What job is right for you?

Do you have a specific picture in your mind—for example, director of an organization that transforms underutilized urban spaces into neighborhood-run farms (like Seattle’s Alleycat Acres)?

Or do you know broadly what you want to do, but aren’t sure what kind of jobs would let you do it? For example, maybe you’re a natural leader. You want to take the desires, talents, and gifts of others and help them facilitate the types of programs they want to create.

It so lights you up to bring people together, help them work together, and most of all, recognize the humanity in each other. But is this as director of a nonprofit? Involved in social entrepreneurship? Owner of a business? A teacher?

You want to be taking intentional steps forward, but don’t want to pigeonhole yourself and start a grad or other training program when you’re not sure what you want.

And it can all feel pretty overwhelming.

This is completely natural, given most volunteers do their first professional job search soon after service, and want to get it right. So you’re in great company :).

But since overwhelm tends to paralyze us further, I’d like to encourage you to choose another thought instead. And that is:

Action breeds clarity when discerning your vocation.

I’m not talking about jumping into a new job or grad program without considering if it feels like a fit on a deeper level. (You already know better than that :)).

I’m talking about when you’ve already come to what general work, or purpose, lights you up right now and you’re stuck on just how to do it and which direction to follow.

Volunteers tend to consider things carefully. This is a good thing, but thought only gets us so far when it comes to clarity around work—and overthinking actually sets us back. Eventually, to get clear on what work might actually suit us, we need action.

We’ve talked before about how doing what you enjoy on a deep level is a map of what you’re here to give, and how if you make a conscious decision on what to do genuinely based in who you are, you can’t go wrong.

But what about when it’s time to move? How do you actually try out some of the directions exciting you so you can make a decision on them?

This is how. Give yourself some intentional, quiet reflection time, and take these three steps:

1. Come back to what you generally want to do right now.

(e.g. In a leadership role, I want to take the desires, talents, and gifts of others and help them facilitate the types of programs they want to create).

Write it down to make it more real: In my work, I want to ___________________.

2. Brainstorm potential work directions that excite you and you think could let you to do this work.

This could be in your current field, in other fields where you’re an employee of a company or organization, and/or work you do for yourself (e.g. freelancing, starting a business).

Important: These directions don’t have to feel realistic to you yet; they just have to be something that stirs your heart. Is there something that lights you up but you’re worried you wouldn’t be able to pull it off? Write it down. There’s probably a lot of energy there. Plus, juicy, heart-filled ideas lead to more of the same.

And speaking of heart filled, as you brainstorm, also write down any communities you’d like to serve and/or problems that move you—even if you are not sure what the specific job titles related to those would look like yet. Don’t worry about that yet—you could be creating these jobs :). A lot of the most moving organizations I know started exactly that way. Go to 13:35 in this video clip with Brené Brown and Jonathan Fields of the Good Life Project for inspiration.

Make a list with at least ten items to start, including known work directions and communities you’d like to serve/problems that move you. For example, for the person who wants to take the desires, talents, and gifts of others and help them facilitate the types of programs they want to create, a list might include:

  1. Lead social entrepreneurship project that teaches women from poor communities in Asia technical skills to bring solar power to remote villages.
  2. Coach for immigrants in the US starting new food businesses.
  3. Somehow help members of low-income communities train to offer legal services to their communities.

You get the idea.

3. Take some action related to the items on your list that move you most.

Shadow someone, volunteer, take a class. Speak to people doing this work about what their days are like, and what they like and don’t like. Interview someone in the community or with the problem that moves you.

You can talk to staff of graduate schools, too, but try to prioritize people actually doing the end work and/or those in the community you want to serve. Bottom line, get facts about what the work actually is (not just what you think it might be), and how it feels to you.

Does it bring you energy? Does it feel like you? If not, what’s flat about it or missing for you?

Above all, remember that whatever happens—whether you land on something you want to stick with right away or not—you’re refining your understanding of who you are and what you really want (or as I think of it, where you’re called). You’re moving ahead.

Ah. Sound like a lot of work?

It is. But it’s a lot less work—and time, and heart, and often money—than going into a direction you haven’t test driven and felt into, then not being fulfilled, and feeling like you’re back at square one just a few months or even years (ugh) later. I speak from experience with teaching… then professional cooking… then editing.

Plus—and here’s the heart of it, which took me a while to get—it’s your work. Work that each individual gets to do for themselves to decide how they want to live. You’re made for it, and there’s no greater investment in the world than leading your life consciously forward.

And it can even be fun—when you decide to make it that way :).

Which brings us to the last key thing to remember as you get ready to engage in these work experiments:

Bring your best energy with you.

In his transformative book Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, wrote:

“What we really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves, and furthermore, we had to teach despairing men [in the concentration camps], that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us . . .

Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that is it he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life.”

What does this mean in the context of experimenting with potential vocational directions?

It means try not to approach the process with the pressure to find your life purpose in each thing you try—and if you don’t find it there, considering that experiment a failure, and feeling anxious that you’re now further behind. These work experiments are an opportunity to make meaning and purpose in each thing you do by engaging fully, by being totally present.

Approach them not in terms of what you can get, but what you can give—which is your best, wisest self.

The self that’s relaxed and joyful and sees the larger picture. The one that knows we’re connected to everything and everyone else, and that every experience has value. That sees opportunity everywhere. And what happens when we give wholeheartedly, from this place?

You already know this well: We learn about ourselves. We learn about our unique gifts. And this is actually a powerful way to gauge if we’re meant for the work at hand. In the right work for us, giving gives us energy, it can feel effortless, it’s reciprocal, it makes us feel more like us. In the wrong work, giving can feel depleting. Or we may not be able to give much of ourselves at all.

That’s what happened to me as a food writer and editor. I ended up there because I loved to write and wanted to justify to myself that my culinary degree wasn’t a waste. (It kind of was.) But after the novelty wore off, I just wasn’t that into the restaurant scene. It didn’t mean much to me, and I felt like I was going through motions and parading as someone else. Even my writing voice wasn’t mine. In that context, I literally wasn’t able to give much of me.

When I found coaching, it was completely different. I’d never been so energized and moved by work—nor felt like I used so much of myself in my work. One evening a few days into our training, I broke down crying in my apartment because this was absolutely clear.

My hope is you won’t have to spend as long as I did to learn this lesson. Instead, use these work experiments as a chance to lean into yourself and go deeper into who you are, and I promise, new answers and ideas will start to come. And, before you know it, what you’re meant to do next will flow out of the process.

You’ve completely got this. You’ve got my support and that of the larger universe that loves and needs your gifts. Go on. Start giving them.

If you found this blog valuable, please consider sharing it with others who might benefit, too. Want more support living as your brightest, fullest self? Sign up for my free starter course, 5 Steps to a Fulfilling Life After Service, right here.