I Don't Know What Career I Want

How to choose a new career in 2021 when you don't know what you want

Illustration by Piya Willwerth

So you've decided that this is it. You're finally going to put down the Mountain Dew, dust the Cheetos off your fingers, and decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. The only problem is, you haven't currently got any particular talent or instinct towards a specific field. You just know that you don't want to be stuck back inside another office, eating at Subway every day. Right? Maybe?

With that in mind, what, then, is the next step?

  • You want a job that pays you well enough (obviously).
  • You want to be free of a day-to-day office existence, including daily commuting.
  • You'd like some level of meaning in your life. In other words, the work that you've been doing hasn't meant that much to you (exactly how meaningful can, say, market research for children's beverages be?), and you want to be doing — well, not that.
  • You would be happy to never see your coworker Johnny whatshisname ever again, or listen to another joke of his. In fact, his usual shenanigans haven't bothered you nearly as much, because you don't have to see his stupid face every day.

In other words, we tend to have a much better idea of what we don't want, rather than what we do. This is because we don't know what's possible. When we were all forced to stay home in 2020, we realized that it was possible to work from home, and many of us were able to reconnect with what we thought was truly important, like our friends and family. And in the process, we were able to see clearly what wasn't important.

What are we going to do once the pandemic is under control? We are already seeing evidence of workers who, having experienced the remarkable improvement in quality-of-life from working from home, are refusing to return to the office. And why should they? We've been shown what's possible. At this point, anything seems possible. We just know we can't go back to the way things were before.

It's great that you're thinking about this now. It's best to get ahead of this, because this particular window of opportunity won't last forever. If you weren't improving on your skills during quarantine, you need to start now.

What is possible right now?

The point of this post is not to tell you what you should do with the rest of your life. Only you can decide that, after figuring out the following things:

  1. Do you like talking to people every day? You might enjoy a client-facing job. What are some jobs that involve frequent interpersonal interaction (that aren't retail or customer service jobs)?
  2. Do you hate talking to people every day? You'd be better off pursuing a more self-directed or isolated profession, like coding or cyber security or even, like, truck-driving (for the real lone wolves among us).
  3. How much control do you want to have over your day-to-day existence? For instance, say there's a set schedule of tasks to do, every day. Who would you rather set those tasks — yourself, or your supervisor?
  4. Given the answers to the previous questions, can you make a list of some professions which satisfy these parameters?
  5. How much money do you have to throw at training and/or educational materials?
  6. How much time per week can you dedicate to learning your new skills?
  7. Where do you want to live? Can you do this job there?
  8. What's your target annual salary?

We don't know what's possible yet, because people like you haven't decided what they want yet. Does this make sense?

We can't wait around for someone to tell us what to do, because 99.9% of the time, they'll tell us something we don't want to hear. I want to help you become who you were supposed to be, but you need to participate, too. The good news, it's truly remarkable finding what we can accomplish with just a little effort. So, grab a piece of paper and try to answer the questions outlined above.

Take your time. If you need to research some of these questions, then do so. You'll feel better once you have.

What's standing in your way?

Once you've got a pretty good idea of what you want to do, your next task — and yes, writing this down is imperative — will be to determine what obstacles are standing in your way. What needs to be resolved or fixed before you can do this job?

  1. Are the materials or education you need to do this job very expensive?
  2. Does your current family or living situation pose difficulty for you? (Note: I am not proposing that you abandon your responsibilities to pursue your new career. If you have children or dependents, then obviously your choices will be constrained by what you need to do to support them)
  3. Are you living in the right city to do this job?
  4. Are you struggling with your mental health?

You know what's coming next. After you create this list, get another piece of paper. It's time to dial in on your specifics. The heading for this new page should be:

What are the steps I need to take to remove these obstacles?

Write them down. Be as specific as possible. For instance, say you need to set aside some time to study or improve on your skills. Instead of writing:

Set aside time to study

You should write:

Set aside 10 hours per week to study.

Even better than that:

Study 2 hours per weekday between 6-8 PM.

Let's see another example. Instead of saying:

Go to therapy


Call my insurance to get a list of therapists who are in my area.

You got this! I firmly believe in free will, and a human being's ability to resolve their problems. Some things are not alterable, but the steps outlined in this post are things that anyone can do to improve themselves and their lives.

Did this blog post help you? I want to hear about it! Comment below with your questions, ideas and suggestions.

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