For many of us right now, as we start preparing for summer, but especially for the class of 2018, with graduation and “real life” approaching fast, we might find ourselves reflecting on our time here.
With the school year’s end in sight, some of the haze that comes with the constant busyness starts to recede; we get to consider, in a deeper way than our schedules allowed us to before, why we’re doing the things we’re doing. We get closer to answering the question we perhaps spend our entire four years here answering, and maybe even longer than that: what should I do with my life?
The School of Life writes: “Nowadays, in the prosperous world, we don’t only expect to obtain money through labour, we also, to a greater or lesser extent, expect to find meaning and satisfaction.” And it’s true. Once we start working full-time, many of us will probably spend more time at work than we will with our families. We might feel that, whatever we’re doing, whatever time we are away from the people we love, it better add something more to our lives than a bi-weekly paycheck. Our time away working is expensive in that way.
It’s worth noting that each one of our answers to “What should I do with my life?” comes with a context — one that takes into account familial pressures, the want for a certain lifestyle, status, the need to support family members, etc. And so, it makes me wonder how many people pursuing medicine would answer the question with “surgeon” because they genuinely enjoy six-hour operations. What roles do external pressures play into that decision? Who and what, besides ourselves, gets to decide the career we will pursue?
To try to answer this question for myself, I made a list of things I like to do (no matter how small or simple the things were) and asked questions of that list to know myself better. The hope is that you, reader, can do the same.
Some of these things on the list included: walking around campus at night with some tea, reading an Aimee Bender book, drawing, taking and then editing photos of friends, cooking, working together with people I like and writing short stories.
Next, I took a look at the verbs I used — I wanted to see which actions bring me the most fulfillment. Walking, reading, drawing, taking pictures, editing, cooking, working together and writing.
It then became apparent to me that most of what fulfills me involves a similar theme: creating. More than that, most of actions I listed involve the completion of some sort of end product — be it a story, a meal, or a series of photographs.
Curious, I looked at my transcript and saw that I had fulfilled the WAYS Creative Expression requirement seven times over. And even more than that, I performed better overall when I was also taking some sort of creative writing class. Apparently, my transcript knew something about me that I didn’t.
When I consider how this might apply to a career, I now realize that, to really feel fulfilled, I need to engage in something creative. And, because I do most of the activities I listed alone, I know that there needs to be some aspect of independence in my work environment, while still having the option of working with people.
Synthesizing everything I learned so far, I might work best in a project-based field of work — one that requires creativity, balances independent work with collaboration, and maybe even has some sort of end product.
Next, I thought more deeply about my personal work style. I know will probably feel happier with my job if I feel like I have a community at work, which means that I am probably not someone who would get the most out of working remotely. I also know from previous experience that I can invest more energy into a project if I feel that it truly matters (i.e. a job well done on my part won’t just bring in more money for a company, but, more urgently, it will also help someone).
This both crosses some careers off of my list and makes me pay more attention to ones I was already considering.
You can do the same thing.
- Write a list of the things you enjoy doing.
- Boil that list down to its verbs.
- See if there is a common theme and how your transcript reflects that theme.
- Ask yourself: what else do I know about my own work environment preferences that can add to or complicate the common theme that has surfaced?
Even if you don’t arrive at your dream job by completing this exercise, you might be surprised at what you learn. Figuring out what makes you happy, what makes you fulfilled, is always a step in the right direction.
The same article from the School of Life says, “Most of us don’t have a calling; we don’t hear a commanding god-like voice directing us to accountancy or packaging and distribution.” So unless you have that “god-like voice” telling you to put on some scrubs after college, look inward to see what you might like.
Put in the work. Know yourself.
Contact Amanda Rizkalla at amariz ‘at’ stanford.edu.