!

      And I’ll springboard this into my next role by figuring out my favourite kinds of tasks and focusing on roles with those. Or…staying a generalist but finding a better paid or more senior position.

  21. DisneyChannelThis*

    At ten years into your career, it may be time to focus less on what is the dream perfect role for you, and instead look for what is tolerable and stable work. Starting over in a new field, possibly adding schooling/certification costs is risky too. I don’t think you have to have fulfillment, passion, dreams all from work. Work often is just what provides health insurance and funding for the things that you actually do find fulfilling.

    I know my work does the points version of retirement, where your age + years worked at company = points, and 80 points is retirement. Other companies similar to mine do a flat 25 years of working for them is eligible for retirement benefits. Social Security won’t kick in until 67, but you may be eligible for other stuff prior to that. So there is some benefit to settling down for the long haul if you can manage it.

  22. pally*

    Things I’ve heard: “don’t follow your passion but do what you are good at doing.”

    Have you visited many professional organization websites? Might do some thinking about what skills you have and see what industries they are used in. Then search for professional organizations that pertain to the industry. You can reach out to these organizations to ask questions about the industry and the jobs within it. And, if you are really interested, you can find out if they hold any networking events that you might be able to attend (ask about online events!). There you’ll find a whole host of folks more than happy to answer questions about the jobs, profession, the industry, etc. Alternatively, they may have a LinkedIn group that you can join and ask your questions.

    1. Angry socialist*

      I’m not the LW, but I have similar problems. Things I’m good at are things that pay poorly, and/or the market is flooded with other people who are equally good or better than I am at doing that thing.

      1. OP*

        Thank you for sharing, Angry socialist! I hope these comments are helpful to you as well. Best of luck!

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, pally! I think this is a great idea and I will start looking at more professional organization websites. Thank you for sharing!

  23. Jellyfish64*

    Not advice for finding a direction but:
    If you’re passably good at math and don’t hate it, a lot of jobs have a version that requires basic math skills and pays a ton better. E.g. the marketer who comes up with the creative for an ad campaign is often paid way less than the one who also can look at the performance metrics of the campaign, even if the performance metrics piece is only 10% of the job.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Jellyfish64! This is a great idea and something I had never considered. Thank you for sharing!

  24. bamcheeks*

    I am an advocate of following curiosity rather than passion. What seems interesting to you? What do you want to find out more about? What makes you go, “huh, seems kinda interesting…”? Years ago, I saw a brilliant presentation by a clinical psychologist, who said that her heart sinks when wannabe clinical psychs talk to her, and she asks why they want to be a clinical psychologist, and they say they want to help people. She said, there are TONS of ways to help people, and there’s no guarantee that this is the right one for you. Furthermore, one you get into this job, you very quickly find that you can’t help a lot of people, and if that’s your main motivation, you’ll get very discouraged and burn out. She said that her motivation is that she is just endlessly fascinated by what goes wrong inside people’s heads (and bodies), and that even when she’s doubtful whether she can help someone, she just wants to figure out what’s going on anyway, and quite often she DOES end up helping that person, but that for her the curiosity and the drive to learn is a much, much more reliable motivator than “wanting to help”.

    So– what are the bits of your jobs, or the jobs around you, or the jobs entirely unrelated to you, that you want to know more about? LinkedIn is amazing for browsing and just seeing what weird and wonderful (and also ordinary and quotidian!) job titles are out there, and what they actually mean in practice. Have a browse!

    Secondly, I also think that it helps to think about big picture and little picture when figuring out what you enjoy doing. Work is most fulfilling when it serves your bigger purpose, and also just gives you little lifts of pleasure or satisfaction during the day. The “what do I want to have achieved with my life” and “what makes me happy day to day” are two different questions. I actually loved waitressing– I like food, I like chatting to people, I liked being up and about, I liked the intensity of having a list of six different things in my head and remembering them all, and on a day-t0-day basis, it was great. But I also knew I wanted to have more of an impact on people than I could as a waitress, and I like education. So I tried being an academic, but whilst I like and believe (and am very comfortable) in higher education, I didn’t like being an academic– I don’t have the drive, the self-starterness, the love of research or the borderline-necessarily clinical anxiety. On a day-to-day basis, it made me pretty miserable So now I work in education with a lot of diverse responsibilities, including a bit of teaching, lots of one-to-one advice and guidance, some statistics and evaluation, lots of contact with external people, and lots of deadlines and people breathing down my neck to keep me on track, and I love it. I have both the larger purpose AND the little things that make the day worthwhile.

    Lastly, I would say that a bunch of interesting-to-you-but-not-obviously-related jobs is a career. And sometimes the common thread of that career knowledge is much more visible in retrospect than it is at the time. There’s often a really cool thing that happens in your thirties or early forties, where you go, “I mean, I just took whatever jobs were available in my tiny town — buuuut, all of them had a connection to rural businesses, in that I’ve worked for two or three small rural businesses and I’ve worked in business support for rural businesses and actually, I pretty much have all this rural business expertise and maybe I could do something pretty cool with that, like national advocacy for rural businesses?” And sometimes you don’t find that thread, but the thread of your life is that you always had interesting and challenging stuff to do, AND you got to live no more than 40 minutes from the best snowboarding country in the world, and that’s completely OK too!

    1. A Girl Named Fred*

      I know I just posted another reply thanking you for your framing, but the idea of following curiosity and not passion is another thing I’m going to take away from this thread! I’m very curious about a ton of things, but I bet if I sift through those things I can either identify a curiosity that has stuck with me longer than the others or a common thread among all of them, and if I tug at either of those strings then maybe I’ll be on my way to the next step of the process.

    2. A Person*

      I really love all of this advice.

      An example: I keep reminding myself I really enjoy having a core group of people I work with on a regular basis and find meeting new people tiring. This means that I would probably hate consulting since the people would keep shifting, and instead I concentrate on more “traditional” jobs. On the other hand, I have a friend who loves meeting new people and learning about them and he really enjoys consulting.

    3. ccsquared*

      This is wonderful, and tracks with the advice I heard someone give that changed my whole perspective on my career: don’t think in terms of titles, think in terms of the experiences you want to have over the course of your life and work backwards from there. Not all of those experiences have to come from paid employment, but it’s really helpful to know which ones do, particularly if some of them require being attached to companies of a particular size, in a particular industry, etc.

      Also, it helped me to analyze what I had already done in my career that I found fulfilling (or didn’t). Identifying those experiences and really digging into what about them resonated with me has made me much more attuned to following what I like and not just jumping into things that sound good on paper.

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much, ccsquared! I love the idea of thinking in terms of experiences instead of titles. Thank you for sharing!

    4. OP*

      Thank you very much, bamcheeks – this is extremely helpful! I love the idea of following my curiosity instead of my passion; this is much more practical advice! I also really like looking at both the big picture and the little picture. I hadn’t considered this much before, but I will now. Thank you very much!

  25. Claudia Kincaid*

    As someone who’s had a fairly unusual job path and who openly loves my work, I get asked this a lot. I always tell people to think about two different areas: what an enjoyable workday looks like for you and what you hope to accomplish with your work.

    For the first, it’s a question of what environment you thrive in, what pace you enjoy, stuff like that. Do you like having a routine or do you like variety? Do you want to interact with other people? Do you want to do high level thinking or work on something concrete? In my experience a lot of people will choose a topic they’re passionate about but will not think about the day to day – which is a recipe for disaster.

    The other topic, of course, is the more macro approach. Is there something you care about a lot that you want to contribute to? That sounds like a question for people in the social impact/nonprofit field, but it doesn’t have to – maybe you care a lot about helping people find community, which could be done for a company as well. Or maybe you care about building cool new stuff and bringing it to the world. Or maybe you care about money (your call!). But finding an org that allows you to fulfill some kind of purpose, even if it’s not your LIFE purpose, is helpful.

    So for me, looking at where those two streams intersect is where the jobs are. If you really thrive off of conversations, try to find a job that falls somewhere into what you care about but allows you to do that. I know it sounds simplistic, but I’m always shocked at how few people look at both aspects of a job.

  26. Roobidy*

    One approach that could be helpful is approaching it from another angle – rather than asking is X industry for me, turning it on it’s head to look at what do you enjoy and are good at, and which industry or profession fits those.

    Make a list of the things you enjoy and the things you are good at, from your work experience so far and from hobbies/interests/other, and see if something seems to fit. I remember another letter on this site from a STEM researcher who became a librarian. That kind of flip seems illogical at first but not when you start thinking about the day to day of what a librarian’s job entails, it’s things like helping people, working with information, enabling research.

    Hope that helps!

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Roobidy! This is a great idea and I will definitely apply it. Thank you for sharing!

  27. Not Julia’s Child*

    I went to an alternative high school and they focused hard on students finding a few career paths that matched their skills and interests. There was a state-run website where you’d answer a 100+ question survey about your likes and dislikes, and it would spit out a bunch of careers that might be a fit. My parents were both military so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to the range of jobs out there. See if your state has something similar!

    I did wind up in one of the fields the questionnaire came up with, funnily enough, even though at the time I wrote it off because it required learning a whole new language. Life is funny that way.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Not Julia’s Child (love the name)! I will definitely look for something like this!

  28. JustACan*

    I’ve been in the same boat and can really commiserate. What worked for me was a mental Venn diagram of what skills I excelled at, what tasks I found interesting or tolerable at least, and what environment I wanted to work in. I’ve worked in non-profit most of my career (mid-30s, but went to grad school late and started “professional” jobs in my late 20s for reference) because that mattered to me, but I found over time that small orgs/companies in general don’t have what I need to be happiest and perform best, so I’ve nixed out small orgs (which nixes a lot of jobs). I’ve excelled at admin work, but I hate it, so I decided I didn’t want that as my main role, but something that had some of those aspects would be a better fit. I also knew I didn’t want to be front/client facing all the time, but do enjoy talking with external folks, which helped narrow down the kinds of jobs I would feel best suited for and most satisfied with.

    I think you can find a career path that’s satisfying based on a lot of practical eliminations—most people probably won’t be terribly happy in something where they hate the tasks or struggle with their ability to do them, or working in an environment that’s not suited for them. I work remote and it works fine for me, but my partner would hate it, and that changes what we’re both looking for career-wise, as an example. I can’t say I’m filled with undying passion for my care at this point, but that’s probably better, because I go to work and work hard, put in my time, and go home and focus my attention on other things. I’ve struggled with burnout and seen a lot of other people go through it in my field, and I think a lot of it is fueled by passion over practicality.

    Good luck with your search! I think you’ll find what’s right for you!

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, JustACan! I really appreciate this idea and your encouragement! I am a big fan of Venn diagrams, so I will definitely try this exercise. Thank you for sharing!

  29. Analytical Tree Hugger*

    I heartily second what others are saying: a career/job doesn’t need to be a passion, it doesn’t need to be core to your identity, and it can be simply a tool to support your life. My take is:

    1) Let go of the idea of a “right career.”

    This is parallel to the fallacy of “your one true love.” There are many careers that *could* be right for you, as long as you understand what you want out of your job/career.

    2) Decide what you want from your job/career and what defines a “good career” to you.

    As others have said, a job doesn’t have to be inherently fulfilling. It can be a tool to support what you want out of life. Or it can be a source of fulfillment. Decide what the answer is for you now first, then use that as your guide.

    3) You are making a decision for now + 3 years, not for the rest of your life.

    Be cautious of the idea that what you choose now means you are stuck forever. Many skills and experiences are transferrable to some extent, so you will often have *some* options to change.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Analytical Tree Hugger! This is wonderful advice, and I am definitely going to work on adjusting my perspective. Thank you for sharing!

  30. TeenieBopper*

    Honestly, the best approach is probably just changing your outlook (both the letter writer specifically and American work culture generally).

    We need to completely toss out this idea that we should be defined by our work and career. It’s work. It’s a job. You don’t need to love it. Just find a job you like with a manager that isn’t an asshole and coworkers you don’t hate and then get your emotional/spiritual/social/whatever fulfillment outside of work.

    1. Dinwar*

      Most of us will spend 8 hours at work, plus a few for commute, getting ready, and other transitional activities. Call it 9-10 hours directly related to work. 7-8 hours of sleep puts you at 16-18 hours out of 24. Add another two for meals, and one for hygiene. We’re down to three hours of personal time per day. That’s assuming a one-income house with no major maintenance issues.

      Budget constraints only make the equation worse.

      The idea that work should be merely tolerable and that you should find fulfillment elsewhere simply isn’t viable for large segments of the population. It’s hardly unreasonable to want the biggest chunk of your time to go towards something you at least enjoy a bit.

      1. Bast*

        For most people, it is also equally unviable to find a job that you are in love with. I am not saying it can’t happen, but for many people their passions or “I’d rather be doing ____” won’t pay the bills. I think finding a job that is “good enough” or “tolerable” is still better than most people have it — I can remember quite a few jobs that actively made me sick every day at the thought of going to them, but with bills to pay, I didn’t have too many choices and needed the stability of that job — at least for that current time. It seems to me many are in the same boat, because while they may hate, or at least, dislike, their current job, they know a move could render them unable to pay bills/without health insurance, etc. “Tolerable” seems like a way more feasible goal for many than “love it.” I don’t disagree with you that it is a LOT of time to pour into something that you only just tolerate, but I also feel like it is the sad reality for a good deal of people.

        1. Dinwar*

          I said elsewhere that dream jobs are extremely rare as well. I’m not saying you should only take jobs that you’re 100% passionately in love with; rather, you should be shooting for 80%.

          I also think (am almost certain) that this blog presents a biased picture. Not the author’s fault; it’s an advice column, so obviously you’re mostly going to hear horror stories. It’s called the Clinician Fallacy–clinicians only see the worst cases, so they tend to think the normal course for a disease is what they see, drastically over-estimating the typical severity. Likewise, if all you hear is horror-stories about work you’ll think that those horror stories are what typical work is like. Are there a large chunk of people stuck in jobs they just tolerate? Sure. But I think we tend to over-estimate them.

      2. Hlao-roo*

        I have a slight quibble with “the biggest chunk of your time.” There are 8,760 hours in a year. Assuming 8 hours of sleep every night, there are 5,840 waking hours in a year.

        Using your 10 hours related to work per work-day, there are 10 hours/work-day * 5 work-days/week * 52 weeks/year = 2,600 work hours in a year.

        Work is about 44.5% of waking time per year under those assumptions, which do not include any holidays or vacation days.

        I agree that for some people, settling for “merely tolerable” 44.5% of their waking hours is not viable.

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        Also, I don’t inherently have any interest in climbing the ladder…but if I want my pay to keep up with inflation, I kind of need to be promoted over time. Which means that the ability to leave work at work will decrease accordingly. I would love to be a Senior Accountant forever, never have to manage anyone or answer emails on vacation…but bring paid a Senior Accountant salary forever would not be so great.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          *I mean that I would love not to have to work towards a promotion to manager, not that I love my job. My job is definitely just what funds the rest of my life.

          1. TeenieBopper*

            This is actually something I’m struggling with right now a bit. I don’t want to be a manager either, but in order for salary increases, I have to at least take on supervisory roles. I have no interest in that. I just want to be a dude who shows up, knows the system well, knows how to solve problems, does his job, and go home. That kind of expertise should be rewarded but instead we’re paying managers instead of the people who actually do the work.

            1. Arabella Flynn*

              Can you consult? The paperwork is more onerous, but what you just described is pretty much what they do – they show up, solve problems, collect pay, and go home.

        2. Sloanicota*

          This is an interesting perspective. There are jobs that offer COLAs that are tracked to inflation, so it is possible to stay a Senior Accountant but not go broke. For me, outside the recent period I don’t know that inflation so much as lifestyle creep is what causes me to require so much more money now than I used to. I bought a house, and expensive things frequently go wrong with the house. I bought pets and they have a lot of expensive needs. I started enjoying pricier vacations instead of sleeping on friends’ couches, etc.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            And to some extent, lifestyle tends to creep generally. Like, people just out of college often live with roommates, but after a while you may want to buy a house, have kids, or even just live on your own without roommates. I’m lucky to have been able to afford to live alone for many years, but even so, rent can go up quite a lot…

        3. A Girl Named Fred*

          I think this is a piece of the puzzle that some folks are either missing or glossing over in their suggestions to just find something you’re okay with that “pays decently” – finding decently paid (or heaven forbid, well paid) jobs usually involves an amount of schooling or other training that can be hard to commit to if you aren’t completely sure you’re in the field for a long haul or would be able to parlay those skills into something else if needed. Which only contributes more to the decision paralysis.

          I’m aware that I tend toward pessimism though so I’m trying not to focus on that piece of the advice too much, but… it’s not something we can completely ignore either, IMO.

      4. Beveled Edge*

        This is completely disconnected from reality. For most people, the things we enjoy won’t pay the bills. Finding a job you can tolerate, that isn’t toxic, that pays for food and keeps a roof over your head, is what most people need.

        1. Dinwar*

          I disagree.

          If you consistently fail to find any enjoyment in jobs, odds are pretty good it’s not the fault of the work. You need to look at the common factor.

          Plus, please don’t put words in my mouth. I’m not saying the job should be 100% your favorite thing to do ever ever every. I’m no Utopian. I’m also not fatalistic enough to think that the only hope is to find a job that’s merely tolerable; the number of counter-examples (where enjoyment is significantly greater than frustration) is too large to think it’s “completely disconnected from reality”. And before you make assumptions, I grew up dirt poor in the Rust Belt, and knew many people in poverty (some extremely well). I’m including them in this.

          Finally, please note the classist (or maybe caste) assumption of this. This statement reminds me very much of what Duke Welington said about his soldiers (and, to be fair, what they frequently said about themselves). It presents an external locus of control. Sometimes that’s the case, sure, but I find it far less often than advice columns (due to their nature, not to any fault of the author) would lead one to believe.

          1. allathian*

            Passion doesn’t define me, and I’m not entirely sure I even understand what the word means, especially as applied to work. I’ve always been a “work to live” person, and career advancement isn’t high on my list of priorities, even if I’m happy to learn new things as my job changes.

            Nevertheless I’m happy to be reasonably paid for doing something I’m good at, and to work for an employer whose organizational culture and values match my personal values. I enjoy the fact that I have a great manager who has my back and who appreciates what I do, as well as a bunch of teammates whose skills complement mine. A big bonus is that I have a lot of autonomy in my job, great flexibility in my working hours, and the fact that when I’m done for the day, I never have to deal with messages from my manager or coworkers. It also doesn’t hurt that I’m in Finland where the system is set up to deal with long vacations, so when I’m on vacation, I can expect to fully disengage from my job.

            I wouldn’t do my job for free, and it’s certainly transactional in the sense that I exchange my efforts for salary and benefits, but I do admit that I enjoy my job the vast majority of the time. Sure, I look forward to weekends and vacations, but I haven’t experienced the Sunday Scaries for years, not since the burnout I had three bosses back.

            I do think that being emotionally committed to a job leaves you wide open for exploitation, and that an emotionally disengaged attitude means that you’re less likely to take critical feedback of your work as criticism of yourself as a person.

            One reason why I enjoy this blog so much is that it makes me very aware of my privilege, and it reminds me to be grateful for that privilege.

      5. OP*

        Thank you, Dinwar! I agree that work should be better than tolerable if possible, and appreciate you sharing this!

    2. bamcheeks*

      “Do something which meets your basic needs and get your other needs met at work” works brilliantly for some people– but it is ALSO way of thinking about work and life, not a universal guiding principle, and it doesn’t work for everyone any more than, “do what you love” or “make as much money as possible” works for everyone. IMO it’s way more useful to figure out what you personally want to get out of work — whether that’s time and freedom to pursue your passions outside work, or to be paid to do stuff that’s not your passion but kinda cool, or to entirely subsume your personality into your profession, or whatever, than to try and force yourself into any particularly paradigm because that’s what you feel you *should* do.

    3. OP*

      Thank you very much, TeenieBopper! I think you are absolutely right, and am going to work on changing my mindset around this. Thank you for your insight!

  31. Blue envelope*

    I always think it’s useful to look around you at people who have a job that appeals to you in some aspect, whether it’s the type of people they get to work with, or the nature of the work in some way. Then reach out to them, buy them a cup of coffee or get on a virtual call, and ask all the questions you’re curious about, including why and how they got to where they are. Almost anyone would be flattered by that, and I think most people would love to connect.

    It doesn’t have to be in a dream industry or company – there just needs to be something there that piques your interest. Even if you know someone who seems to genuinely love their job even if it wouldn’t be the job for you, it might be useful to reach out to find out how they identified the right career for them. They may have words of wisdom for you.

    And as others have said, it doesn’t need to be your passion. My spouse is in finance for a medical group – it’s not his passion, but he enjoys the work and it pays well, and allows him time to engage in his actual passions. (I’m self-employed doing my actual passion, which I would absolutely do for free – I’m a financial coach)

  32. Been there, done that*

    I am 42 years old and finally about 3 years in to a job I can see myself in for the rest of my life. I have been everything from a paraprofessional in a school, to an installation coordinator at an HVAC company, to a Development Associate for a private high school, all the while waitressing and bartending and restaurant managing through there as well. I left my favorite job ever (in the Athletic Office at a high school) to stay home when my kids were really little, and while I don’t regret a moment I had with them, it makes me sad that that job opportunity never opened itself back up for me and there was about a decade there where I worried I lost the only chance to truly love going to work every day. My current job is in local government – totally different than anything I had done before!

    For me, while I do really enjoy the work I do at my current job, the real reason I can see myself here for life is my boss and my department. I am able to have true work/life balance for really what I think is the first time ever in my life because of the flexibility and understanding of my boss, camaraderie with my co-workers (not best friends, but work together well and get along), and wonderful benefits my employer has. I find my work fulfilling (I get to support other team members and departments and help the public), but I also don’t stress if I’m sick or need to leave early for something for my kids. I love the work enough that I actually went back and finished my degree (only 20 years late!) with classes in the field where I’m working now, but again, it’s much less about the work and much more about the support and lack of stress that I have.

    I often joked before I got this job that I “didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up”, but that literally hasn’t come out of my mouth since landing here – which was almost totally by chance. Give yourself some patience to figure it out! It’s ok to try different things and see what really clicks. While I started out behind the curve, I still can put in at least 20 years of work here, and I feel pretty excited about that prospect.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Been there done that! This is a great point and I really appreciate you sharing!

  33. AnotherLawyer*

    1) Our career lives are loooooong, and I think it can feel really daunting to decide you have to pick something you’ll like for that whole time. There’s nothing wrong at all with changing careers.

    2) I found myself in a position where I was wildly unhappy and underperfoming, not because I didn’t like the work but because I didn’t like the clients or what they did. I felt like I was helping people make the world worse. Now I am doing the same kind of work in a different setting with clients who I believe in the value they put out, and it makes an enormous difference. Being able to buy into the big picture helps, even when you’re a tiny little piece. Don’t get me wrong it’s all still corporate and no one is saving the world out here, but they’re not hoarding/exploiting resources in a way that makes me feel gross.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Another Lawyer! It is very daunting to try to pick something to do for the next 30 years, and I think you have a great point about buying into the big picture. Thank you for sharing!

  34. anonymous 2*

    There’s 2 things to think about — the TOPIC of the work and the TYPE of work. Examples of topics of work are things like: healthcare, education, construction, etc. But within that field the types of work are very different – think about the difference in the day-to-day of a curriculum writer vs. a teacher. Some people I think choose a topic and then explore different role types in that path. I think that’s one way to build a career path.

    Another way is to think of the type of work you’d like to do, and be more topic-agnostic (at least at the beginning) For TYPE of work, I think some of the big picture things to think about are things like:
    – Do you like working with people or prefer to work independently?
    – Do you like to work with the public or prefer to work internally (only with your coworkers)?
    – Do you like to work on one big project at a time or a lot of little ones?
    – Do you like to work with your hands, work outside, work in the “field”, work in an office?

    OP, if you give us some of those parameters that are most interesting to you in terms of either type or topic, folks might be able to chime in with specific ideas of careers! Some careers I feel like are well-kept secrets :).

    1. OP*

      Thank you, anonymous 2! These are great questions. I prefer to work independently and to work internally (only with co-workers). I can juggle multiple projects but I like having something I can really dive into and handle from A to Z (instead of needing to do a piece and pass it on). I also like to work in a (remote) office. I know I’m replying too late for anyone to probably see this and offer suggestions, but I really appreciate the questions!

  35. Margaret Cavendish*

    “Follow your passion” is such overrated advice. Most people prefer to like their jobs, and to feel their work is important in some way. But passion? True passion jobs are hard to come by, and unfortunately they don’t tend to pay very much. If passion is important to you, and you also want to make a living wage, you might have a very long job search.

    Alison actually has a super old post that I go back to a lot. It has really helped me figure out what I like and don’t like about the various jobs I’ve had, and where to take the next steps forward.

    1. Pretty as a Princess*


      There’s a book out called “The problem with passion” which is excellent and talks about how detrimental this advice is in particular to women and underrepresented groups!

  36. Mermaid of the Lunacy*

    I a lot of people experience this type of career existential crisis. I used to feel bad that my career history was a patchwork of unrelated jobs. I felt like I was bouncing around, not sure what I wanted to be, etc.

    Then I realized that all my jobs had a few things in common. They required strong communication skills and an outgoing personality. I came into the jobs not knowing much and learned on my feet. I left systems and processes in a better place than I found them.

    So, I’ve decided that’s where my career passion lies, not in a specific industry or job title.

    1. Colette*

      Yeah, I’ve had very different jobs – but they all required analyzing and solving problems – and that’s how I explain it.

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, Mermaid of the Lunacy! This is a great perspective and really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing!

  37. FG*

    I’m 35 years into my working life & I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up either. I’ve gone from field to field and job type to job type by a somewhat logical progression but not by any design. There have been some right-place-right-tine moves. There have been paths I started down with the idea of “career” but that were thwarted by circumstance or change of perspective. Along the way I’ve learned I’m good at things I never would have imagined doing or incorporating into a job.

    How do I feel about that? It is what it is. In my 20s and 30s I did identify strongly with what I did, & poured a lot of emotion into it. I still care about the work I do & I do a good/great job, but recognize it’s not *who I am*. So I wish I’d had a more straightforward career? Eh, sometimes. But I’ve come to see that my jack of all trades / master of none life actually suits me. I’ve certainly been able to experience a TON of things and inhabited many more worlds that I never would have if I’d just set my sights on being an “X.”

    None of that is to say you shouldn’t move forward with exploring. I understand the feeling of being somewhat adrift. There may indeed be a skill or interest that you can can nurture to blossom into something concrete. But don’t think that a single type of job or field is the only way to go.

    1. Khatul Madame*

      I have a similar story, and can only add that having a narrowly-defined plan is a recipe for failure and disappointment. Right now I am in a job that I’d never foreseen for myself, and I enjoy it more than the positions that were “right”. You never know.
      I’d say, in addition to what you are good at, figure out what you definitely DON’T want to do, and give yourself permission to consider all possibilities.

    2. HelloFromLondon*

      also someone told me recently that the jack of all trades phrase actually is longer than we quote… “a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.” It’s a compliment! And I agree, all those varied experiences all add up.

    3. OP*

      Thank you very much, FG! I appreciate knowing I’m not the only person in this situation. I really appreciate your perspective!

  38. Cruciatus*

    I still don’t know what I want to do!

    Just to mention it, it’s perfectly OK to just think “This isn’t so bad, salary is good, I’ll keep doing that!” Lots of job paths appeal to you and any might be fine! They certainly do to me, but I’m actually no longer overly worried about not having a “career”. I am employed and what I’m doing feels good for now, I’m paid enough for now, at 4:30 I leave my job and I don’t have to think about it until the next day (and I’m not overly stressed daily). I get PTO, I get a pension (after 5 years anyway), etc. All of those things are important to me now more than just the career part (which is still important, but no longer my be-all, end-all like it was a few years ago).

    Needing to remain fully remote will be limiting (though also potentially temporary), but one thought would be to try and find a (good) employer with lots of different career avenues. I just left a staff position at an academic library to work in…corporate archives (at in insurance company)! I’m still so new that I can’t say whether it’s something I’ll stay in this department or not, but if I choose another path in the future, there are so many different things here I could get into–claims! marketing! mail services (our insurance company has its own zip code!)! investigative services!

    Some I might like more than others, but if I can get through my days mostly liking what I do and mostly liking my salary then I’m considering it a win. So I’m not saying insurance specifically, but there are lots of companies out there with so many different types of jobs and levels of work that I would look there. I would try not to get bogged down in the “right” career path. You could never know. But do you like the work you’re doing? What would you like to do more of? Use that as a starting point and see what comes out of it, and if you can find a company where you can grow and discover new paths then all the better!

  39. Serious Silly Putty*

    I think instead of finding a career that IS your passion, you should look for a job that allows you to PURSUE your passion — whether that happens on the clock or not. Here are some examples of my loved ones:
    – James is a computer scientist at a tech company. He gets burned out working remotely and honestly if he wanted to switch to something else I wouldn’t blame him… BUT the money is good and so he can pursue his foodie hobbies: expensive coffee/coffee equipment, nice knives, occasional outings to fancy restaurants, frequent outings to the “good” pizza place, etc.
    – Michael grew up wanting to be a meteorologist, then realized the job itself would let him do what he really liked: storm chasing. So he became an engineer, and used his paycheck and PTO to support his storm chasing hobbies. Now he sells his tornado footage to TV stations so the hobby nearly pays for itself.
    – Mary studied religion and German in college. She ended up in HR, something she never would have labeled as a passion, but it’s something she’s good at, and it provides a stable income. She can mostly leave work at work, so she can keep time for reading, playing with her dogs, and volunteering with the local animal shelter.
    – Katie “became a writer because nobody would pay her to read”. She liked cars and lived in Detroit, so there were options. She was a communications major who has worked in speech writing, advertising, marketing, and now sometimes ghost writing blogs or letters from bigwigs. So she DOES get to use her passion at work, even if writing about the superiority of a particular diesel engine isn’t what she’d do recreationally. Working corporate (rather than as a “starving artist”) means she can afford to attend and support the arts.
    – I was the slacker science major who worked at summer camps instead of getting a research internship. Instead of extra math or programming classes, I took acting and Irish literature. I thought I wanted to teach and did an alternative process to do so… and failed horribly. Like anxiety attacks at the thought of going into my classroom. I had to leave in the middle of my first year. But THEN I found a job doing outreach education for the local science center. The job description said “experience in informal educational a plus”… and i realized I HAD THAT from working the summer camps. And the acting classes came in handy for storytelling while showing constellations in the planetarium. Turns out “informal science education “ is a whole field that I’d never heard of but that aligned incredibly well with my passions and giftings. (Pay is lousy, but stable, andmental health is worth a lot! )

  40. Design Thinking Book*

    I have been working through the book and workbook Designing Your Life (Burnette and Evans) they are product designers that help you apply design that thinking to your life. (There is an online course too). It’s got me thinking about what I like to do and they talk about prototyping. So informational interviews, following groups on LinkedIn etc. I thought for sure I wanted to get a CPP, I have been taking an on-line class, reading the book and preparing for test. The I started talking to people who did that kind of work and realized that is not what I want to do. Now I’ve just found a (free) no code software boot camp that I am applying to. Since I don’t have to leave my job today, I am using this time to try “stuff”. The book and workbook were a small investment (less than $50.00) and you could possibly get it out of the library. It definitely got me out of a rut.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much – I have added this book to my read list and plan to pick it up ASAP. Thank you for sharing!

  41. Job Pivoter*

    This could have been me in 2021! I’ll share more of my journey if it’s helpful, but two things that I did when I realized I was ready to switch careers after 8 years and had no idea where to start:

    1. Made a list of some of my proudest accomplishments, tasks I most enjoyed doing, and tasks I least enjoyed doing
    2. Literally just googled “jobs that do X task” and did a lot of research + reviewing job postings until I had a more narrow idea of roles that sounded interesting and doable for me.

    I was a liberal arts major in college — which provides you with a lot of broad skillsets and competencies, but no specific career path — and stumbled my way into my first job as an admissions counselor with a university right out of college. I had no idea that job existed and I think I found it just from scrolling job boards. It had a low barrier of entry: You needed a degree and the ability to communicate effectively.

    I did that for 8 years at the same institution, but burned out hard during Covid and knew I wanted to do something different — but it felt like being out of college all over again, because I had no idea WHAT I wanted or was qualified to do. The steps I listed above were crucial for me to even know where to begin. As other commenters have said, your job doesn’t have to be your life’s passion — it’s okay to be something you’re interested in right now, or for it to just be tolerable enough to pay your bills and let you live your real life.

    1. Peanut Hamper*

      I LOVE the idea of googling “jobs that do X”. I have some skills that I would like to use more than I do in my current job, and this is a good way to find other jobs that would help me do just that.

      1. bamcheeks*

        It works really well on LinkedIn– you can search by a specific software package (ideally not one of the main Microsoft ones, but certainly something like Aggresso or NVIVO or Adobe or smaller) and see who mentions it in their profile. Also works with things like a specific piece of legislation, or a model or theory.

        Also fun to search your hobbies and remember that what’s a hobby to you probably has some kind of business infrastructure somewhere, and looking at what some of the “ordinary” jobs are in that sector.

    2. Random Dice*

      Johnson O’Connor Foundation has a skills and vocation test – well a series of tests – that pinpoint the way your brain is wired and what your professional attitudes are.

      It costs around $750 and is well worth the cost, if one can afford it. A friend had used it even making a major career transition, and raved about it.

      My husband got such specific advice – you’d do best in these 5 careers, working in startup to smaller companies, doing work that feels purpose-driven, bringing in these skillsets. You’re good with solving problems and working with your hands, but time constraints make those skills and your reasoning degrade, so instead….

      He now has EXACTLY this job, at this size company, and my goodness the difference in his happiness is so palpable. (And he finally understood why he had failed a job he seemed perfect for on paper, and he was able to let go of bitterness or self-blame by understanding why it didn’t work.)

      Johnson O’Connor is such an incredible tool for people in transition.

  42. I-O Psycho*

    The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Information Network (O*NET) has a variety of useful resources about specific occupations. Check it out: For instance, you can type in the name of a specific occupation and read all about it. Additionally, though, O*NET has a couple of tools that may be helpful to you. On one (see, you can choose which soft skills (from a list provided) you possess–and on that basis O*NET will suggest some occupations you may wish to peruse further. On another (see, you can explore your interests and how they map on to specific occupations. Each of these tools on its own is only somewhat helpful; however, occupations that are suggested by *both* tools may be particularly worth perusing.

    I also want to echo Lily Rowan’s comment to the effect that “looking into career coaches doesn’t necessarily mean a huge investment” and that, on at least a trial basis, a career coach may be well worth the money. Finally, avoiding jobs that don’t work well for you may be a more tractable goal than finding the ideal job (which may not exist): as other commenters have noted, finding a job–and indeed career–that’s “good enough” is a perfectly acceptable goal.

    In case it helps explain my perspective, I’m a professor of industrial and organizational (I-O) psychology. I’m a long-time reader of this site but a first-time commenter. I wish you all the best and am very optimistic that things will work out well for you!

    1. jonquil*

      Came here to recommend the O*NET interest profiler!! It was so helpful to me when I was really unsure if I wanted to continue down the career path I was on. It helped me start to see that I was doing the right thing for me, just at the wrong kind of place.

      The other great thing about the Interest Profiler is that it’s connected to Bureau of Labor Statistics data and will indicate which of the recommended fields for you are also higher growth, so you know where there are more likely to be openings.

    2. OP*

      This is great – thank you so much! I had looked at O*NET before but didn’t realize it had all of these capabilities. Thank you for sharing!

  43. ResponseJunkie*

    I still don’t know what I want to do and I’ve been working for over a decade. But I do have it narrowed down. A lot of it has to do with saying “yes” to things that might be interesting, particularly side projects at work. I know what field I want to be in because almost a decade ago a woman at an old job said “I hear you do search and rescue, do you want to help me update our safety plan?” I said yes, learned about the field of Emergency Management, and tada! I found something that I really like.

    One piece of advice from my experience has been to try and keep your “yes” answers to within your company if possible. For better or for worse I said yes to new jobs too often and am trying to develop some tenure at my current role, something I wish I had done a while back.

    If you have the bandwidth/resources and an idea of what might be interesting, there are lots of volunteer organizations for many, many fields. If it’s a significant shift from what you’re currently doing see if there’s a way to volunteer a little bit of your time to make sure you like it?

  44. Peanut Hamper*

    I think that modern technology has made the idea of a career path somewhat irrelevant. Modern work is less about what you know and much more about what you know how to do. If you are confident in your skills, you can apply them to other fields.

    Robin Williams once said that he found success as an actor by “breaking in the other direction”. That is, he would do a comedy, then a more serious movie, then another comedy. He didn’t get bored and the audience didn’t get bored with him. I think there’s something to that.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Peanut Hamper! I hadn’t thought about this before but I think you’re right. Thank you for sharing!

  45. Spreadsheets and Books*

    Can I ask why you feel like not finding your dream career would be a waste, or why the idea of a good career means so much? Is it about money? Is it about managing anxiety and stress? Is it about tolerating the hours you spend working? Is it about perception?

    While I do like what I do, the older I get, the more I feel strongly about working to live, not living to work. There are so many ways to find fulfillment in life without it being tied to your job, and if you’re making enough money to live the kind of life you want, it may be worth trying to find what brings you joy in other avenues of life. Family, friends, hobbies… there are so many ways to enjoy your time while having work be something that exists in your life rather than something your life revolves around.

    I was a ladder climber early in my career, but I’ve come to realize that I, too, have no interest in managing people, which doesn’t leave me a ton of options in my field. But honestly, I think that’s fine with me. I really just want to make enough money to be comfortable and save adequately for the future, and the time to do the things I’d rather be doing than working.

    1. Diocletian Blobb*

      I can’t speak for the LW, but as someone with similar worries, they stem from the fact that I will spend nearly half the waking hours of my adult life at work, maybe more. Doing something that’s just tolerable feels like a huge waste of whatever potential I have in my time on earth.
      I recognize that’s a privileged viewpoint — plenty of people from less advantageous backgrounds see no problem with working solely to survive — but it’s one that haunts me nonetheless.

      1. HelloFromLondon*

        Having spent 10 years working in the charity and creative sectors, sometimes it’s really fulfilling and like you’re making the most of your time on earth, but honestly a lot of it is really frustrating and hard and you feel like you’re compromising all the time. I’ve actually felt a lot more like I’m making an impact through volunteering and being part of organising/campaigning outside of work, and following my own creativity when I quit my job and worked in a coffee shop to give me headspace for my own life. It’s really satisfying now, going back into full time work, that I see it as just one facet of how I can make a difference in the world.

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much, Spreadsheets and Books (love the name – I should have this tattooed on my forehead)! I think I have been concerned that I spend so much of my waking time at work (often 60+ hours per week, and there have been times where it’s 100+. I am changing this and limiting myself to 50 hours / week whenever possible) but I don’t feel like I’ve found something that really resonates with me. Money is part of the equation, as I want to have enough to live on and put away for retirement, but a bigger piece is feeling like what I’m doing matters – that it positively affects the world beyond myself. I think part of this is coming from all of the changes that have occurred in my company over the past few months that make me question the value of the work I’ve done (a lot of things I had been working on became extraneous overnight). It’s made me question what I’ve really accomplished so far. Thank you so much for your sharing – I think you have the right idea about focusing on the things outside of work as well!

  46. Colette*

    I think a lot of people’s career path consists of choosing the best option open to them when it’s time to move on – and that’s OK!

    But I wanted to address your comment about informational interviews. Finding out what the job is like is a specific purpose. So you send an email saying “Would you have 15 minutes to talk about what your job is like? I’m trying to decide what I want my next career move to be” – and then you come up with a list of questions to ask. (What’s a day in the life of a teapot polisher like? What skills do you find successful people in this role have? What are the frustrations in doing this job? What’s the most rewarding part?) The goal isn’t to check answers off your list, the goal is to have a conversation.

  47. ELS*

    To echo others in the comments, having a career/finding the perfect job is overrated. I too was sold on the idea of finding the perfect fit job growing up, and that once I found it, work would be fulfilling, and not feel like work at all. I found a job I’m good at and that pays well, but it’s not the focus of my life, and I leave it behind at the end of the day. Letting go of the idea of the “right job for you” can be freeing, and make more jobs feel like an ok fit.

    I’d recommend paying attention to what energizes you and what exhausts you in the jobs you’ve had. Lean in to the parts of your job that give you energy. When I was in grad school, I always procrastinated on writing, but I felt satisfied after a day of programming or analysis. I did a bunch of informational interviews to learn more about different industry jobs, and now I’m a data scientist. I really do recommend informational interviews, as long as you prepare questions ahead of time. Most people like to help and are happy to talk about their work for half an hour.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, ELS! I agree that this is a better perspective than trying to find a perfect career. Thank you for sharing!

  48. TimeToChange*

    I want to put in a vote for continuing to poke around job boards – you could do worse! I’m 10 years into my second or third career, and I’m currently feeling some malaise (at my current job the pay, flexibility, and PTO are great, my coworkers/working environment is good, but the actual work feels like a slog), so I’ve been thinking about whether it’s time for a new job, new career, sabbatical, or what. I was looking at jobs in my current career and my previous career and came across a completely unrelated job on an organization’s website that made me think, “Hey, I would be good at that and I think it might be really interesting and more meaningful-feeling than my current path!”

    Then from there I started thinking about the broader field that the unrelated job was in and whether I would enjoy doing something similar to my current work but in that field.

    I don’t know – I’m not making any big career moves at the moment but I actually feel more hopeful than I have in a long time about finding work that doesn’t feel like such a slog all the time.

  49. shrambo*

    What I would ask OP is, why do you want a quote-unquote “career”? It sounds like what they actually want is a sense of purpose and accomplishment and have gotten hung up on having a “career” as the only way to get those things.

    1. Dinwar*

      Another explanation is that they want a clear path forward–to know what the next step is. Having such a goal makes decision-making easier. If it advances that goal it’s worth doing, if not it isn’t. Not having such a goal can leave you floundering, grasping at straws, or at least feeling like you are.

      And if you feel that you’ve just gone from paycheck to paycheck but not gotten anywhere it can be disheartening. If you feel like it’s intentional in some way it can really improve things. I’m a big believer in the idea that the stories we tell ourselves are powerful. The same history–going from job to job as opportunities arise–can feel either pointless or meaningful, depending on whether you believe there’s a purpose to it. And the common term for that purpose in our culture is “career”.

      1. OP*

        Thank you, Dinwar – this is exactly it. I have been feeling adrift in my current role and am trying to figure out my overarching goal / a path to achieving it. Thank you for your insight!

  50. Cat Lady in the Mountains*

    I’ve had a spectrum of jobs ranging from true “passion” jobs to “I feel good about being part of this but don’t care deeply” jobs to “I never would have guessed I’d be working in this industry” jobs. In the end, I’ve found myself happiest in the second trajectory.

    “Passion” jobs are hard because over time, your passions become work as you have to spend a ton of time doing all the annoying things (for me it was customer service, chasing down invoices, etc.). By the time you’re off the clock, you often have no energy to pursue your personal enjoyment that drew you to the field in the first place.

    At the same time, “industries I truly couldn’t give a damn about” didn’t work for me even when I found the work fairly interesting and when I had growth potential. I was in a writing role and as much as I love writing, I just could not bring myself to care that much about the profits of the fiduciary liability insurance company I worked for.

    I settled in nonprofitland working on an issue that I think is important, but don’t care particularly deeply about. (As in, I’d never volunteer or prioritize getting involved in this issue if I wasn’t paid for it.) Nonprofitland is nice because depending on the size of the org, you can explore a huge range of responsibilities — I’ve done everything from basic accounting to operations management to directing a program area to foundation fundraising to event management to policy work to grassroots organizing etc. At the end of the day I don’t feel like I’m wasting my career because I’m contributing to a good thing, but I also am able to maintain a level of distance that allows me to treat work as a means to an end (money and free time). I’ll probably never single-handedly change the course of history in a big way, but I can see how my skills make a small difference, and I get to shut down my computer at 5 every day. And generally I find about 80% of my tasks reasonably interesting and engaging; the remaining 20% of boring and annoying stuff isn’t disruptive enough to bother me.

  51. Mel*

    10 years into my career I would have described myself in much the same terms: interested in everything, bouncing around a lot, not mad at the jobs I was doing, but not feeling any direction. I didn’t feel my CV looked very strong so I hunted for more challenging work outside of my comfort zone – some of it paid off and some of it didn’t suit me at all.
    16 years in, I’m now in a senior technical leadership role and all that bouncing around *finally* looks like meaningful breadth of experience on my CV, and I don’t feel like my bumbling search for novelty is a liability anymore. In fact it’s something I sell myself on (along the lines of “takes a holistic approach to professional development”, “comfortable in multi-disciplinary environments”, “great at identifying new business opportunities” etc)

    Regardless of what you end up doing, I’d like to reassure you that lacking laser focus isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can take a while to figure out how to make that pay.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Mel – I really appreciate your reassurance and knowing that you were in a similar situation. Thank you for sharing this!

  52. TraceMark*

    Everyone here has great insight, but I’m going to recommend a book that I found helpful in thinking about how I approach my career and making changes, “Designing Your Life” by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans. They also have “Designing Your Work Life” which I also found helpful but more as a way to think about my current job than to think about what else I might like to do.

    A major thing that I took from this reading is to experiment with making the changes that you are thinking about. So, for example, I was thinking about what I might like to do if I quit my current job. I came up with a field and ended up taking an inexpensive online course to explore it. I decided from that experience that it wasn’t for me, but I did pick up some skills that I still use, and I was able to talk about that experience when interviewing for another job I was interested in.

    So, basically, design little ways for yourself to explore other things. Also, doing that kind of work made me feel like I was making progress toward something, which ended up making me feel better about the job I have.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, TraceMark! I have added these books to my list and plan to read them as soon as possible. Thank you for the recommendations!

  53. Pink Candyfloss*

    I chased a “career path” in my 20s-30s but soon burned out and became disillusioned – I switched now to a job-based mindset; as long as I am using my skills and experience, my path is meandering all over the place and I am happier than when I was trying to climb a very structured ladder.

    I guess I had to ask myself WHY I wanted to chase a stressful career path through an uncertain future and wasn’t satisfied with having a meaningful job in the moment. I changed my thinking, and took charge of my own happiness. My life’s contribution to this world comes outside of work and now that I am job-focused instead of career-focused, I have the time and energy to do that.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Pink Candyfloss! I think this is an excellent point and something I will consider. Thank you for sharing!

  54. CribbyWibbles*

    Be adaptable and lean into change. Even people who are on “fixed” career paths (think: doctors, professors, accountants) decide to leave their industries and try something new if what they’ve been doing isn’t serving them anymore. Life is long, and your career is only part of that. You’re probably going to change your mind about what you do for work many times over.

    I have had a LOT of jobs, and I’m only in my mid-30s. Would I call my job history a career? Maybe. There have been some common through lines. But when searching for a job, I focus on a couple of things: 1) is the work something I can do that won’t make me absolutely miserable more than 75% of the time? and 2) do I align with the stated mission of the employer? These are just general guidelines; they can’t tell you if you’ll have a terrible boss, or if a re-org will make your job slightly different in a year, or any other imaginable thing that will change as time goes on.

    The best advice I can possibly offer you is to not define a worthwhile life by your chosen career. Even if that career is a patchwork quilt of a bunch of different jobs. Because unless you are independently wealthy, the fact is you have to work to make money to survive. It’s great if you can find something that you genuinely enjoy doing, but often it’s enough to work somewhere that isn’t completely soul crushing. Figure out what about work is important to you and let that guide your search. You’ll probably surprise yourself where you end up!

    1. OP*

      Thank you, CribbyWibbles! These are excellent points and I appreciate your guidance. Thank you for sharing!

  55. Overit*

    As a retired person who never found a career passion and based on life experience and observation of the work world for almost 50 years, my advice is:
    –Go for the money. Find work you can do that pays well. “Well” = to live the life you want, save for rainy days, and to allow you to live decently in retirement.
    –Be extremely wary of long term non profit work, most of which expects you to live on poverty wages for the sake of the mission.
    –ALL of the people I know who pursued careers in their passion burned out on their passion. They ALL wish they had kept their passion as a hobby. Often the passion jobs also pay poorly.
    –Most of the people I know who were happy in their work are happy because of their work environment, not the actual work.

  56. The Person from the Resume*

    #1 “follow your passion” is just plain terrible advice. Either your passions do not generate money (Ex: I love to read books. I don’t want to write or edit or sell or review books, though.) or Having to do your passion to earn money is no fun and makes you hate it (creating art vs creating art that you have to sells on an online/in person storefront)

    I have stumbled and lucked my way into something I am good at and content doing. And that’s enough for me. I do plan to retire earlier than most, but only after I’m sure I have enough for retirement because I’m cautious. If I came unexpectedly into retirement-level money, I would quit my job quickly because I like it but I only do it in order to afford to live the life I want to.

    I think determining less tangible things like those below can guide you to a job that you are content with
    – do you want to manage people?
    – are you self-directed?
    – do you prefer to work in a team vs do most of your work on your own?

    A couple for me. All my professional jobs have been for the US government, I can deal with bureaucracy and red tape better than many. Also I like middle management. I am in charge of projects/teams (not necessarily a supervisor, though), but I don’t want to be the boss or the leader. I don’t want to be on my own with “the buck stops here” kind of stuff. I feel much better being able to bounce ideas off someone fairly closely involved in my work.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much! These are great questions and I will absolutely take time to answer them. Thank you for sharing!

  57. MCMonkeyBean*

    I don’t have passion for work and I never expected to. I don’t want to work. I want to be able to afford my hobbies. So I just went for a practical career that I didn’t hate and it’s fine and I make good money in a stable job and then enjoy my life outside of work. If you *do* have a passion to pursue then that’s great, but if you don’t then I honestly recommend just going for something practical and stable and then really the most important things about the job are what impacts your day-to-day levels of happiness.

    For me I think some of the top things to consider are: 1) does it pay enough to support the life you want; 2) the office environment, which for me now is that I want to be remote and it sounds like that is your expectation too, and it’s important to be in an environment where they trust everyone to act like adults and get their jobs done (like I know I do not want a job with billable hours where I would have to fill out a timesheet saying what exactly I was doing every hour. I have ADHD so I often procrastinate for a bit then hyperfocus and get a bunch of stuff done super fast lol); 3) the hours–how many you are expected to work in a week and even just what time you are expected to start (I have a friend who had to be at work at 5 am and that would definitely be a dealbreaker for me lol); 4) your coworkers, I do not expect or want to be friends with my coworkers but we get on well enough and I feel like my boss likes my work and supports me and that’s enough to keep me looking elsewhere.

    I think personally a lot of this day-to-day stuff is more important than big picture stuff when it comes to choosing a job. That is my boring but practical take.

  58. I forget my handle here*

    the way I’ve approached this question when I was thinking about trying to find a new career was to take the interest and skills assessments at MN’s careerforce website

    www dot careerforcemn dot com/assessments

    These spit out specific careers based on your skills and interests, and then you can look up how much these various jobs make, what the industry and income prospects are etc

  59. JJ*

    Someone once told me that it can be hard to recognize what you’re most fundamentally good at because it can come so naturally that you don’t really appreciate it as a talent. They said one way to figure it out is to think about things people have complimented you about or remarked on, even if you’ve shrugged them off in the moment as not that big a deal. Based on that advice, I came to realize that one of my skills that I’d never really valued was that I was good at organizing and simply rolling up my sleeves and getting things done when others were procrastinating or unsure what to do. It really hit me after I started managing my child’s sports team — not the coach, but the team manager — when I discovered how much I enjoyed tracking budgets, collecting fees, ordering equipment, booking hotel rooms for tournaments, and a million other small things. I found it fun, believe it or not, and parents kept thanking and complimenting me for things that seemed not that big a deal. That led me to realize I’d like to try being a manager in my professional workplace, because I really thought I could help sort out issues with chaotic and disorganized workflow that were bothering everyone. It was a pivot I’d never previously considered because I always thought I was happier doing the core work of my profession. But in the end, I’m happier in my new role and I discovered I had skills I’d never realized I had. And as an added bonus, I did it without changing professions, which I had been assuming I’d have to do because I was less and less engaged and challenged in my old role.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, JJ! This is great advice – many of the things I’m told I do well have come as a surprise to me because I assumed they came easily to everyone. I will take some time to really think about this. Thank you for your insight!

  60. Mama Llama*

    My university challenged us to ask three questions pertaining to vocational discernment:
    1) What are you good at?
    2) What brings you joy?
    3) Who does the world need you to be? (will anyone pay you to do it? does it contribute to society in some way, if that is something that you value?)

    The person who originated these questions is a Jesuit Priest (Fr. Michael Himes), and although I am not religious, I found it helpful in guiding my own career path. That said, there is of course a tremendous amount of privilege in being able to focus on discernment and not just figuring out how to make ends meet.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I was helping a friend with a CV for a senior role in the tech industry, and he was really reluctant to reveal too much about what he *wanted* to do, because he was really convinced that he had to frame his CV as “I will be your devoted tech robot, I can do whatever you want me to, I have no wishes of my own.” (Which is wild, because he’s actually super passionate and idealistic about what he does and has left more than one job over feeling that it wasn’t in line with his values.) I eventually got him to do:

      – problems I can solve (what I can do for you)
      – problems I like to solve (the stuff I’ll tackle with a will because it’s just so damn fascinating)
      – the problem I would solve if I could (these are my values, and if you want to keep me long term I’ll need some kind of outlet or activity which will let me further these goals)

      1. bamcheeks*

        (Managed to select and delete my point, which was how well these map on to the three questions above!)

      2. len*

        This is an extremely helpful and clarifying phrasing for my own current career crisis. Thanks to you both for sharing!

  61. 2 Cents*

    As someone who still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up and definitely doesn’t want to manage people, I’ve found an organization that’s big enough (more than 5k people) where they have managers of programs and “products” — so I’m the “owner” of a function that makes a website run efficiently. I can move up in seniority, I never have to directly manage someone’s career (I might have an assistant, but I wouldn’t be in charge of hiring/firing), and I can focus on what I do best, which is tending to my small corner of the internet. I stumbled into it by accident, but I’m content here for now.

  62. Unkempt Flatware*

    The simple answer for me was by falling backwards into it. I said Yes to as many opportunities as I could and sounded cool and….here I am! Loving life.

  63. Donatella Moss*

    If you went to college, find our if your college’s careers office offers lifetime support to alumni – that can be hugely helpful. You can go to them and say, I like this, I don’t like that, etc. And they may be able to connect you to another alum who has a job profile / industry / job title that appeals to you.

    It’s also okay to not have an ultimate finite goal. I have no final destination and that’s okay. It’s okay to evolve and iterate and learn and take from your current role and morph into the next.

  64. Roscoe da Cat*

    If what you are doing is just fine and frees you to enjoy the rest of your life, I wouldn’t feel compelled to find something else. Fill up the rest of your life and work to support all of that. Having a passion for your work is overrated in my opinion.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much! This is a good perspective and something I think I need to consider. Thank you for sharing!

  65. Martine*

    I am nearing retirement.
    One piece of advice I would give my younger self is to not get hung up on perfectionism and having to aim for the best (hierarchical thinking). Other advice would be to look at what energizes you. And to look beyond or around your filters.

    I left high school planning to become a teacher. My dream was to teach English in a foreign country. I majored in a foreign language, minored in English and got my teaching certificate. Taught high school for two years, went to foreign country and taught English. Dream fulfilled. I was 25. And in my heart of hearts I knew I wasn’t a good teacher. Stayed in foreign country to get a masters with the intention of going back to the US and teaching. Ended up putting down roots in foreign country and doing academic research for a few years and then switching to publishing at 40.
    While I have always enjoyed (and felt a calling in) passing on knowledge (i.e. teaching – in some regards), there are a few things that stand out when I look back at my teens:
    – In sophomore writing, for each assignment except for the major research paper, a group of students was exempted from writing and assigned to edit the others’ work. I did much better with this assignment than with writing and enjoyed it thoroughly. A year later I edited a story a friend wrote a creative writing class, again enjoying the work and earning praise from her teacher. At that time, writing was higher in my internal hierarchy and I would have considered it “lesser” to edit than to write and wouldn’t have considered a career in editing.
    – Hanging out one day in the reference department at the public library, I heard the librarian helping patrons find the sources for the information they needed and thought that looked like an interesting job. Would never have considered it for myself at that age.
    – At the beginning of my freshman year of college we took a standardized test where we were asked about our enjoyment of certain activities. The results were compared with the answers given by people who were satisfied in their careers and sorted by gender. I don’t remember what the highest correlation to women was for my answers. (I am female.) But the highest correlation was to a male reference librarian. (I don’t remember the name of this test and have no idea whether it is considered valid.) Again: I didn’t consider going into library work because I was set on another career.

    So instead of paying attention to these cues, I stuck doggedly to the path I had set out upon, determined for too long to master a profession that wasn’t right for me. When I started working for a publisher I felt like I had come home.

    Sometimes people will advise looking back at what you loved when you were 8 or so, at a time before a lot of filters were in place. While I was older than 8 when I had the experiences I described, they were unfiltered.

  66. beezus*

    To be perfectly honest, I still don’t know at 36 and 8+ years into my career, what I want to do when I grow up. I fell into my career and it’s definitely not my passion or anything but I am good at it and it pays well so here I am. I am interested to see what the commentariate have to say!

  67. Bear Expert*

    First, figure out if you want A Career, of if you’re happy to have your jobs be jobs and support the rest of your life activities. figure out what you want A Career for – do you want the ongoing advancement because it (should) come with more money, or do you want the pride in really honing a specific set of skills, or do you want power and authority, what’s the goal in having a specific path or field?

    Figure out what interests you, what motivates you, what you are able to learn/do easily and look for fields where your combination of skills and drivers may be rare and valuable. (I’ve gotten a lot of runway from being able to bring better than average communication and people skills into a technical field. I’m not phenomenally gifted at people skills, but the field is so low skilled in that area in general, that I can seem like a wizard by applying basic levels of otherwise absent skills.)

    Figure out what life flexibility you most like, or what matters to you in a work environment and aim for fields where what you want is common. (Its a rare pediatrician who gets to work from home.)

    Try stuff. Its honestly okay to just keep being a generalist and be broad in stead of narrowly focused. Small companies and startups need the generalists who wear many hats, and that could be a good thing for you. Take advantage of opportunities that give you the widest runway to get to other things from them.

  68. thatoneoverthere*

    I have come to peace with the fact that a fulfilling job, is a myth that was spelled out to us (millennials) by schools and our parents. I have never had a job I really enjoyed in the 15 years I have been working. I have jobs that come easy to me and the companies are not bad to work for. Those jobs are the ones I try the hardest at and succeed.
    I try and fulfill my outside life with things I love. Spending time with my family and dogs. Hiking, crafting, cooking and seeing my friends. I know my job will never fulfill me fully. But I want a house and certain lifestyle. So I will continue working and as long as its not a toxic hellhole I will be ok.

  69. noco*

    I found that there was a venn diagram of “things I am good at” and “things that I get satisfaction from doing,” and thinking that way helped me weed out the stuff that wasn’t in common. I was very good at fundraising work, but it also drained me so much that I would burn out ~a year into any fundraising job. Realizing this helped me start to nudge my career more internal-facing and as a result I’ve found a lot more peace with my work and am doing a lot less job hopping, too.

  70. Feen*

    Try this book: What Color Is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. Might be a little outdated now but it was pretty insightful. Good luck!

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much! I read this a few years ago but will try picking it up again. Thank you for the suggestion!

  71. Jane Bingley*

    I’m currently in my dream job as an executive assistant. I stumbled into it entirely by accident. So I fully endorse the “read job descriptions and just apply at random” philosophy!

    What I’ve learned since about myself professionally has really helped me unpack why my job is such a perfect fit for me. I’m an organized and orderly person, but I don’t actually like working in an organized environment – I thrive on chaos and the joy it brings me to re-order it. I’m not much of a people person and I was a pretty meh supervisor, but I do love having a strong and close relationship with one person, my boss. I love wrestling with strategic questions but have no interest in leading, and my role lets me have a ton of indirect influence without actually being part of our C-suite.

    A lot of that learning came from well-designed tools like CliftonStrengths and the Birkman. Both can be useful on their own but are even better unpacked with a trained facilitator, and costs tend to be comparable to or cheaper than a career coach. With a facilitator, it’s less about finding a direction, more about finding yourself, which can help influence what appeals to you. (I also found the APEST helpful, but that’s explicitly Christian and not necessarily a good fit for those who aren’t.)

    1. Goldenrod*

      “So I fully endorse the “read job descriptions and just apply at random” philosophy!”

      I agree with Jane Bingley! It *feels* like you should be able to sit down with a pen and paper, and figure it out mentally, and then put your plan into motion.

      But I don’t think it works like that. I don’t think you can sit alone in a room to figure it out. You have to get out there and start doing stuff, and trying stuff.

      My husband is a very talented artist. He majored in Art in college. His dad is a professor of art.

      My husband’s career now, which he LOVES? He’s a grant manager, which involves working with complicated spreadsheets, creating budgets, being organized, collaborating with faculty, project planning. I mean, who would have ever have thought he would LOVE making spreadsheets (and he truly does)? It turns out that he has an organized, logical mind and is great at communicating and leading projects.

      He would never have known he was good at this stuff had he not randomly gotten an entry level office job in a place that did this kind of work.

      So I advise – just try stuff, keep learning new skills, find out by DOING what you love and hate. You can only find out by actively doing it, in my opinion. Not by passively thinking about it. Good luck!!

      1. OP*

        Thank you very much – I think you are right that this is something that cannot be worked out on paper. Thank you for sharing!

    2. Retired Merchandiser*

      Yes!! I stumbled into my dream career in my later years, as a merchandiser. Now I realize for a lot of people this would be ??? but I loved my work. I loved the variety, going to various stores, not punching a time clock (in the last couple of years they instituted a form of that where we had to clock in from our device, but it wasn’t like clocking into a store or factory.) I loved the flexibility. If my kids (and later grandkids) had an event or dr’s appointment I could adjust my hours accordingly.
      There were drawbacks, of course. You’d never get rich doing it and some department managers wouldn’t exactly win boss of the year award, but the good definitely outweighed the bad for me.
      What I’m saying is, don’t put yourself in a box. Be willing to consider jobs that don’t sound anything like you would think would interest you.

  72. Jaybeetee*

    When I was young, my friends used to joke about my “career of the week” – like you, I have many interests but no big “passion”, and while I broadly understood myself to be better suited for office work than other types of work, and I broadly understood that I wanted the kind of job I could leave at work at the end of the day and not spend my life on-call, beyond that, I honestly never had any idea how to narrow it down.

    I graduated with an arts degree right as the Great Recession kicked off, which… sucked. But interestingly enough, the job I work in now uses bits and pieces of experience I’ve picked up from various seemingly-unrelated past jobs (many of which were entry-level and low-paying – I swear I spent more than a decade as “entry-level”), and it turns out that’s more common than you’d think. But slowly – over years – I gradually shifted from “apply to anything that might hire me and pay the bills” to “Hmmm… that looks interesting.”

    I am now in my late 30s and work in information management and privacy (in the US, this would be FIPPA related), which does seem to be one of those niches that no one goes to school for and everyone drifts in from somewhere. I actually quite enjoy my current job, which pays fairly well, has a lot of challenge and variety, but I can still clock out at 5 and live my life. And while my workplace has a hybrid set-up, others could well be fully remote.

    So, IM in general might be worth looking into, as the subject matter is often more eclectic than the dry-ish job titles would suggest. But moreover – it’s okay to just keep an eye out for opportunities you find *interesting*, without necessarily worrying about what it will lead to in the future. At least for my life (where there was indeed a lot of struggle and angst around jobs/careers/money for most of my 20s), you eventually notice that “interesting” jobs have ways of leading to other “interesting” jobs, and I’ve even had people tell me I’ve had an interesting career!

    Which I never would have believed at 29.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Jaybeetee! I like the idea of looking for interesting opportunities instead of feeling like I need to find my next big career. Thank you for sharing!

  73. PhyllisB*

    I haven’t read the comments yet, so if this has already been suggested, forgive me, but if you live close to a community college you might could ask for a career assessment test. When I returned to college in my forties it was a requirement of our business program, and it was really helpful. I don’t remember all the suggestions and I didn’t follow any of them, BUT it made me really reflect on what kind of work I would really enjoy and do well in.
    I suggest a community college for this because they usually focus on students who are looking for careers that don’t necessarily need a four year degree.

  74. She of Many Hats*

    LW –

    Like you I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up especially since I grew taller than the height of the best ballerinas…. In my liberal arts career, I’ve worked in retail, food service, advertising, law offices, HR, Ed Tech but the thread that ties all my jobs together is that I’m really good at customer service or in other words, figuring out & providing what my team, clientele, or company needs to achieve their goals often learning new and varied skills along the way. And I enjoy it.

    You may not need a “career title” but a malleable role that you are good at and enjoy. Look at what you’ve been good at (skills) and mostly enjoyed in each job or company you’ve worked with. They may be hard skills like education & training to do X or they may be soft skills like customer service. Once you know that about yourself, then look to companies and employers that meet your other needs like full remote, a company or industry you are interested in and/or respect highly, pay that meets your needs & wants.

    It’s okay not to know what you want to be when you grow up. What is important is that you respect yourself for the work you’re doing, you are able to support your needs and many wants on your wages, and you enjoy the journey along the way.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much! Your statement of “What is important is that you respect yourself for the work you’re doing, you are able to support your needs and many wants on your wages, and you enjoy the journey along the way” really resonated with me. Thank you very much for sharing!

  75. spcepickle*

    Start applying to jobs with the government! I work in state government and what we do is HUGE. Want to try finances, planning, helping people directly, helping people indirectly, engineering, pure politics, pure bureaucracy, . . . It is all there and because it is all under one really big umbrella is easier to move around, also you will get to know people informally who work with you but in radically different ways, so you can find what interests you. My state still has a pension system – so even as you are changing jobs / fields you are still building and investing in your retirement.

    I am one of those odd ducks that decided what I wanted to do in high school (engineering), got a degree, and then got a job in that field. I loved it for many years – but coming to work for the state opened my eyes to the huge range of things I can do with my degree that is not directly designing roads. I have had 4 different roles in 7 years working my way around to find a great spot for me.

    You will most likely be limited to working for which ever state you are living in – but I think 60% of our roles are full time remote right now. Also state / city / county jobs often have lots of people swapping back and forth and in my state often share the same retirement system. So check them out as well.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, spcepickle! I haven’t considered government before but I will look into it. Thank you for sharing!

  76. 867-5309*

    OP, years ago a Chicago Tribune columnist wrote, “A Letter to the Class of 1997.” In it there is a line, “Some of the most interesting people I knew I at 18 had no idea what they wanted to me. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds still don’t.”

    This is easier said than done but as I sit comfortably in middle age, I realize the idea that you have climb any ladder, stick with one thing or attempt to launch into career stratosphere is misguided. That is okay for some people but if that is not you then it is not. Try different things on for size. Do one thing for a few years and then try something else. If you are willing to let go of the idea that you need to be a director or VP or c-suite, it frees you to just, do stuff. Besides – what is a career when you have a good life?

    I’ve been in marketing for 25-ish years and do love it. I’ve been CMO of a start up, recently worked for $25 an hour for a nonprofit whose work I was passionate about, director at a top fortune company, worked the front desk at a gym because I wanted the social interaction when I decided to leave corporate America to freelance. I’ve left and returned to corporate life no fewer than four times. I’ve been let go and fired five times. You have to get clear on what a “good career” looks like to you.

    I am not sure this is directly helpful but I want you to know you have options that are more than the linear ones we are told about.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Just a side note, the columnist was Mary Schmich, and the column got turned into the song Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) as read by Baz Lurhmann.

    2. OP*

      Thank you very much! I love your statement of “what is a career when you have a good life?” and I will look up the Chicago Tribune article you referenced. Thank you so much for sharing!

  77. Dovasary Balitang*

    For me, I narrowed it down to the tasks I got the most joy out of in the jobs I liked the most. And then I decided to finally get my degree in an area where those tasks will be 90% of the work.

    Parks and Recreation kind of precisely hit the nail on the head in April’s final job search, in my opinion. Find a position that isn’t filled with her favourite things, but tracks why those things are her favourites and aligns with that tracking.

  78. SofiaDeo*

    There are free online career aptitude tests, in addition to more in depth ones you pay for. Way back when I was a teen, the local school system administered them. It gives you an idea of what you might be good at/your strengths. This plus the information on O*NET should give some ideas. When you are good at something, work is more enjoyable. As opposed to choosing a job/career you have to struggle with day after day. I saw my partner go through this, and picking something he had an aptitude for seemed to help.

  79. Mad Mac*

    I lived and breathed my college newspaper. When they offered me either the photo editor job or a section editor position, I felt like I was making A Huge Life Decision that would determine the starting point for my career path.

    My heart chose writing over photography, the former being where I was most confident and the only thing I could see myself enjoying for the rest of my life. Seventeen+ years into my career, all I’ve ever known is being a professional word-nerd, mostly as a journalist but with some detours through proofreading and trade mags.

    I haven’t always loved where I am, but I have loved getting paid to write and edit, which are really my only two profitable skills. Leading with your heart isn’t always the best course of action (my musician younger brother always said he’d drop out of college if someone offered him a recording contract, but is also on track to retire by 40 because he turned his accounting internship into a fruitful career) but, for me, being authentically invested in what I do matters much more to me than a beefy paycheck.

  80. Lucy Valdon*

    I recommend the Strong Interest Inventory to anyone in your place. I left two graduate programs soon after college and was feeling broken. Took myself to the careers office and they advised (and administered) the Strong. I think the Meyers-Briggs people have purchased it since that time, but don’t let that put you off. I was surprised by some of the suggestions I got, but every single one of them was a very good match.

    Keep in mind that the inventory will open up new ideas of careers (many of which you might not realize even exist) likely to interest you, but it can’t tell you what you are skilled at (or could become skilled at).

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much for this suggestion! I haven’t heard of the Strong Interest Inventory before but I will look into it. Thank you for sharing!

  81. Lau*

    OP, I feel very similar to you, about 15 years into my career now. The only difference is that I thought I knew what I wanted to do (teaching), and hated it (if teachers got to teach nowadays…). Talk about an existential crisis!
    Anyways, I fell into the career I’m in now and I’m doing OK, but I often wonder where, if anywhere, I go from here.
    Since I’m financially stable (though I wouldn’t mind earning more), and not unhappy – if not actually happy and enjoying work – I have decided that it’s OK not to know where I’m going. If I do this for the rest of my life, I will not be miserable. I won’t love going to work in the morning, but I won’t dread getting out of bed each day. Instead, I’ll focus on making my life outside of work rich and rewarding.
    I’m not saying this works for everyone, but I think it’s OK to realize that there may not be one “right” or “perfect” job for you and to be content enough with where you are. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good career or that your professional life will be wasted.

  82. Olive*

    I’m wondering if after 10 years, some of the OP’s concerns are around undirected ambition combined with a desire for more job security as they reach middle age.

    I spent the first part of my career following curiosity and trying different things and… well… there’s a lot of survivor bias. Like the polymath who was in the right place at the right time is going to tell you that it was the perfect path, that everything is a learning experience, that all the things they did led them to the influential and highly paid position they have now. But some of the rest of us find that we’re in a much less stable position.

    Also, there’s a big difference between deciding not to ruthlessly and relentlessly climb the career ladder as far as possible, and being happy to be in a junior level forever. Getting into a more senior role can really make life easier – more money, often more trust and independence, often more vacation, and an easier search for a new job if necessary.

    I took my patchwork of skills to a more conventional job role in a higher demand industry. I had to start a little lower than I’d have liked, but I’m on a path to having a lot more job security and transferrable skills into my 40s. It’s not the field that I find most interesting, but it’s adjacent to work I’ve been successful at previously. So far, it’s been the right choice.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Olive! Ongoing job security is definitely a big part of my concern. Thank you very much for sharing this!

  83. Selena81*

    If you have worked in jobs you kinda liked untill retirement you have not ‘wasted a career’. Some people know their one true passion in middle-school, others never develop their one true passion, others think they have found it but find out they were wrong. The latter tend to be the worst of: huge student-debts to follow their passion, but no longer a desire to work in the field they studied for.

    Maybe there isn’t a specific subject that interests you above all else, but another goal you want to work towards (f.i. finding the best-paying job, the job most likely to always stay remote, an employer who let’s you make lots of lateral moves, etc).

    I don’t think a career-coach or career-test can help, not when you honestly don’t know what you want.

  84. KatL*

    Honestly, I kind of feel the same way as OP.

    There were careers I was interested in (lawyer), careers people told me I needed to be interested in (journalist), and careers I thought I would be interested in but turns out I hated (medical billing and coding). My first job out of HS was calling contractors for Lien information, and that made me absolutely sure I never want to work in any type of position where I need to call people daily. My next couple of jobs centered around data entry. Then I kind of fell into office management, AP/AR, payroll — and subtracting 3 months this past year where I worked for a medical billing and coding office (absolutely freaking hated every aspect of this job but that was more to do with the fact I was being taken advantage of in a high turnover office and the work itself was boring) I am currently working in an office management/ AR/AP roll at a great company.

    But it’s definitely not something I live and breathe for. I toss around the option of going back to school and getting a degree for…something, but the inevitable question of “what do I want to be when I grow up?” still comes up.

    So I don’t really have advice for you, OP, but you’re definitely not alone in feeling this way! And now that I think about it, I don’t think I actually know anyone who’s doing something they’re passionate about, rather than something that they can stomach getting up every morning to do just to earn a paycheck.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much for sharing, KatL! Sometimes it feels like everyone else has it all figured out, even if they don’t love their jobs, and I’m the only one feeling adrift. I really appreciate you sharing your experience and knowing I’m not alone.

  85. colorguard*

    I happened to find a field I really enjoy in high school and have always worked in that area, but my roles now are things that didn’t exist back then and I never could have planned for. My general thoughts: What types of work at your current job do you particularly like? What comes easily? What makes you urgently want to find something else, anything else, to do? Those can help you get a sense for what you do and don’t want. Is there something at your current job you can test out in that area, or a small piece of your job that might point to a different role focused on that?
    If you’re tied to an area, look at job boards and filter for that location. What types of jobs sound interesting? Job descriptions/ads can help with that. Or if there are a few big employers, look at their job boards and see what types of jobs they hire for. Do any of those sounds interesting?
    Relatedly: If the location is the driving force, what types of jobs exist at multiple employers? Becoming a luthier when there’s only one guitar maker in the region means you’re stuck if they go out of business or do layoffs, for example.
    If there are jobs that sound interesting, then you can start looking for information about what those jobs are like, what skills/training they need, etc., and look for people locally you could talk to. Local community colleges/colleges/universities/trade schools might be able to help with some of that as well.
    And there’s nothing wrong with having a job be “the thing I do for 40 hours a week to make a living” vs. something that feels like A Career that you’re progressing in. Or for finding something you want to do for the next 20 years to take some time. A friend of mine from high school just found a field she likes and plans to stay in within the past five years, and our 30th HS reunion is coming up sooner than I like to think. Sometimes bouncing around a bit can help you know what you want to do/not do. And in her case, it gave her some skills a lot of her colleagues don’t have, which makes her a prime candidate for certain opportunities.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, colorguard! I really appreciate this insight and will devote time to answering these questions. Thank you for sharing!

  86. Compass*

    Like you, I have lots of interests, and something I’m interested in doesn’t mean I want to do it for my job, or even follow the same career path for years and years. I like baked goods, but that doesn’t mean I want to work at a bakery. I did a career survey at school which came up with sports umpire and puppeteer. No to both! I am hesitant about career quizzes or profiles – I think lived experience is more useful to guide you.

    Sometimes I have really liked my job and then after a while in the same job, I really dislike it because I’ve outgrown it. I don’t think I have a career passion or a vocation or calling. I think what is important is overall life balance: work is just one part of it. Your location, personal relationships (partner or kids), and things outside work are equally important.

    As I have progressed, I have realized that I should try to have some sort of continuity on my resume so now I try to choose jobs where I can explain the sequence of one to the next rather than taking on very different jobs. I tend to steer incrementally based on what I learn in my current job, both skills and about myself. So I think: what would I like more of and what would I like less of, in my next job? Having a look at jobs boards is useful because something might just stand out.

    If your work environment allows, you could take on an extra project in a different team as a “taster” to help see the types of skills you like to use. I’ve done that a few times and it has been useful. I’ve also reached out to people on LinkedIn who do jobs I’m interested in (and that I’m broadly qualified for) and asked if they’d chat to me for 15 minutes. Some say yes, some don’t reply, both are okay!

    An idea…. I have a second career (volunteer uniformed service) which gives me ways to grow and learn, and counterbalances my main job. When my main job is getting stagnant but I cant leave yet (for whatever reason), I take on additional responsibilities in my second career to keep myself engaged and learning. Then when I get a new main job (which I’m usually enthusiastic about for a while) I refocus my second career on core duties only and reduce extra responsibilities. I found this really helps and I have quite a few colleagues who do the same.

  87. Michelle Smith*

    Respectfully, you may be over thinking it. I am passionate about a lot of things too. Working is not one of them. I do not dream of work. I dream of rest, engaging in hobbies, enjoying financial stability. My dream job would not be a job at all – I’d be independently wealthy and free of the chains that keep me at my desk (needing a paycheck, needing health insurance, etc.). I’d volunteer my time how I saw fit and on my own schedule, and I’d never think about a career ever again. The idea that we all have to be passionate about our jobs or we need to keep searching for something else until we are is a weird lie my generation was sold. Figure out what it is that you need out of a job and then find one that enables you to enjoy your life. If it pays well enough for you to enjoy your hobbies and spend time with your family and friends, but the actual work is boring or doesn’t further some cause you care about – and you’re okay with that – you don’t have to keep searching for a job that ignites your passion. It’s perfectly fine to be passionate about things outside of the office and for your job to just be a job. It’s kind of like the lie of there being one perfect soulmate out there for everyone. In reality, there are probably multiple people in the world that you could meet, fall in love with, and be happy with for the balance of your life. There’s no one right answer for a career either, and plenty of people end up following multiple career paths throughout their life. Rather than focusing on one specific career path, I’d recommend figuring out what your goals, interests, and values are and making decisions accordingly.

    You value remote work, so that’s a good one to start from. You can easily eliminate things that cannot be done 100% remotely – pursuing your nursing degree or going to culinary school probably shouldn’t be at the top of your list, since the amount of nurses exclusively doing telehealth work and the number of chefs exclusively producing recipes or online videos is comparatively low. You also probably shouldn’t pursue a career as a first responder, in-store retail worker, etc. What else do you value? What’s important to you about what you do day in and day out (variety, stability, degree of urgency, etc.)? What’s important to you about your team (video call culture, degree of socializing, level of collaboration, etc.)? What’s important to you about the type of work or company/organization (e.g., is there a type of cause you want to work on like climate or education or is there a field you’d never consider because of their impact on the world – I’m thinking controversial ones like oil and gas or policing, but there could be others)?

    Think about what your skills are too – not just which ones you’re good at but which ones you ENJOY using. I’m a pretty decent verbal communicator, but I absolutely 100% hate phone calls. A job doing customer support or sales in a call center would be the absolute worst choice for me, even if I might have skills that would help me be successful at it.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much, Michelle! I think you are right that I am overthinking this, and really appreciate the insight you provided!

  88. LastInLine*

    I’d focus less on the job and try to enter an industry that deals with something I’m passionate about. For example, if you like beer, work in that industry. They need all kinds of people from accountants to drivers.

  89. Sloanicota*

    I admit, I’m somewhat “haunted” by the idea that if I’d gone into another type of field altogether, perhaps I’d be a lot happier than I am in my current (fine) career/job. I started out doing fieldwork and although I enjoyed that, it wasn’t worth the utter lack of advancement/pay opportunities (it was all hourly even at higher levels). Now I’m an office worker but that feels so vague and disconnected to me – answering emails, shuffling papers, sitting in on meetings. What am I really doing? I think about a job that would be more specific, like being a nurse or a teacher where it’s clearer what your hours are going towards – but people in those fields warn me that they’re terrible, so maybe I’m fine. I don’t feel like I see much of a path forward, since I don’t really want to manage people and I don’t want my job to be any more stressful than it is. Maybe I’ve sort of plateaued in the mid-level and am just trading lateral jobs that make more money (which … great! Do that! Why wouldn’t I want to be paid / valued more to do basically the same thing!) until I retire. That said, retirement for me is 20-30 years away, if I’m lucky to live that long, so I’m guessing a lot of things could change in that time. I think I started to feel like I was “in a rut” maybe five years ago and am still muddling my way through that. Solidarity OP.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Sloanicota – “haunted” is a very good way to put it. I really appreciate you sharing!

  90. el l*

    It strikes me that the particular problem for you is a combination of many choices and a fear of wasting time on a “wrong” career.

    Focus first however on three things that narrow your choices and help with skills:

    (a) You’re set, geographically, you’re not moving. Narrows choices.
    (b) You’re going to be an individual contributor, not a manager. Helps focus.
    (c) You find many things interesting and have many areas where you can contribute. Allows more chance of success in what you pick.

    Honestly, within that I think you have the right things in place to have the “right” career.

    1. Interview for a job that seems like (a) it’s addressing an interesting problem to you, (b) it’ll support your lifestyle, and (c) seems something you’d be good at. Don’t overthink these considerations – limit your time in thinking about (a) and (c) to 30 seconds before answering yes or no.
    2. Accept a risk that it’s not going to be a forever job or meeting some higher purpose/standard/career. Do your due diligence, sure, but – you can’t see all ends. Don’t even try.
    3. Focus on concrete options in front of you, rather than all the abstract other options. Comparison is necessarily professionally, but personally is the death of joy. The right career is absolutely a personal call, don’t ever mistake it for some canonical path ordained by someone else.

    Put bluntly: Focus on gut-question motivators. Then stop thinking and dive in.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much! This is great advice. I have a tendency to overthink things, so your insight is spot on. Thank you for sharing!

  91. Deirdre*

    A couple of recommendations as I used to get this question quite a bit.
    1. Take the Gallup Strengthsfinder. It’s relatively inexpensive and it’s wonderful to help in understanding what you do well. Most of my employees used to think that what they did well, everyone did well and that is simply not the case.
    2. There is this crazy good book titled Shake the World: It’s Not About Finding a Job, It’s About Creating a Life by James Marshall Reilly. It’s old – 2011 but the stories are gold. People who limped along, failed, and eventually knit together interesting careers from seemingly disparate jobs and education.
    3. And most everyone has touched on this – it’s fine to make a living. Don’t let work define your life.

  92. Gina*

    Really interested in this topic! I’ve been feeling a bit the same way, OP. I have a communications background and a wide range of experience, but feel adrift. Theoretically I love writing, but lately at work I feel NO motivation at all for the kind of writing I could be doing and actually dread it. Been thinking about a career change, but a little hesitant to dive in to something new without having a clear vision of what I want to do. That said, just considering other options and looking into them (just this week I attended an info session for a degree program) has been bringing me some sense of happiness I’ve been missing in my actual work.

    1. OP*

      Thank you, Gina – I really appreciate you sharing! I hope these comments have been helpful for you as well. Best of luck!

  93. Rainey*

    I found for me it was about where I derived the most satisfaction for a job well done. The tasks that made me excited to work on were always the best.

    I just recently found a job in a field I had only done as an amateur. I had only done marketing in the sense I had to sell my services but I know that my skills align with the work, and that the skills I’m using for it make me happy. It also helped that I was working adjacent to a field I have some personal interest in (automotive).

    So now I write and sell a product that I can see the use in, in a field I enjoy, and using my hard won skills appropriately.

    It’s not the famous rockstar I wanted to be, but isn’t cases it it mildly performative, and allows good usage of my creativity. If there’s something like that out there for you, where you can combine a couple of fun intersections, look into that and see what you find.

    Best of luck! :D

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much for sharing, Rainey! I agree about finding satisfaction in a job well done, and appreciate you mentioning that!

  94. Marz*

    I’m going to read all this, because I’ve very interested, and have a related question:

    I was reading “Design Your Life” and thought they had good principles like “fail fast and fail forward” and “start trying things / have low cost-of-entry ways to try-before-you-buy (i.e don’t start a new job, just volunteer/try it out/intern/etc)” but I didn’t think they had very good/doable/clear ways to actually implement that. Does anyone have any ideas on how to do that or examples of how they were able to do that?

    I feel like my job history is niche, so it doesn’t give me a broad understanding of the things I like doing/it’s missing a lot of options, and then when I look at jobs in my field they are even MORE niche and ask for things I don’t have and never had any reason to acquire, and it just feels like there are no positions that I’m qualified for (or rather, there are always people more qualified), and I want to look into other fields, and I think it would help to add more options to my list of “I think I could do that/I know I am good at that work” etc, as people above have described (and I really like that method!)

  95. JustKnope*

    The entire arc of a career is long. It wouldn’t be wasting time to spend a few years working toward a specific career only to decide it isn’t for you! You will have gained that insight, plus years of work experience will naturally give you at least some transferable skills or knowledge. And then you could go do something else. (Of course something like student debt changes the equation slightly but there are ways to gain experience that aren’t as costly.) You’ve got probably a solid 20-25 years left of working. You could fit three reasonably lengthed “careers” into that timespan!

  96. fine tipped pen aficionado*

    Not to be a rebel, but why do you need to have a long-term path for your career at all?

    If there isn’t somewhere specific you want to go, there is no reason you can’t just pursue jobs that sound interesting to you. Every position you take teaches you things you love and things you hate in a job. And those things will change as time passes; your needs will change as time passes. Let your job change too!

    It’s fine for a job to just be the thing you do to make money. Try to find the one that’s most interesting and least painful while meeting your practical needs, and if any of that changes, find a different one. You don’t have to be on a defined path from Specialist to Specialist II to Analyst to Analyst II etc.

    TL;DR There is absolutely nothing wrong with going where the wind takes you and, anecdotally, it doesn’t seem to me that people following a traditional linear career path are any more successful or happy than people who don’t.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much – this is an excellent point. I think I had an idea that I “should” have a detailed career plan for the next couple of decades, but this makes a lot of sense. Thank you for sharing!

  97. jane-of-too-many-trades*

    I wish I had an answer for this. Both of my parents also probably wish they had an answer for this. – They both lived their entire “careers” (dad is gone, mom is 81) following interests where they lead, and both often joked that they were still trying to figure out what they wanted to be when they grew up well into their 60s. My mom went back to finish college when I was in high school then tried working for tech companies, getting a real estate license, temping). My dad came closer to a typical career by eventually buying into a business that aligned with some of his interests (think metal fabrication/cars/working with his hands), but that fell apart eventually for reasons outside of his control and he kept trying new things into his 60s and 70s (from driving a bus for an old folks home when he was older than some of the residents to being a print model). They both supported me when I decided to major in the arts (later told me they assumed I’d be a waitress with a lot of debt, but happy waitress).

    I’m now SO glad I had their example, because I am also not built for a traditional career. I manage this now by splitting my time between contract work, volunteer work (arts non profit board), personal projects and whatever else makes sense in the moment. I nannied, fell into tech startups for a while, all sorts of things, but I do not have a career and could not tell you what career I’d want if I had to get one. Did I waste my professional potential? Maybe! Did I waste my LIFE? Well, I’m not rich, but my partner and I are both people who prioritize following our own interests, and are willing to be frugal. Our life is really interesting. There are a few things that I have expert level skills in, none of those things are jobs. I guess my point is, sometimes a job is just a thing you do to make money while you live your life – not everyone wants or even needs a “career”, sometimes you just need a job – maybe you just need a job.

    1. OP*

      I really like your perspective that a job can be what you do to make money while you live you life – thank you for sharing!

  98. Kate*

    I would recommend the book What Color Is Your Parachute? for helping drill down into the constellation of aspects of current work you’re good at + what working conditions are must-haves for you + things you’re interested enough in to work in the field = potential career. It worked brilliantly for me as a person who is similarly interested in lots of stuff.

  99. Jadzia Snax*

    I’m in a slightly different position than most folks (my 9-5 job is very much my “day job” while pursuing a creative career that, while moderately successful, does not make me nearly enough to live on) but the one thing I’ll add from my recent experience is that I think a lot of it is trial and error? Sometimes you will begin to pursue something that you think might be a promising career but you’ll discover you don’t actually like it. During the pandemic I decided I wanted to try and make a “career” out of my day job after years of just coasting in a mid-level, no-advancement position and moved from editorial to communications during the Great Resignation. Two years in, I can safely say: I hate communications!!!! There are parts of it that I enjoy and that I’m good at, and if I wanted to move up the ladder I absolutely could, but it is not worth the agony of the other parts. So now I’m back on the job hunt/trying to figure out a day job that will leave me satisfied. But I’m consoling myself by saying two years is not that long in the grand scheme of things, and eleven years into the white-collar working world I still have time to figure out something that I both reasonably enjoy and am good at.

    This is where I dovetail back out from being able to provide useful advice because my decision is just to find another “coasting” job and dedicate myself full throttle to my creative career, but I can’t say I recommend that. Following your passion is not lucrative in this economy :P.

    1. OP*

      Thank you for sharing, Jadzia! Kudos on being willing to pursue a creative career as well as a “day job”. Best of luck in your job hunt!

  100. AthenaC*

    I’m lucky that I’m able to be interested in just about anything, and I also enjoy learning new information and new skills. But what I’m REALLY passionate about? Making sure my kids have a place to live and food to eat.

    So! I went into public accounting for the job security and I never looked back.

    15 years later, I find that I also enjoy the client service, the teaching and coaching of junior team members, the autonomy and flexibility I have, and even the public speaking and presenting. In fact, I’m SO attached to the autonomy and flexibility (*) that I don’t think I could ever do a structured 9 – to – 5 job ever again.

    (*) Of course the tradeoff is that when it’s crunch time and the rest of my team decides not to finish their tasks, I need to be “flexible” and do it myself. So there’s ups and downs.

    1. Random Dice*

      Ha, right? Supporting my family, and having money to garden and visit friends, those are why I work.

      I actually love my career! But, I mean, I really love my family and friends and plants.

  101. Kim Z*

    I encourage my students not to think about “CAREER” (in a big scary voice) but to think about what I call microtasks. What do you know about yourself? Do you need an office with a door? Do you want to wear a suit to work? Do you want a job that stays at the office? What percentage of the time to you want to talk to other people? Etc.

    If you can define how you would prefer your day to day – you can find a career that will allow you to match that (as much as possible).

    I have plenty of friends who have the exact same job title whose daily lives look nothing like mine. Some people become professors so they can write books and articles. I became a professor so I could mentor students one-on-one and help them grow. I could do that kind of mentoring in another context and be equally happy. In fact, I’m in the process of figuring out what I want my post-retirement life to look like and I am focused on that mentoring piece more than anything.

    You have a lot of those defined in your letter (geography, no management, etc). Keep going with that list.

  102. Winding Road*

    I worked in student affairs (at my alma mater), then benefits consulting; then got an MBA; then was at a software startup, then spent some time doing strategy in retail, then worked in theater administration (this was the “follow your passion” period for me, did not work out), then admissions consulting, then back to higher education administration 15 years after I left that industry to get a “real job” – and I’ve been at my current institution for almost a decade, though in a few different roles. All this to say, I’m here to validate that you might not be able to identify a specific path, and that’s okay, too! All of my previous roles (most of which were in the 2-3 year tenure range) played an important part in my path, and I’m really happy where I’ve landed.

  103. 1qtkat*

    I don’t think you’re alone in feeling this way. Rather than thinking that “find your passion” refers to a particular job title, think of it more of as what skills do you like to do on a daily basis. It took me awhile to figure that out myself and to find the right job that aligned with what I was looking for. I would also add that your wants and needs in a career can change as your life needs/situation changes. For example, I’m in a job that I thought was my ideal since I was in school, but I’m just starting to realize that rather than be inside at a desk I want to be an outdoorsy kind of job.

  104. nekosan*

    Well, it’s not quite “career path”, but I’ve done very well so far by asking myself:
    * What do I like about my current job?
    * What do I hate about my current job?
    * How can I get a job doing more of what I like and less of what I hate?
    (I used to have a “career path” all planned out when I was in Junior High, but multiple rounds of mental health issues firmly derailed it. I daresay that focusing on “do what you like/don’t do what you hate” has gotten me to a wonderful little place.)

  105. Parakeet*

    I found my career path by failing at one career but still picking up some useful skills, dropping out of another career but still picking up some useful skills, getting a job in a completely different field with an org I’d volunteered with for a long time while also doing different volunteering that gave me a lot of useful skills, and then discovering that there is a small but desperately needed little field of people with the bizarre and unusual combination of skills that I picked up throughout all this. Now I have a fantastic, prestigious, decently-paid-for-a-nonprofit job, that I like and that has great benefits, where I get constant compliments on how great I am. Took a while! But to the extent that there’s takeaways from this, it’s that

    1) you don’t always find a good fit right away, and
    2) an unusual combination of skills can be a winner if that’s something one or more of the relevant fields need but lack. And maybe
    3) if you have any interest in nonprofit work, having volunteered for an org can be very useful as a foot in the door. It’s also a useful way to figure out whether you like that kind of work are good at it!

  106. Dulcinea47*

    Drop the idea of having a single career path that is your life’s fulfillment. That’s the best thing you can do for yourself.

    Personally, I looked at what I already know, plus what I enjoy/am good at/ can get continuing education WITHOUT spending huge amounts of money… but I was 47 before I decided this would be my “career” instead of just a job.

  107. thebluestchu*

    I’m planning on transitioning out of banking (I’ve been in it for a little under 10 years) and looking to go into the funeral business. I thought about what I liked about my current job and a lot of it was helping people through end-of-life talks and working with customers.

    I was lucky to be able to talk to some current funeral directors (I literally just asked and they were very excited to talk to me).

    I don’t consider it a lifelong passion, but I’m just following my curiosity.

  108. Sparkles McFadden*

    Apologies in advance for the length of this:

    “Follow your passion” is, and has always been, absurd advice. I think it was touted by people who only had one interest. That certainly wasn’t me and it doesn’t sound like you, LW.

    I started out expecting to enter a specific field in the early ’80s and ended up in another field entirely because someone I knew told me about a job I could get immediately. From there, I went to a different company in that same field because the company paid well and I loved the schedule they offered (alternating three and four day work weeks). I stayed with that company for 30 years, so I didn’t look like a job hopper, but in those 30 years, I worked in six departments that were radically different. I’d talk to people in another department and think “That’s interesting” and then move to that department. I got a graduate degree in a health care field while working at the company (the company frequently had layoffs and I never knew when I would be next…and they offered tuition reimbursement) and did that on the side. I also have a sport-related hobby and other interests.

    I was invited to a networking event for my college. Selected alumni were asked to present a CV so the students would know who to go to for specific information about a particular field. I was there with doctors, lawyers, and one guy from NASA, and I got up and read off the multiple job titles I’d had and my side gigs as well. Sure, one snotty 19-year-old asked why I kept switching jobs, but I was absurdly in demand as I could answer questions from people interested in all of the different things I’d done. I asked the organizers why they invited me when every other presenter was more successful. The reply was: “You always keep exploring and learning. They need to see that that is a measure of success as well.” The idea that you need to pick a specific career and stay with that forever is such a narrow way of thinking. It works for some people but I don’t think it makes sense for most people.

    1. OP*

      Thank you very much – I agree that “follow your passion” doesn’t make sense for most people and that success is measured many different ways. Thank you for sharing this!

  109. Speak*

    I have been doing the same thing for over 25 years now in 3 different companies including 20 at the current one, so you would think I found my “right” career path. I haven’t. I am in this job because I can do it, it is based on what I studied in college, and it pays well (maybe that last part is why I stay). Unfortunately I am burning out and the only ‘up’ to go in this field is as a manager of people in my position, which I know I can’t do effectively. I was the lead in my position on several large projects with people assisting me so we could get the job done within the customer’s timeframe and I struggled keeping the other people busy & on task, I often felt that by the time I explained what was needed to be done, I could have done it myself already. I have been looking around, but the only thing I am currently skilled at is my job, and switching employers just means doing my job for a different person, one who might not treat me as good as my current boss. I haven’t found anything where I could easily transition to another type of job without extensive re-training / going back to school, which would be difficult to do with my job since it involves travel for a week or two at a time and sometimes with only a few days notice (this past year, the first 6 months I was away from home more than I was at home but thankfully that slowed down again).

    1. OP*

      Thank you for sharing, Speak! I hope you are able to find something that works well for you and are able to avoid any burnout. Best of luck!

  110. crose*

    I kind of went wherever the jobs took me for a while. And because I had a pretty wide variety of jobs, I was able to not only figure out what I like to do, and what kind of culture/company I work best in, but just as importantly, what I DON’T like to do and what types of environments I do not do well in. From there I was able to figure out what type of job I could see myself in long term. I know I do best in a smaller org, but with a lot of freedom to do my thing, and I loathe being micromanaged. I also know I don’t necessarily want to be in charge of people, but I’m good with leading short term projects and training people on things. That was enough for me to find the role I’ve happily been in for almost a decade.

  111. Free Meerkats*

    As others say, I don’t think there’s any universal answer to this question. I’m one who just fell into my career because it was a job and I needed one. It fit my personality and strengths and I stayed in the field for 40 years through 4 cities and counties until retirement. A coworker, whom I trained in her first job in the field and later became my BFF, had A Plan. And to her credit, she carried it through. To my knowledge she never stayed at any job for more than 4 years and is now a triple P.E. (Chemical, Process, and Safety) and gets regularly headhunted by companies who need to turn around a division.
    I wish I could say, “Do this and talk to these types of people.” but life doesn’t work like that.

  112. beanie*

    I’ve been in the workforce for 22 years and spent much of that time feeling like I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. At some point in the last few years I realized how common it is for people to go through multiple jobs and even multiple careers in their life, and that it’s ok to not have a 5-year, 10-year, full career plan. I’ve been on a non-linear path, but it’s not necessarily aimless. I’ve been trying to think about it less as a career path, or career goals, and more like a meandering career hike with beautiful scenery along the way, maybe some challenging stretches. The cliche that it’s about the journey and not the destination rings true to me.

    All of my past jobs have contributed to where I am now, even if they aren’t things I would tell others to follow. There are a lot of careers where you sort of do need a track (doctors?) but sooooo many don’t require an actual “career plan.”

    What’s resonating with me right now is thinking about the lifestyle, within my job, that I want. Do I want to mostly be on a computer, or not on a computer, or a mix. How much interaction with people do I want – mostly independent, or part of a team, or a mix. How do I want to spend my day – digging into data, writing, presenting, leading meetings, managing projects, doing something creative.

    And sometimes it takes trying out new jobs to see what you like/don’t like, what you’re good at, what new skills you want to develop. No job is wasted time – it’s all building experience.

  113. career changer*

    I went through a career change a few years ago, and I can share what I did! Where I am now (IT and business analysis) is WILDLY different from where I came from (healthcare service provider).

    1. I read a book called Designing Your Life (Burnett & Evans) and went all in on the exercises they suggest in the book. It really helped me to understand what it is that I actually enjoy doing and how to use that to lead me in a fulfilling direction. It also helped me out of analysis paralysis by showing that there are MANY “right” choices for how to move forward, not just one… and that I’ll be ok if my first try doesn’t work out.

    2. I am such an introvert, but NETWORKING. I hated it, honestly, but it’s how I got my current position. I brainstormed job areas that sounded interesting to me and mined my network for people that worked in those areas and asked if they would meet with me to chat about their job, what they do, how they got there, etc. It was super enlightening and got me introduced to more people who were doing things that were interesting to me. I got the job I have now (that I LOVE) because one of those introductions sent me a job posting they saw that they thought would be a good entry-level fit for me… and I got it!

  114. CaptainMeg*

    I spent all of my time in middle school through college being 100% sure I was going to be a Social Studies teacher. I got through my first year, and I found that I hated teaching in the general education classroom and my mentor encouraged me to get my Special Education certification.

    After getting diagnosed with ADHD five years ago, I figured out the reason I like special education is that every day is different. I like the routine parts of my job (inclusion and paperwork), but I really enjoy working with the kids because I know that each day will be different with them. Plus, I work at the middle school level and the kids are just as chaotic are me.

  115. John Smith*

    My moment came when I found out I was an introvert/Type B personality (I know…) and my whole past life started to make sense. No wonder I hated call centres and sales type jobs or overly corporate identity, team building etc etc. I started looking at careers that fit my personality type and ended up getting a degree and eventually a job in my chosen field and haven’t looked back since. That was at the age of 30(ish) so it’s never too late.

  116. anon for this*

    I have skipped some comments but will put my game-changer career advice/question in. Background: I followed an academic path, grad school, postdocs, prof-job but not tenure track. Eventually I read an article on the internet during a period of soul-searching that had a title or topic centered around “shit sandwiches”. What?! ew.

    The point: you can follow your passion as much as you want, but any job has a sh!t aspect to it. There is something you won’t like. Often, that aspect will actually override all the rest. Quality of life stuff (inability to afford childcare, or lack of stability, or being bored out of your skull regularly) may override the good parts — if you dislike the sh!t enough, you cannot enjoy the rest. So perhaps flipping things around and thinking about what you absolutely *don’t* want in a job/career can be useful. I found it very useful.

  117. Intermittent Introvert*

    I was an academic and career advisor for years. I think “finding your passion” is overrated. More than once I was surprised by students who didn’t care what they did for work. They wanted something honest that would pay enough to support a modest lifestyle because they had very active hobbies and interests outside of work. If I were advising you, my first question would be, “What do want your LIFE to look like?”

  118. KC*

    I love this question! I spent a lot of time mulling it over before finally figuring it out.
    I’m currently on a path I find really fulfilling, not because it’s my PASSION, per se, but because I’m good at it, I’m interested in it, and I feel confident about myself when I do it. My passions were never going to give me the stable life I wanted. Doing something I “just like” and am good at allows me to make good money, know that I’ll continue to make more and more money doing each year, and still have time to do the things I AM passionate about in my free time.

    Part of feeling like I’m on the right path also comes from letting go of the idea I used to have for myself of this glamorous, sexy, illustrious career where I’m highly revered for my talents and make a bajillion dollars. I work for a nonprofit that’s pretty unglamorous but does work I absolutely believe in and think is necessary. I’ve been in so many roles in the private sector doing the same type of work I’m doing now, but it felt like I wasn’t contributing anything to the world around me. Hugeeee bummer. Intrinsic value is a biggie!

  119. Not a dog AFAYK*

    I grappled with this kind of question for a long time, at least 10 years like you OP. I also started having the worry that I’d look back at retirement age and feel like I wasted my entire professional life. So a few years ago, I took several days off – no work, no travel, no social outings, no catching up on housework, just keeping up with the bare minimum of functional activities – and I used that time to really try to focus and go deep with myself on what I wanted my life path to look like.

    I did a bunch of research and reading about how to choose goals, and how to identify and embrace my core values. In addition to doing concrete exercises from these readings and journaling about them, I basically needed to sit with and get comfortable with the idea that I can and should be the one to actively choose what I want to do, rather than allowing my path to be guided by other people’s suggestions and preferences. That statement may or may not resonate with you, but for me it has been key. Because I know I have a lot of potential and I also know that a huge portion of it would never be fulfilled if I continued with my approach of just going with the flow randomly, or limiting myself based on what other people envision for me.

    After that initial set of exercises (plus approximately annual revisits/touchups), I now have a very accurate mission statement of what is my big thing that I definitely want to do before I die. Note that I said the statement is accurate, meaning that I have confidence I’m aiming for the right thing; but I didn’t try to make the mission statement precise, because it would be counterproductive to try to map out too many details of such a large goal so far in advance.

    Having a carefully developed, authentic personal mission statement makes all the difference for my smaller decisions that need to be made (day-to-day, like carving out small bits of time to study, and year-to-year, like what opportunities I’m looking to apply for next).

    It may turn out to be the case that you dig deep, and discover that professional life is not actually the most important thing to you, authentically. Maybe it’s family or creative pursuits or something else. In that case the exercise would also be valuable because you could then genuinely embrace the idea of holding jobs that are just okay, in order to put your attention and energy towards what actually matters to you. For me I found that my authentic most important personal mission does fall under the “professional career” umbrella, but that’s probably not the case for most people.

  120. Quinalla*

    Lots of good advice in the post. Besides thinking about what you enjoy, find interesting and are good at also think about what are the annoying things you can live with. For me, that piece is often overlooked when folks are job searching, but it matters. ALL jobs, even “dream” jobs (which I think are at best oversold and at worst don’t exist) have annoying stuff – paperwork, politics, etc. What are the annoying things that are dealbreakers and what can you live with? Figure that out too, you know some already that you need to be fully remote.

    And I agree with others, don’t worry so much about your career path, find something that is hopefully better (or at least no worse) than what you have. Make sure it doesn’t have dealbreakers and hopefully learn some new things and if nothing else figure out more about what you do and don’t like about a job.

    I wound up in my industry by chance, applied for lots of jobs I was qualified for not really knowing what I wanted to do. Been in this industry now for 22 years and 2 different employers. I don’t worry if the job itself is a great career, I just try and make the job a better fit for me where I can and learn things that help me in my job. I wasn’t sold the “dream” job nonsense myself, it was go get a job and make money and hope you enjoy the job mostly, that was it. I think that is much more realistic :) I have been working on getting into more and more leadership positions, but that is because I can’t stand to sit on the sidelines when I see things I could be doing well that aren’t getting done, not because I have amazing career goals. And frankly I’m good at my job and can do a lot to help my company and get better compensated because of it – win/win!

  121. Festively Dressed Earl*

    Have you ever taken classes in a skill just for fun? If you have the wherewithal to do so, start taking a course or two in something you’ve always thought would be fun: learn a new language, make pottery or jewelry, take a code ninja course, whatever. Keep your mind open and focus on what you just plain enjoy, not what you’re passionate about.

    Years ago, I was working for a bank, doing something that paid decently that I was good at and could sorta tolerate. I’d just started moving up the ladder for lack of anything better to do when I met my now-husband. Hubby does have a passion and a career doing what he loves, but he doesn’t have a degree. At one point, he decided he wanted to pursue finishing college, and I signed up with him just to keep him company/keep him motivated. I took a course in law, something I had zero interest in doing. Turns out I had a lot of misconceptions and an aptitude for the work, followed that interest, and got my J.D. a few years ago. Who knew?

  122. Bookworm*

    Great question, OP and I wish I knew. I bounced around from job to job, mostly because the whole “passion” thing did not work, as you said. It didn’t pay enough, didn’t lead to full-time work, etc. It’s only in the last 5ish years that I’ve finally figured out a path, where I found a job that ticked most of the boxes (pay, benefits, interesting work, etc.), except that was temporary due to the pandemic hitting. And even if we had no pandemic, it was only “good” because I had support in my immediate team that was going to go because upper leadership sucked.

    So I bounced around a little more (although with some variation). I’m now at the point where I’m looking at related work–of which I’ve had some success based on being able to get interviews (no offers, yet). I’m not sure what a “career path” is anymore, especially in the era of a pandemic and its aftermath.

  123. Prof. Murph*

    Don’t discount informational interviews! Even if you’re not sure about what you want to do. Hearing the different pathways of how people get to where they are can give a lot of perspective on the wide array of opportunities and directions to go in. (And possibly provide hope that you are not alone in searching out the right field for you.) In general, interviewees are happy to talk about themselves and how they got there. They can always say no, so if they say yes, then you’re not wasting any one’s time And you can be clear/diligent that it will only be 15-30 minutes. If you’re not even sure who to ask, peruse LinkedIn for job titles/areas that look interesting. Then ask people in those fields – I also strongly recommend contacting alumni of your schools who are doing things you might be interested in – in my experience, alumni are very happy to help fellow alum/students. Finally, don’t be dismayed if folks don’t back to you, not everyone will reply, but the more people you ask, the more likely you will get yesses.

  124. Immortal for a limited time*

    Letter-writer, you sound a lot like me, but I’m 25 years ahead of you. I never had one career goal in mind, either. I loved (and still love) learning new skills, but I live in a small city in a small-population western state, so career options were somewhat limited, especially in the late ’80s when I graduated college. So I worked with what was available.

    I’d say the best thing you can do is realize there isn’t one “best” career path. While that might make you feel lost and helpless, I like to think it opens you up to more opportunities, including many you’ve never even thought of. You’ve said you need to be fully remote and that you can’t move, so you’re already limited by those factors (sort of like I was, having graduated in a not-great job economy in a place with limited industries to choose from). Don’t pine for opportunities you wish you had; just work within the boundaries you have. I’ve used similar skills in many different roles, in industries ranging from insurance to I.T. to publishing. The more you learn, the more job postings you may fit. Leave yourself open to new experiences. I have never once thought, Oh, I’ve wasted my entire career because I never identified the ONE PATH I should follow. I took the road less traveled and built quite an arsenal of skills, with almost every job capitalizing on that accumulated experience. Did I take one or two wrong turns along the way (i.e., jobs that weren’t right or that I really hated)? Sure! But I learned what I like doing, and what things I really don’t like doing, and I made better choices as time went on. (Side note: I also learned to stay away from Corporate America and capitalist greed. But that’s just me.)

    Now, I’m in my very last job before I retire in a few years. I’d say this job has been the closest thing to a “perfect” job for me, as it allows me to use the wide range of skills and experience I’ve gained in my meandering career path, while still exposing me to new things after all these years. I’ve been here almost ten years and am gratified knowing that I’ll never need to job-hunt again. It’s a great feeling. Try not to fret about the destination — instead, try to enjoy the ride!

  125. lilyp*

    Two thoughts —

    1) I think you should reconsider informational interviews — “I’m considering a career change into (thing you do) and I’d like to ask some questions about what it’s really like day to day” is in fact a specific purpose and not a waste of anyone’s time — just make sure you have some questions prepared and engage with the conversation.

    2) It’s good that you know for sure you don’t want to manage people! That is going to limit how far “up” you can go along many traditional career ladders. Will that bother you? If you want to eventually get the money/decision-making authority/respect/prestige of a high-level position, you might want to look for industries or roles that have high-level subject matter expert roles or tracks for individual contributors. Or else decide that you’re ok with “plateauing” at a mid-level position where you enjoy you job but aren’t on track for any more promotions (and both what that will feel like and what it means for your long-term financial plans).

  126. Anne Boleyn's Necklace*

    Are you sure you really want a quote unquote career? It sounds like you have 2 major parameters guiding your search: your current location, and remote work. You know you don’t want to manage people, which knocks out another big chunk of industries and positions. I think when you still have this much ambiguity, it can be really helpful to keep gathering information. This will take some proactive effort on your part, but you can do it! I know it can seem daunting at The Vastness of Possible Jobs, but I’ve got 3 ideas: 1). Make a LinkedIn profile so that you can get an account, start building connections in a digital space that makes sense for your remote work requirement, and start reading job postings. They have some pretty good search filters, so check out the ones that hit your requirments. 2). Look up some Best Of lists; remote job ideas, companies to work for, etc. and start investigating those lists. 3). Take it one piece at a time! Even 15 mins a day, set with a timer, can be helpful to make a dent in gathering the info you need to guide your next step. Good luck!

  127. anon, anon*

    What do you like? Not as a job, but as an aspect of life? Often that’s how people find their life’s work.

    In my case, I like learning about other countries. So I became an ESL teacher. I get to learn about other countries all the time.

    So just… what interests you?

  128. 1idea*

    This would be harder to pull for in a fully remote position, but still might work: Try to work at a smaller and/or growing company, do good work, and stay a while. This is a good way to potentially get to try out different work as things change. I worked at a company like this, starting in documentation and order entry. After they had tight times and had to lay off the only dedicated purchaser, since they liked my work and trusted me, they let me cover some purchasing as the workload grew again. Eventually I was responsible for several work processes/departments. Since it was a smaller company, I also could see what other people’s work was like pretty easily (although this was in person, and might not be as true remotely). When I decided to leave, I thought about the pluses and minuses of each type of work I was doing, and picked one to focus on at a bigger org – all the different hats got exhausting, but it was usually interesting and I learned a lot!

    Now I work for a state government human services division, which is transitioning a lot of positions to fully remote since it’s getting hard to retain even hybrid workers in some of the roles. So that is another possible direction to look.

    1. Random Dice*

      Oh, yes, small but growing companies mean that you can follow interests as they grow, get exposure to other areas (especially those careers that don’t really get taught in school), and can grow an interesting and non traditional career.

  129. Matthew G*

    I’ve been a programmer for over 25 years. I’m good at it. Not John Carnack or Dennis Ritchie good, but given a clear spec and a reasonable deadline I won’t let you down. However, I don’t love it. I’m only in it for the money. I do it because no particular job ever appealed to me, but I had to make a living somehow and wasn’t suited to a life of crime.

    I find fulfillment outside of work. I have a day job instead of a career, and I’m OK with that. Maybe a day job is what OP needs, too?

  130. Kate*

    Oh, I can’t wait to dig into this comment section – so much interesting stuff! This was also something I struggled with, and I kind of fell into a career that turns out to be perfect for me and that I absolutely love. I’m an immigration paralegal, specializing in family-based matters, naturalization, and immigrant visas/green cards.

    It came about when a friend knew I was out of work and struggling to find my path, and her old job hadn’t replaced her and she thought it would be a good fit for me. She referred me, and I got the job! It was a two-attorney firm, and I learned fast and had more and more things thrown at me. When one partner retired, the other partner joined Local Prestigious Firm and brought me along with her.

    It turns out that I love being in the middle of the food chain. I get to delegate the boring admin stuff to my assistant, and if things get too crazy it goes to the attorney to handle which means I’m not the one making the hard decisions. I’m the one handling the day-to-day communication with clients. (Who are from all over the world, so that’s super interesting all on its own.) It’s really collaborative, which I thrive on. I have excellent attention to detail and honestly get great satisfaction from filling out forms, so preparing all the paperwork is fun. I get to use my creative side with affidavits and motions and even just brainstorming what supporting documents people can gather to demonstrate their relationship when the normal stuff isn’t available. When I’m working on an affidavit, it often involves spending hours with a client listening to them tell their story in their own words, and helping them craft that narrative in a way that the government will understand, and to give context to what on paper looks problematic. I’m one of those people who everyone confides in, and a few times a client has disclosed really crucial information to me that they never told the attorney in any prior meeting. This job is also really satisfying: I’m literally helping reunite families who have been living in separate countries, or helping people obtain legal status who have been living in the shadows for 20 years. I come home feeling like I’ve had a positive impact in people’s lives.

    (Sorry, don’t mean to be an infomercial here. I can just really empathize with the OP, and I love what I do and can’t help getting excited at the opportunity to think about what strengths it requires.)

    1. HelloFromLondon*

      I love this example thanks for sharing :) really nice to see how those strengths and natural tendencies come together

  131. Burger Bob*

    Man, I wish I knew. I, too, am still trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up. I thought my current career was going to be my “passion.” I went for the extra school, spent all the money, did all the work, got the degree. And it turns out that it is definitely not what I want to do forever at all, especially post-covid. But I have absolutely no idea what kind of career I would even attempt to pivot to. I think about it a lot. Maybe I’ll figure it out someday. In the meantime, my current path will have to just be good enough.

  132. Shearshucker*

    Oh, OP, I am paddling in the same boat. I’ve been working a job that’s not a chosen Career, and now I’m ready to move on to something else… But what?
    If I didn’t have to worry about how to pay my bills for the next quarter, I’d ditch the dayjob and indulge in my EtsyStore dream career. (Alas, the reason I haven’t done that is because the ramp to profitability is long. I’d need a sufficient financial buffer to make it through the lean times, and I don’t have that yet.)
    So yeah. I do know what I want as a career, but I don’t know how feasible that is. Until then, I’m working non-career jobs. I’m over the one I’m in and want to do something–anything–else that won’t take up all my spoons.
    But what do I do? Every “Find your career path” website I visit tells me I should be engaging in the Creative Arts. Doesn’t tell me what else I can do if I’m not running the Etsy shop. So frustrating. For the past ten years I’ve been telling myself a Job Is A Job, but now it’s starting to get to me, BEC.
    If I knew how to identify the Manic Pixie DreamJob, I’d share it with everyone.

  133. HelloFromLondon*

    I found it helpful to do some thinking about my strengths and skills ((they’re different e.g. strengths might be communicating with different people, being able to deep dive into a topic, whereas skills would be writing press releases, coding, data analysis etc), and my values (what’s important to me at work – for me it’s learning, collaboration, and calm i.e. I like having time to think and not super intense or high pressure environments). And then I thought about my 5 or 10 year career “goal” as a much broader picture rather than a specific job e.g. for me “I want to be working in a company with friendly people I share values with, where I feel I’m making a positive difference in the world, where I get to learn lots of new things, have time to reflect and work strategically, and get to be involved in supporting or teaching others”. No specific role or industry but it’s very helpful to judge jobs against.

    Recommend two books too: Pivot by Jenny Blake and Squiggly Careers.

    Pivot was great for getting that longer term plan of what I wanted my whole life to be like not just a job, there’s a free writing section asking you questions about your dream day etc that was really insightful. And Squiggly Careers has v useful strengths finding exercises – can use the free podcast too.

  134. RagingADHD*

    I think one of the most valuable things you can learn in your working life (and maybe in life generally) is that you simply can’t predict exactly what you will want to do fifteen, twenty, twenty five years from now. And you shouldn’t try because you will drive yourself bonkers.

    You will (hopefully) change and grow in that time. You will discover things about yourself, about work. You will have opportunities and life circumstances arise that you could not have predicted, and you will want to take advantage of them (or be forced to adapt to them). Jobs and industry sectors will emerge that don’t even exist today.

    Make decisions based on sound principles — working to your strengths, looking at industries / careers / skill sets that have long term growth potential, seeking out good mentors and management, developing a healthy network, pursuing personal and professional growth, etc. But don’t try to put your working life on rails to a fixed conclusion based on the limited knowledge and insight you have today. If you did, you would spend your future being shackled by your own (unavoidable) ignorance. That would really be a tremendous waste.

    Children think that you grow up, and become a fixed entity known as a “grownup,” period. And if you maintain that belief, you will always feel inadequate because you have more growing to do.

    The truth is that you are never done growing up. Just grow.

  135. Observer*

    #2- PTO glitch.

    Your company is horrible and stupid. Having said that, I doubt you can do much about it.

    There is ONE exception – I am pretty sure that they cannot with hold your last paycheck of make people pay the money back when you leave. In NY, even if someone signed a document that explicitly acknowledges that they are “borrowing” time and will pay it back if they leave, you can’t always make them do it. In a case like this? Not a chance. No one agreed to it and the company cannot retroactive take money back.

    1. Random Dice*


      I posted about Johnson O’Connor Foundation testing higher up in the page. (Heffalump isn’t my sock puppet.)

      It was so powerful for two people I know. I wish all high school kids got this data about themselves. Jobs today are so freaking random, and aptitude can seem like it’s one skill but it’s actually a mesh of skills.

  136. Random Dice*

    I think the most important thing is to be someone who follows up interest with learning, then applied learning, then networking.

    So let’s say your job is managing a set of data. You figure there has to be a better way to do it, so you go on YouTube and blogs to learn about automation.

    Then you try it out on your data, and find efficiencies in process.

    You start networking – talking to other data people at your company about how to apply that process to their data, or start a group internally to share ideas about data mgmt best practices. You join a LinkedIn group, get a professional certification in data management.

    Then you pursue the next interest, which usually pops up organically from what you previously did, if you keep an open curious approach (do NOT be a know-it-all).

    You ask someone who knows more about data than you about their career, how they got here, what they find exciting in the industry, what they think you might find helpful. You learn about a frustration a coworker has, and see if you can solve it. You see issues with how this group doesn’t connect to this group, and suggest ways you close the gap. You look at training on the next interest.

  137. Kat*

    There is a Japanese concept called “Ikigai” that may be helpful to reflect on– the intersection of what you are good at, what you love, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.

  138. Lacey*

    Think about the nuts and bolts of the type of work you enjoy doing.

    For example. I like most of my projects to be short & sweet and I like a lot of variety and maybe one or two medium sized projects to work on in my down time. I also know that I prefer light collaboration, majority solo work, and rather enjoy research.

    Which means I’ve really enjoyed jobs in advertising and publishing (periodicals, not books) but struggled as an in-house designer.

    I’ve also realized that while the idea of working in a fast paced environment or for a large company sounded fun to me when I was younger – I actually prefer a more relaxed atmosphere where the CEO knows my name.

  139. KiwiBird*

    When I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do, I looked back at all of my previous jobs and identified what parts I liked – nice mix of solo and team work, keeping track of things with spreadsheets, having tasks that many would consider “boring” but I enjoyed the rhythm of because I could listen to a book or podcast while doing it, being able to deliver a finished product of sorts, and feeling like I was adding some sort of net positive to the world. Adding all of that to my educational background, I looked for jobs/careers that would allow me to move around physically and mentally a bit, and I became a paralegal. I *don’t* want to be an attorney because the idea of researching case law or writing briefs or standing up in court and having to think on my feet all seem like a terrible fit for me. But working in the background, supporting the person who does those things? Now that sounded good. I get to learn all about interesting cases and watch/participate in trials, but I also don’t have to work the hugely long hours, and I can improve on the skills I am genuinely good at. And I feel good about the work that I do based on the part of law that I am in. I’m also not tied to any one specific field of law, and have opportunities for growth. Some of figuring it all out is determining what you’re good at, some of it is figuring out what you’re *not* good at and unlikely to be good at, and then finding a field in which your skills are essential and the subject matter of it you find interesting. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time just talking to my friends about their jobs, skills, interests, etc., to learn about what it takes to succeed in different jobs.

  140. pupperoni*

    I’ve never exactly had passion for my work and I don’t think that’s a realistic goal for most people.

    I have found that what’s most important to me is the environment I work in, not the topic of work. Last time I was job searching I made a list of the qualities I really wanted to have around me at work and an opposing list of things I definitely didn’t want based on previous jobs I hadn’t enjoyed. The lists had things like wanting to work as part of a team not individually, a supportive boss, a midsize or larger company with established structures and processes, a focus on doing what you need to get your work done vs. butts in seats for strictly X hours per day, etc. I ended up finding a job with most of the things on the list, and the subject matter of our work wasn’t particularly something I was interested in. I like it fine, but what’s important to me is the people, and if my whole team was suddenly dropped into a different field I would be happy to keep working there, because I’d work with these people on almost anything.

    It’s great if you have a passion for a particular field or type of work, but it’s not necessary if you can find other things to be satisfied by.

  141. Hannadepanna*

    Have a look at! Their goal is to help people use their careers for good, but if if you’re not interested in that their tools and tips are generally applicable and really great to help you think through and research your options

  142. Stellated*

    I have a book recommendation: Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher. Her other career books are great too, but as someone who is also interested in a lot of things and has worried that will never add up to a “real career,” I found this book super helpful.

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