“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
As I was growing up, I imagined all sorts of possibilities for the future ahead of me. In my youngest years, I was going to be an Olympic gymnast. With the incredible ability to trip over thin air, that dream didn’t last long. In my teen years, I had every intention of becoming famous. My best friend and I were going to pedal our bikes from Pensacola, Florida all the way to Los Angeles, California with a mattress tied behind us and our hopes and dreams leading the way. I probably don’t need to share the details of how that wild idea never quite managed to come to fruition.
Thinking practically, I wanted to follow in my mom’s footsteps and enter the world of early education, and in my mind that meant only one option: becoming a teacher. I used to love lining up my teddy bears to read to “the class” while sitting in my kid-sized rocking chair wearing my grammy’s lenses-removed glasses.
Alas, life happened, high school confused me, and college years with no real-life experience meant I didn’t know how to prepare for the future. Looking back, I am so grateful for college pointing me in a new direction. But I also love the idea of trade school or letting experience guide your path. There are so many ways to create your own happiness and success, and I think that’s beautiful.
For me, my path to a career I love was not straight and narrow. My very first paid job in life was as a scooper hero at Baskin Robbins, where I sampled ice cream to my heart’s content for 3½ years. Surely, I often thought to myself, if I can stay with a job this long as a teenager, I’ll be the type of person who has incredible job loyalty in my adult years. HA! Within my first five years out of college, I had five different jobs– the shortest one lasting only three months; the longest one, barely a year (not including the extra internship I picked up desperate for experience).
It took me about eight years post-college to finally find my footing and my passion. And wouldn’t you know it, each job led me closer to where I was meant to be. For the past four years, my job has included leading a local Pre-K mentoring program that I absolutely adore. It’s the perfect balance of all the things I’m passionate about – early education, personal interaction, building relationships, community outreach, communication, and organization/details. That may sound a little like my first cover letter out of college, but it’s hard to escape the traits of what truly brings you joy.
As your career begins, evolves, or drastically changes, I urge you to reflect on what matters most to you in life – and don’t compromise on your morals.
So, how do you really turn your passion into a career? My advice begins with reflecting on what brings you joy. For me, that was immersing myself in education and sharing the love of learning with others. I thought the only way to do that was to become a teacher, but I was so wrong. So many of my jobs have allowed me to be a champion for others in their learning journeys and to fill my cup in helping them to achieve their goals.
Next, I encourage you to embrace the skills you learn from all moments in life (even when you’re in a job that may not be right for you) and to be unafraid in trying new things. Every single job I’ve had served a purpose and taught me new skills that I continue to use to this day.
A big one: Do your research. As a child, I thought the only career options out there were teacher, firefighter, astronaut, nurse, lawyer, or cop – but it turns out there are so many niche titles, fields, and paths to explore. There truly is a job for every person, every skill set, and every interest. Type some of your keywords into a Google search, browse through the pages of LinkedIn, and talk to people in your community – you’ll be surprised what you can find. Not sure where to start? No problem! Join a professional networking group, go back to school, request an informal meeting with someone in your areas of interest, and put time into your exploration. Do you want to travel, do you like animals, are you more of a computer-person than a people-person, do you like the arts, or is what’s most important to you a job with flexible hours? Take some time to find what’s out there, to explore, and yes, to make some mistakes.
Lastly, be intentional in meeting new people. There’s nothing I love quite like learning about others – whether that’s sipping coffee with a friend, people-watching from afar, tuning into a podcast, or attending a seminar. People can introduce you to new ideas and fantastic connections, provide encouraging wisdom, open your eyes to a world unknown, and give you that needed boost as you explore a new direction.
As George Eliot once said, “It’s never too late to be what you might have been.” Don’t fret if you’re still finding your footing – the right fit will come. In the meantime, take time to appreciate where you are, soak up everything you can learn, and be intentional in seeking out the path you desire.