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How to Figure Out What You Want to Do

By Gerald Walsh ©

Some people know – from a very young age – what they want to do with their career. But there are others who never really figure it out. Most are working simply to pay the bills. The hours drag on, the bosses are intolerable, and “living for the weekend” becomes their mantra.

It’s easy to understand that someone in early-career might not have a clear idea what they want to do. But most people I meet to discuss this dilemma are at mid-career or worse yet – nearing retirement and still haven’t figured it out.

Unwisely, many of these people lay the blame for their discontent on others. How often have I heard some say: “There just aren’t any jobs in my field” or “The job market is bad right now” or “Employers just don’t understand what I can offer.

So, the question is: How do you figure out what you want to do and still make enough money to meet your needs?

Stop making excuses

Far too many people impose roadblocks upon themselves and limit their ability to find a meaningful career. They say things like:

  • I’m too old to make a change now.
  • I can’t afford to take a cut in pay.
  • I don’t have time to look for another job.
  • I don’t want to go back to school for re-training.
  • My friends will think I am being foolish.

When you place restrictions on yourself, you are admitting defeat. If you are sincere about making a change, you must open your mind to new possibilities. Finding a mentor or coach to help you work through this stage should bring clarity. This is not something you can self-coach yourself through.

Work on your career purpose

Wouldn’t it be nice to be in a job that you would do for free (if you could afford it)? A job where Monday morning is not dreaded and one where you feel like you’re making a difference in the world?

This is why having a career purpose is so valuable. But figuring out your career purpose is not a simple task. One place you might start is by trying to answer these questions:

  • What is your reason for getting up in the morning?
  • How would you like to be remembered by others?
  • If you were independently wealthy, what would you be doing?
  • If there was a feature story written about you in the paper, what would you like it to say?
  • If you were living your life over again, what would you do differently?

As you can tell, these are not easy questions. They require work and deep thought. The end product of this exercise should be a Career Purpose Statement that reflects on the value you provide, to whom, and how. Here is an example of a Career Purpose Statement from a food bank employee:

“I will help those who are less fortunate transition through a difficult period in their lives and become self-sufficient by teaching them basic cooking and food preparation skills.”

Analyze your past jobs

One of the best ways to avoid repeating your career mistakes and move toward a job that fits well is to assess all your past jobs to identify the aspects of those jobs that you enjoyed and did not enjoy.

When doing this exercise, you should include all jobs you’ve held whether summer, part-time, contract, or full-time. You should also include significant volunteer opportunities.

For each role, think about pay, people you worked with, job duties, hours of work, work culture, and anything else that could influence your satisfaction levels. If you do this effectively, you will most likely discover that things you liked (or didn’t like) about each job are consistent. Understanding what these threads are is very helpful in steering you toward a fulfilling job.

Start talking to people

Don’t be embarrassed to tell people you don’t have a sense of what you want to do. Even though it is your life, other people can be helpful to you in sorting out this question.

So, get out there and speak to people who are in fields that you think you might like. You’ll be surprised at how willing people are to speak about their work and what they like and don’t like about it. Doing so will give you valuable information about different industries and careers and move you closer to finding a job that works for you.


Gerald Walsh is an executive recruiter, career coach, public speaker and writer. During a 25+ year career, he has interviewed more than 10,000 job candidates, completed hundreds of successful searches for a range of organizations and guided many individuals – from young professionals to senior executives – to successful career change. He is the author of “PINNACLE: How to Land the Right Job and Find Fulfillment in Your Career.” You can follow Gerry on Twitter @Gerald_Walsh and LinkedIn