You’d be surprised at how common your question actually is. It’s not unusual for people to have a vague idea of the sort of thing they’d like to be doing, without having any idea of the finer details. This isn’t really a problem, of course – it just means you’ve got to go on a bit of a treasure hunt to discover where your interests lie, which is wonderful, since it allows you to embark upon one of the most interesting and exciting journeys of your life.
I recently wrote a blog post on “finding the work you love”, which might be helpful as a starting point. You can find it here.
Now for some other general observations to help you get moving (these apply to anyone who’s trying to figure out what to do for a living):
*You might be tempted to start by trying to figure out what will make you some money. Don’t. Not yet, anyway. Instead, begin by putting the effort into finding out what you’d enjoy doing for a living – because that way, you’ll maximise the likelihood of sticking with it until you can find a way to make money at it.
*Pay attention to the things you’ve loved doing throughout your life. Go right back to childhood and consider this. Take your time. Don’t leave anything out, no matter how small: “I loved reading comics”; “I enjoyed spending hours just thinking”; “I always loved drawing”; “going for walks was a favourite thing of mine”; “I was forever collecting things”…all the things you loved to do, all the way up to now. Write them down. Fill a page – or preferably several – with lists and lists of the things you loved doing. Even if you don’t think these things are relevant to finding a job or setting up a business – write them down. They’re important.
*Then consider: what was the best bit of all those things for you? (This is the important part). What did you love most about them? For example, the best bit of going for long walks might have been “the freedom”; “breathing the fresh air”; “feeling the strength in my body”; “knowing I was getting somewhere”. What you’re doing here is drawing out the things at the heart of what it was you loved doing. The pearl inside each oyster. Write those things down, too, because they can help you to build a set of activities that are going to satisfy you in the workplace (and in your home life). (Another way to identify these things is to think about people you really admire. Either people you know, or famous people. Even fictional characters. What is it you admire most about them? Write those qualities down.)
*Once you have your list, have a look at it. Notice if there are any recurring themes or patterns. Think about how those qualities could be combined into work or a business. For example, if you loved going for walks, and the part you loved most was being outside – that may tell you that a job which involves some outdoors activity would be pleasing to you. Of course, you don’t have to fit everything you loved all into a single job (some can be built into your hobbies and home life, or into more than one job). But you do have to make sure your job or business contains at least some of them, so that you can be sure of enjoying it.
*The next step is finding – or creating – a job that combines the things you love doing. That’s always possible, but it may not be immediately easy to find a ready-made job that fits the bill, or even obvious where you could find the information you need in order to find that job. In fact, the job or business that’s right for you may not have been invented yet – you may have to create it!
Here are some useful questions to start your thinking process for this stage of your treasure hunt:
*Do you prefer working in agriculture (that is, with natural products, plants, animals, or ecology); in industry (that is, manufacturing/producing things); or in information/service (that is, communicating, and dealing with and/or helping people)?
*Do you want to deal mainly with things (that is, physical objects); data (that is, pieces of information and their storage/communication); or people/animals?
*What field of knowledge do you want to work within? What do you want your job to require you to know something about? The options are endless: health, construction, law, politics, zoology, sports, literature, nuclear physics, neurology, Belgium, the body, Film Noir, stalactites…What fascinates you?
*What preparation time are you prepared to put in? Some jobs will require several years training, some several months, some none at all. Be prepared to do lots of research about this. It’s easy to assume that a particular job is going to require lots of preparation, but check out your assumptions – there may be other options open to you.
*What kind of workplace environment would be right for you? Indoors/outdoors? Office-based/”in the field”?; fast-paced/more leisurely? And, regardless of your answer to the second question (above) – what sort of people do you want to work with as colleagues? Do you want to work for someone else, or yourself? (Your question seems to suggest that you want to work for yourself, so that narrows things down nicely).
*Do you want to work with a high degree of prescription (being told what to do, with little room for manouevre), or a high degree of autonomy (where it’s entirely up to you how to go about doing the job, as long as it gets done)?
Once you’ve built up a rough picture (it doesn’t have to be perfect yet) there are various ways to start the process of turning what you love into a career:
Start researching in earnest. Make full use of the internet – obviously search engines, but also bulletin boards, discussion boards, Facebook groups etc. Most of all, see if anyone else is doing similar stuff. Look around. If you find anyone – drop them an email and ask if they’d be willing to speak to you. If you find a topic-based discussion group, post a question: “I’d like to have a career that looks something like this (then list your requirements) – does anyone have any ideas?”. You might get some funny answers, but you’ll probably get some real insights, too. Generally, people love to help others, particularly if it’s in a field or fields they’re interested in. Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to virtual groups in cyberspace – there are actual groups out there in the real world, too – so look around.
Speak to people, particularly those who love their work. How did they get there? Their paths may not be exactly right for you, but asking for more information could give you some ideas for your own.
Most importantly – get going! Start small, but start now. You don’t have to give up your current job to start building a new career (unless your current job is really making you utterly miserable, in which case you must find something else to pay the bills, even if it isn’t your dream job). In your free time, start doing the things you love, even if it’s only for very short periods of time. If you love a particular topic, or enjoy collecting information on a subject, you could set up a website and blog your thoughts about it. If it involves selling a product, start small – perhaps on eBay. If it involves speaking/presenting/pitching, get in touch with a Speakers Club and give some talks.
Once you’ve decided what area to move into, for some practical business start-up advice, get in touch with Business Link.
Do what you love for free if you have to at first, but get started. I promise you: you’ll be amazed at the new avenues that start to open up right before your eyes.
By the way – a book I highly recommend to help you further (I’ve used it myself) is Richard Nelson Bolles’ “What Color Is Your Parachute?“. It contains an amazing amount of helpful information, and lots of useful and practical exercises for uncovering what your ideal job or business might be. It’s updated every year. The 2010 edition is due to be released shortly, and the 2009 edition can be got second-hand on Amazon for a reasonable price.
I hope that helps!
Live well and be happy,