Growing up, I had endless aspirations. I could be a marine biologist, a photographer, or an entrepreneur. It was difficult for me to actually decide anything, so at the age of 28, I found myself in a career in business administration and was very unhappy with it. I made a decent living, but business is all about numbers, not people; I didn’t feel like I was contributing to the world in an impactful way that was true to who I was.
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I needed a change, but I didn’t know what that change looked like. I decided to meet with a career counselor, and she suggested I start by asking myself questions, and, in turn, giving myself honest answers. So, here are the questions I’m asking myself on the road to self-discovery.
1. Why am I so afraid of the word purpose?
My parents and teachers used to ask: “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This evolved over time into “What do you think your purpose is in life?” I didn’t know the answer, and it was really intimidating to try and figure out. I could be a veterinarian or a magazine editor or a lawyer. How could I pick just one thing to do for the rest of my life? But now, on my third career in just 12 years, I understand that my answer doesn’t have to be just one thing. I remember seeing students in their 60s at university and thinking how wonderful it was that they were still pursuing their passions after all this time. You don’t have to have just one almighty purpose in this life. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that you do.
2. Whom do I admire? Why?
A few years ago, a friend of mine launched her own line of beauty products, and I felt so envious. But when I began researching how to start my own beauty business, I quickly realized I didn’t particularly care about makeup or skincare. When I sat down and really asked myself why I was jealous, I realized it had nothing to do with what she was selling. I was jealous she was doing three things that I really wanted to be doing: working from home, being her own boss, and making her own schedule. I really admired what she had achieved, which in turn had me asking “What steps can I take that will allow me to do those things?”
3. What type of personality do I have?
You know those Buzzfeed quizzes that tell you what CW character you are, or what house you’d belong to at Hogwarts? Well, I began looking at personality quizzes that were specifically designed to tell me what kind of things I legitimately liked or was naturally good at, like Myers Briggs, 16 personalities, and the Enneagram. It’s important to be honest and take your time while taking these tests. There were a few times where I had to stop and start again because I was answering questions based on what I thought the “right” answer was and not how I truly felt. The quizzes ended up confirming many parts of my personality that I had pushed aside: I was an imaginative thinker, an artist, an empath, and I would be happiest serving people in a creative way. No wonder I had been so unhappy in the world of business, which I had chosen because it was considered a “safe” career choice, but clearly a poor one for my personality.
4. What did I want to grow up to be when I was a kid?
When I was a kid, I wanted to be a dancer, then a gymnast, then a world traveler. As I grew up, my parents were very encouraging: I took classes in anything I was interested in. But at some point, there was a definite push to perform academically so I could go to a good college and get a “safe” job, like a teacher or an accountant. I was dwelling on making the “right” choice instead of the right choice for me. This was a recipe for feeling miserable. So I tried to remember that childhood time when it felt like dreams really could come true, and what other people thought didn’t matter to me. Looking back at my early choices of dancer, gymnast, and world traveler, it was obvious I was looking for a life of self-expression and freedom.
Now here I am, 30 years old, at the beginning of a freelance writing career. I still have a long way to go, but I feel a great sense of fulfillment and purpose in what I’m doing, and I owe it to grappling with these four big questions. I can express myself creatively, work in the comfort of my own home, and hopefully inspire a few people along the way. It took me a long time to get here; I took a lot of wrong turns and made a lot of necessary mistakes. Happiness and success will look different to everyone, which is why it’s so important to be honest with yourself. I hope that if you’re reading this and wondering what to do with your life, you’ll begin to ask yourself these same questions.