How Do I Figure out What I Should Do for a Living, According to 20+ Experts

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There comes a time in life when you ask the big question, “what should I do for a living?”

For some people, this thought never goes away. So, how do you figure out the answer to this problem?

Table of Contents

Allen Klein, MA, CSP

Allen Klein

Author of The Healing Power of Humor, and, Secrets Kids Know |
World’s only Jollytologist® | Speaker | TED Presenter

Ask yourself, “What job would you do if no one paid you to do that job?”

The answer to that question is a clue to what you are passionate about. And that is what you should do for a living because it is that passion that will help you get through tough situations,  help you survive where others might fail and succeed, no matter what.

I know this to be true from personal experience. Since I was seven-years-old I wanted to be a scenic designer. After college, I got into graduate school. I was asked to leave after the first year. But my passion and strong desire to be a scenic design got me through.

My fellow classmates were still at school while I had passed the strict union test and was designing television and off-Broadway shows. With passion, you will be unstoppable.

Related: Why Is Passion Important for Success in Life?

Elisa Robyn, Ph.D.

Elisa Robyn

Consultant | Coach

Identify your core values

If you won enough money to completely support yourself, what would you choose to do?

The easy answers might come first, such as travel the world, but then what? What will keep you interested and give you a sense of meaning and purpose?

If you were told you only had one year to live, what would you find important? How would you fill your days?

Now, look at your answers. What themes do you find in your answers? These reveal your values.

Identify what interests you intellectually

Do to study and learn, or do you love to use your hands to build things? Are you more interested in details and data or themes and ideas? If you could take any classes you wanted, what would you take?

Finally, link your values with your interests

Work with an advisor, or perhaps use internet searches, and find where these can connect. Some of the answers might work for volunteer opportunities, but let’s assume that we are looking for a career path, one that you can be paid for.

When you find some answers dig a bit deeper into the options. Perhaps shadow someone who has this job/career. What do you like and what do you dislike?

Yes, this can be a longer process, but it will reveal much more than any personality tests. New careers are emerging every day. We have more options, and also know that we need to be able to build and utilize our transferable skills

Mike Swigunski

Mike Swigunski

CEO & Founder, Global Career | Author, Global Career: How to Work Anywhere and Travel Forever

I think one of the best techniques is to try out a few different areas before selecting your career trajectory

This is a real hard issue for most people starting their careers. It is quite complicated since most young adults are expected to select a track for their entire lives. It’s always better to start off in a broader field and then work towards something specific.

For example, a general business or engineering degree allows a lot of optional tracks that will allow you to shift to overtime. In other majors, it’s not as easy to transfer to another area if you end up disliking the major.

Some other great ways to test out the waters is to take online courses

See how you like the material and overall options for the career. Once you find something you are interested in, make sure to research the starting wages and try to calculate an ROI on whether or not it financially makes sense to pursue that field.

Dr. Michael J. Provitera

Michael J. Provitera

Executive Leadership Trainer | Author, Mastering Self-Motivation |
Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior, Professional & Career Education, Barry University

Five ways to figure out what you should do for a living:

  • Don’t fuss over what everyone else wants you to do, focus on your strengths and use them to your advantage.
  • Base your motivation on your major or minor or both in college – think entrepreneurial.
  • Consider all connections – who you know does not matter – what you know does – probability and possibility work hand-and-hand – contact everyone you know.
  • Remember that your initial career post is a stepping stone, a segue, and it opens doors for your next position.
  • Continuously develop your skills inside and outside of workreinvent yourself – be an opportunist.

John Madigan

John Madigan

President & CEO, Executive Talent Services, LLC

Take a skills inventory

I think it’s important to inventory your motivated skills, really understand what they are and how you like to use them. Then, you can compare them to what’s required in different fields/jobs.

One of the best ways to do this, as originally proposed by Richard Bolles of “What Color is Your Parachute” fame, is to identify the achievements or accomplishments throughout your life, those experiences in which you excelled but also enjoyed what you were doing.

Some of those are work-related but others are not. Invariably, across multiple accomplishments, a theme develops and it becomes clear that you enjoy using these skills in the service of that.

In group settings, I’ve tried this exercise: think in terms of a matrix, list your skills individually along a vertical axis (e.g. creative writing, organizing, group presentation, counseling/coaching people, showing empathy) and your interests across a corresponding horizontal axis (e.g. dogs, sports, sailing, food quality) such that there is an intersection between each skill and each interest.

In that space, you can brainstorm jobs/work that combines that skill and that interest (e.g. writing about animal protection, organizing sports events for disabled youth). This can give people a base on which to focus further research and networking about careers that may be a fit for them.

Debra Eckerling

Debra Eckerling

Founder, The DEB Method | Goals Coach |
Author, Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals

The biggest challenge people have with reaching their goals is they do not take their time to figure out what it is they actually want. When individuals prioritize introspection – and then do the necessary legwork – they can make a plan for success.

My technique is called The D*E*B Method: Determine Your Mission, Explore Your Options, Brainstorm your Path. These three simple steps are the basis for any personal or professional journey. Decide what you want, and figure out the different ways you can make it a reality. Then choose one, make a plan, and follow it to fruition.

To figure out what it is you actually want to do in life, start by journaling

More specifically, try a concept I call Directed Journaling. These are stream-of-consciousness writing spurts, focused on a specific theme.

Here’s how it works:

Set a series of 15-minute appointments with yourself over the course of a week. During each session, brainstorm your answer to the question at hand, “What should I do for a living?” and then just go whatever direction your ideas take you.

Cover areas, such as “What am I good at? What do I enjoy? What skills do I have? What skills, education, and experience do I need? What must I do to make this happen?” Anything that comes to mind is up for grabs. Be open to new ideas. And don’t worry about repeating yourself.

Now, here’s the trick. Do not read any of your brainstorms until you have done several of these sessions. Once you have completed the exercise, read through your journal entries.

As you are doing so, note the common themes – the items you repeat – as well as the concepts you are most excited about. You may surprise yourself. You may also discover an exciting new path.

Directed Journaling enables you to not only explore a variety of possibilities but to look at them objectively. When embarking on something as serious as a new career, give yourself the gift of time to truly figure out what you want. That way, you are more likely to come up with a successful plan.

Jessica Glazer

Jessica Glazer

Woman Empowerment Coach | Founder, MindHR, Inc.

Don’t worry if you get at wrong as there is no right or wrong answer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person holds ten different jobs before age forty and twelve to fifteen jobs in their lifetime. So ignore the white noise around you that society says you have to do this to get x and y.

Think about what do you truly love doing and then assess how you can make money doing it

It’s okay if the job isn’t out there yet, although chances are it is…create something for yourself. If you love what you do, it’s not that you won’t work a day in your life, it’s that tie money will follow.

Once you have an idea regarding what you love, meet with people in that field. Expose yourself to them, introduce yourself, don’t be shy. People actually do love helping people…especially those starting out. Everyone had to start from somewhere, remember that. Follow your gut. It’s often more right then you think.

Related: How to Monetize Your Knowledge and Expertise

Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-SCP

Michael Trust

Certified Mediator

Trying to figure out what to do for a living is a complex question that one must ask oneself. The trite “Follow Your Passion” that most espouse these days is great – but it rarely pays the bills. I think there is a more pragmatic approach – one that includes discovering your passion – but not leaving it exclusively to that.

For my executive career and career coaching clients, in my work mentoring and developing staff, and in my work helping HR professionals to develop their careers, I use a multi-prong approach:

I am a strong believer in valid and reliable career assessment tools

These tools that look at strengths, weaknesses, interests, styles, and approaches, and I meld those outcomes with in-depth discussion about what the person is motivated by, energized by, what brings them fulfillment, what their experience, if any, has been to date, and what their current situation is and what they’d like to see be there future situation be.

In this way, there are both objective and subjective data with which to work to help figure out what the person wants to do for a living that can, by and large, meet the criteria that they’ve set for themselves.

At that point, the choices are usually very clear, and then a process to achieve this goal is mapped out, with accountability points. Much of this work, particularly on the subjective side, requires either having an excellent sense of self-awareness or being open to being coached to develop one.

Additionally, this also requires one to have a realistic expectation of what’s possible today and in the future (depending on the steps someone takes) and understanding that sometimes, getting to where one wants to be is a process that takes time, and that there are sacrifices along the way.

Instant gratification rarely works in developing a plan to figure out what one wants to do for a living. It’s possible, but not common, at least in my experience. A measured, thoughtful, pragmatic, approach usually works best.

Ultimately, with the right coaching, the right background (either having it or obtaining it), and most importantly, the right mindset, everyone can figure out what they want to do for a living and achieve that dream. And, this may change over time as people gain more experience, professionally and in life – and the process starts over again.

Nate Masterson

Nate Masterson

Business Consultant | CMO, Maple Holistics

Find out what intelligences are your strongest

The ideal job for anyone should be heavily based upon a mix of what they enjoy doing and their skills and abilities. If you don’t think you have workable skills, then you are wrong. There are many different forms of intelligence and different jobs require different types of intelligence.

Musical, intrapersonal, linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, interpersonal, existential, logical-mathematical, musical, and natural intelligence are examples of how diverse intelligence really can be, much more diverse than a simple I.Q. test.

Find out what intelligences are your strongest, you may have a few that you are strong in, then find a suitable job that utilizes that intelligence. Most people are drawn to what they are good at, you will probably enjoy the work that is connected to what you’re intellectual skills.

Dolores Hirschmann

Dolores Hirschmann

Strategist | Clarity Coach | Founder, Masters in Clarity

A great question to ask yourself would be “What would I do for free all day long?”

In order to find success in life, you must first find clarity in your life purpose through an exploration of who you truly are and what you are designed to do.

Using the answer to that question, make a list of all your skills and passions. Then go through the list and think of a job or solution that your specific skill and/or passion is in alignment with. Those are the types of positions you should seek out.

Scott Jasparro

Scott Jasparro

President, Arruda Insurance Agency

You should find what you are passionate about and look to build your career around that

The answer is very simple, doing it is another matter altogether. Most will never do this because of societal pressures to make the most money possible and have the best in life to show others how well you’re doing.

If you truly love your work, it doesn’t feel like work and it is a lifetime achievement and as they say, you will never work a day in your life doing what you love.

When you are young you have no real concept of how long you will need to work. It is a long time. So think hard about what you love because working in a field you dislike will lead to a long dissatisfying life!

Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson

CEO, Anabolic Bodies

Figure out what you’re good at and run with it

Finding something that you excel at naturally is a good indicator of what you should do professionally. If it’s something you have to work harder at, it probably isn’t worth the extra effort. Unless you already love it.

Take into consideration what that skill might earn you or how far you can progress with it, but don’t let that be the only deciding factor. If you’re really good at something, people will pay for your expertise regardless.

Figure out if your skill is marketable, decide what people might gain from it, and then run with it. If there isn’t already a job set up for your skill, make one. It is the time of entrepreneurship; make the most of it.

Jorge Fontan

Jorge Fontan

Owner, Fontan Architecture

I decided to become an architect while working in construction with my father at the age of 18. I saw architectural plans on a job site and was instantly fascinated and thought to myself I need to learn how to do that. I applied to architecture school soon thereafter and it was the best choice I ever made.

Realize you will do this almost every day for the majority of your life

Therefore, choosing a path in an area where you have deep intrigue and can grow will be the best starting point for your choice. I would make sure it is something you want to dedicate a great deal of time learning about as learning will be part of any profession you choose.

James Feldstein

James Feldstein

President & Owner, Audio Den

Stay open-minded for new connections

When thinking about beginning a career, I would start with a critical mindset shift. Forget the age-old advice to “follow your passion.”

Why? Because this idea amounts to putting blinders on — it narrows your focus and prevents you from seeing novel opportunities. It’s an attitude that can fool you into thinking that being successful will be easy, but studies have shown that this approach makes people more inclined to give up the moment they face hardship.

It’s also been demonstrated by neuroscientists that if you have a singled-minded interest, it tends to be all-consuming —making you less likely to branch out into adjacent subject areas.

All of business, and life is interdisciplinary. The most successful people in every industry are those who form new connections – new products, services, ideas – by bringing together skills and concepts that haven’t been combined before.

So when you’re just getting started in your career, stay open-minded and hungry — don’t shut yourself off from developing the all-important supplemental competencies that could one day make you the unicorn in your chosen field.

Rob Kingyens

Rob Kingyens

Founder & CEO, Yellowbrick

When deciding what to do for a living, the first and most important thing to do is to look inward

Ask yourself, ‘what am I really passionate about?’ and think in terms of your aptitudes.

If you love sports, you don’t have to be a gifted ballplayer to be a part of the game. Maybe you’re great at organizing events or getting the word out. If you love music but you don’t write songs, perhaps you’re skilled with computers and technical equipment (which would be useful if you want to become a sound engineer). Every industry needs passionate and talented people at all levels and in a wide variety of areas.

Once you have identified your passion, you can research opportunities in the industry that you’re interested in to learn more about the roles that are a match for your abilities.

To discover your options, talk to anyone you know who works in the business, take an online course that’s relevant to the business, and read the prominent trade news sites/magazines that cover the industry.

There are many resources that are available to give you insights, ideas, and guidance about what do to for a living, but your journey must begin with exploring your passions, being open to possibilities, and – once you’ve done your research – knocking on doors to see what’s available.

Marc Afzal

Marc Afzal

Owner & Investor, Sell Quick California

You may never know fully what you should do for a living. Some of us know from the start and end up in our dream job other times our life paths take us to our careers.

The best thing you can do is brainstorm your ideas and ask yourself some important questions such as these examples:

  • Do I like to be told what to do and when to be somewhere?
  • Do I like structure and need to live a life that is fully structured from sun up to sun down? Or do I prefer to live by your own schedule?
  • Where do I want to live?
  • What am I good at School?
  • What has been my dream job?
  • What are the tasks I have hated doing growing up?
  • Do I like to build things?
  • Do I prefer to lead or prefer to be an integral part of the team being lead by someone else?

Most of these questions are geared towards understanding yourself if you can be an entrepreneur, an employee or a leader. Whatever path you decide to do the best thing you can do for yourself is to give 100% effort towards that goal. Whether you are in High School, College, or thinking about a Mid-Career change.

Dave Wolovsky

Dave Wolovsky

Yoga Teacher | Positive Psychology-Based Coach, EffortWise

The simplest way to figure out what you should do is to figure out what gives you the most aliveness

Aliveness can be thought of as a combination of two feelings: motivation to grow stronger and gratitude for simply being alive.

If you find what generates the most aliveness in you, all you have to do is follow it in little steps.

Following your aliveness will take you to exactly where you want to go

It will take you to your big life goals and beyond them, to better goals that you more deeply desire. Not right away, of course, but one of the main things that we never control is the timing of our successes because they rely so much on external opportunities presenting themselves to us.

We can only control how we show up, and how we show up largely depends on our energy, whether we’re motivated and grateful (i.e. whether we have aliveness flowing through us).

Making big career moves should only be done when you can’t hold back anymore

Jumping into something totally new is sometimes the right move, but only if you have so much aliveness going into it that you can overcome the immense struggle of being a beginner again.

One source of energy is the relief of getting out of a bad situation that has been holding you back, in which you’ve tried many smaller solutions to make it better, but it’s clear that you simply need to get out. Getting out and taking a rest can give you a lot of energy to try something new.

It should go without saying that the new career should be an extension of something you’ve already been doing that has inspired a lot of aliveness in you. Finding and following your aliveness will always take you in the right direction.

Kyndall Bennett

Kyndall Bennett

Personal Development Coach, Kyrabe Stories

I think one of the most common mistakes for job seekers and career changers is choosing a position primarily because that “pays well”, even if it conflicts with their interests. I can vouch that no “good-paying” job is worth a Social Anxiety breakdown over.

And yes, this indeed happened to me when I used to work in Sales. It was so bad that I had to go to the VA Clinic and speak to a Therapist about it. Other than meeting great people, learning how to craft sales pitches, and accepting the advice to look instead into Content Marketing upon quitting, that paycheck was far from worth it.

My advice to help figure out what to do for a living is to create three lists:

  • Skills that I have
  • Tasks that I enjoy doing
  • Tasks that I hate doing

Note that if you immediately tell yourself that you can “tolerate it,” then it most likely belongs in that third list. Be open-minded with filling in these lists too. List things like puppies, video games, hiking, gardening, sewing, singing, anything that comes to mind!

The goal is to find a position that combines the skills that you have with the things you enjoy doing. The challenge is to avoid compromising for anything in the “tasks that I hate doing” list.

Use Google to mix and match your first two lists and see what pulls up (like a Social Media Coordinator for an animal shelter). You’d be surprised what opportunities are out there that’ll be perfect for you!

Bethany Babcock, MBA

Bethany Babcock

Founder, Foresite Commercial Real Estate

Ask yourself who are the people that you enjoy spending time with

Who do you enjoy helping and talking to? What do you get excited talking about? This can tell you what industry would be worth a closer look. From there, take a look at all the different positions within that industry.

For those just starting out in their careers, I highly recommend using temporary staffing companies. Tell them what industry you want to break into and tell them you are willing to take any job in it.

Even an entry-level admin role can provide valuable insight into all the different positions available in the industry. It is highly likely the right job may be one you have never heard of before.

Rina Puri

Rina Puri

Entrepreneurs | Bloggers, Chicks And Salsa

You probably don’t know about the job you will love yet

It is true, only after all my education and talking to thousands of people did I realize all the true possibilities for careers and hobbies out there. If only I could have had that exposure sooner!

Even now there are so many paths that I can take. I use emulation to help direct my destination, find those who resonate with you and are like-minded and emulate them.

Network, network, and then network some more. You will learn more talking to someone for ten minutes than you will be surfing the net for one hour.

Trial and error is your friend

Sometimes we talk ourselves out of short term opportunities to find something long term or more “stable.” I have found that in retrospect, those short term opportunities offered the most benefits in terms of skills attained, networks built, and lessons learned.

Even if it is a volunteer opportunity or internship…..take it. There are no failures in this, only lessons learned. Learn them and move on.

The old adage you will never regret the risks that you did take, only the ones that you didn’t comes to mind. Finding a job is hard enough, finding the right job is a journey. Enjoy the ride!

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Nicole Martins Ferreira

Co-Founder, Linkiro

The easiest way to figure out what to do for a living is to try everything when you’re young

When I was in my early 20s, I signed up for every campus club I could get into. I planned events, walked students home safely in the dark (like a campus cop), worked in student government, did some administrative work, and explored marketing roles.

All those volunteer roles helped me realize what I liked and didn’t like about various types of work. And you eventually realize what type of work you’re amazing at and excites you.

If you’re an older adult, there are meetup events and volunteer opportunities in your local community that you can sign up for to get a taste of what different careers may be like. And it could be your foot in the door to a game-changing future.