Defining the career you want to pursue with your life can seem daunting and limiting. From a very young age, our parents, teachers, friends, and elders ask us the same mundane question: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”.
The question is never “Who do you want to be?” or rarely “Where do you want to live?” or even more infrequently “How do you want to impact the world?”. We are expected to decide what we want to be before we even experience real life.
From children, to adolescents, to college graduates we are cradled by society’s comforting protective hands. The rules and regulations we are expected to abide by to maintain order is a small price to pay in exchange for meeting our basic survival needs and the comfort of life in the 21st century. We adapt to a way of life that shields us from raw adulthood. Up until the moment we graduate college, sign up for the military, and/or enter the workforce, we are gifted with a sense of freedom. It is not until we turn the ripe age of eighteen that our reality begins to change.
Eighteen is a milestone age in our nation. It is the age we are deemed adults and independent contributors to society. We are less protected from comforting hands and now must graduate from dreaming up our potential careers to actually living them. We are told to attend college, join the military, enter the workforce; to do something because that is what’s expected. It is the path into our twenties that becomes the defining decade of our professional course.
The pressure is real and unwavering. How are you supposed to know what you want to be when you grow up at age eighteen, twenty, twenty-five, or even thirty? How you feel here in this moment is no indicator of how you’re going to feel in twenty years. For this reason, and so many others, it is significant to your employment satisfaction that you choose wisely. You must define your niche now to ensure you won’t be disappointed or unfulfilled later.
Follow these five core ways to define your niche and navigate yourself to employment happiness:
- Take a personality check. What type of person are you? Does giving back to the community by helping others invigorate you? Do you enjoy crunching numbers under time sensitive deadlines? Are you happiest in an isolated office space working alone or do you prefer collaborating in large groups? Understanding your personality will aid you in finding the ideal niche to share your talents, skills, and experiences.
- Network. How are you supposed to successfully discover what you want to do for a career if you haven’t experienced the possibilities? Networking is a great tool to overcome this obstacle. You must direct your efforts to identifying the key players in industries and organizations you believe you identify with. Look to these figureheads for guidance. Do you agree with their professionalism? Is their work reflected in your own professional values and goals? Strategize to build meaningful partnerships in niches you believe you could work in someday.
- Volunteer for your niche. Everything might seem perfect on paper, but before you sign employment contracts or accept a position it’s wise to really experience your decided niche. Explore the industry or organization that appeals to you. Do they offer internships or shadowing appointments? If so, seek those opportunities. Even a brief taste of the daily routine will give you a better idea of what’s to come than reading a summary of the job on paper or electronically. It’s your due diligence to explore before committing.
- Remind yourself this is the “real world”. It’s challenging for some young professionals coming right out of college or grad school and entering the workforce. We have these illusions of what careers are like based on our school experiences, and most of us end up floored by the “real world”. You don’t work for a few hours and take the rest of the day off. There’s no schedule of five week vacations plus summers off anymore. You don’t get to call out sick every week and get away with it. Real work equals real responsibility and accountability for your actions. Consider this when defining your niche. If you can’t sit at a desk for eight hours a day, working in an office might not be your best match. If you’re the type of person who constantly needs to have variety in your day, working a strict routine of completing the same tasks day in and day out probably isn’t for you. These are important factors to consider when you begin defining your career niche.
- Remember, you’re not stuck. Even if you think you’ve found your professional niche in your twenties or thirties, you aren’t trapped there until retirement. Our interests and goals change all the time. You might realize you want to teach or be a career coach during your youth and find out as time passes that you’d like to try working behind the scenes in administration or make changes on a political level for your organization. We aren’t ever immovable. That’s the beauty about work in our generation. There’s fluidity and we have ever-growing opportunities laid before us. Your niche may be one thing now, but could become another down the road. Don’t be hard on yourself or feel limited if you change paths. We all have the power to change our minds to redefine our niches.
Defining your niche is possible, but may take you some time. Even if you thought you had your whole life figured out, it could change paths right before your eyes. We are constantly moving, growing, changing, and adapting. Every age is a new milestone that brings with it new purpose and possibility. Defining your niche isn't as simple as telling your parents you want to be a doctor when you grow up. You might want that at age six, but discover you want to teach at age twenty-five. Life is unpredictable, but that's what makes it so fun! Be aggressive in your search, truly take action to find your niche, but allow yourself to enjoy the journey. Defining your niche comes from within and needs to be about discovering who you are at your core. We believe in you!