How do we find out what we really want to do in life?

Careers Tutor

It’s the perennial question, worded in different guises.

What do you do?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Our society is obsessed with labelling everyone and this is often by the job they do. We make judgements about a person’s ‘success’ and this is too often measured by what we think they earn and how ‘professional’ they are.

More important and more honest, in my opinion, is to ask ‘how do you want to live your life?’ ‘what is important to you in your life?’

At the age of 16/18 an average young person has experienced family, school, an activity or two and perhaps a part time job but  so often we expect them to pluck a career idea from their existing knowledge or an idea that someone else has planted.

Generally in life we are happiest when we are occupied with something that interests us. We feel more motivated, more inspired and more willing to work hard. We can only discover these interests if we keep our eyes and ears open to the world and engage in as many opportunities as possible.

If you or a young person you know is saying ‘I have no idea what I want to do!’ or ‘but I don’t really do anything’ then here are a few strategies to help.

Make a mind map with an interest or two as the centre points. The ‘interests’ can be absolutely anything (it doesn’t matter if they seem shallow). Think of things you like or are fascinated by or enjoy doing. Now consider how and where these activities can be performed, what they link to etc.

You might end up with something like this:

clothes and fashion –> styling – TV and film – costume design – wardrobe supervisor

clothes and fashion –> shops – business/retail – international – languages

clothes and fashion –> history – galleries/museums/heritage – conservation

I sometimes suggest that the sixth formers I work with read a broadsheet weekend newspaper cover to cover and then think about what has grabbed them/intrigued them/made them angry etc. It may sound a bit 20th century but they will come across ideas and viewpoints which may open the mind – the environment, health, education, sport, politics, entertainment, charity, design…

Many young people no longer watch TV  but making a conscious choice to select a programme can also be really enlightening and can be very inspiring.

Whatever your age, consider what you react to and what you hear about which makes you think – ‘that sounds amazing’. It’s a good starting point!


Vanessa Kenneth offers one to one consultancy sessions for people at all stages of their education and career. Please visit her website below for more details and my facebook page for work experience and career opportunities.

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