How to find what I love to do for the rest of my life?
November 7, 2009 11:43 AM   Subscribe

I know it's a lame question, and I am a bit old for this (over 35 now). However, I am such a sucker for the saying that "find what you love to do and you don't need to work a day in your life", I just want to keep on searching

I guess my quest has two steps. First of all, I need to find what I am good at and what my talents are. In that regard, can anyone share your thoughts on various books / tools on the market (i.e., Pathfinder, Now Discover Your Strength, etc..). Are there any web sites for this kind of assessment?

2nd step would be trying out those jobs and careers that leverage my strength and see if I like it or not.

Are there any shortcuts? Have anyone here had similar transformation (i.e., ditched the old career and found sth you absolutely want to pursue for the rest of your life)?

Any comments would be highly welcome.
posted by kingfish to Work & Money (23 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
I think the new wisdom is, "Do something that will make you money and spend your free time doing the things you love."

Sorry if that's not helpful, but for a lot of people it's just not realistic to do be able to find a job that will let them do something they love.

Consider finding a job that pays well with flexible hours, leaving you time to do something that you enjoy.
posted by kylej at 11:58 AM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think that saying is bogus, and I say that as someone who loves what she does. But it is work - I work 18 hour days, seven days a week. The last time my husband and I went on vacation was our honeymoon five years ago.

This is, by the way, my 3rd career and while I'm very happy I'm no longer teaching school or working at a non-profit, I think there's more truth in the saying "It's called work because it isn't fun." Even as someone working in a fabulously creative field, there are days when its a grind. There are almost no days when I wouldn't be laying on a beach somewhere, reading a book. I still buy lottery tickets. And with all of that said, I still consider myself very fortunate to have a career I love and to be busy and professionally fulfilled within it.
posted by DarlingBri at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2009 [4 favorites]

I hate what kylej is saying, but right now doing what I love is not paying the bills. And I'm a fairly successful screenwriter. The current economy may not be the time to change jobs.

I do find it odd that at 35 you don't know what you love to do or what you're good at. You shouldn't need a computer program to do that. Can you give us a hint of what you think you might love to do?

As for shortcuts -- it took me 12 years to make screenwriting pay. I don't think there are shortcuts.
posted by musofire at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2009

I embarked on a career change at 32, and I wound up in a career/sector/community that I love. It wasn't easy, and, 6 years later the transition is still ongoing.

I did a few things:

- I used "What Color Is Your Parachute" to get started. It helps you focus and inventory your skills, and provides strategies that act as a concrete framework for your mission quest/career transition/job search. It's an interesting book, and really teaches one key concept: have faith.

- I networked with people. I did it to build connections, and to gain information. It turns out that networking is something I am very good at, and it turned into an actual job.

- I focused on making money. Six years ago I was doing freelance writing, and it paid very little. I decided that if I was going to do writing, it should pay the rent, and instead focused on PR, or on writing assignments that would build my portfolio.

It turns out I accomplished all of the goals I set out to achieve six years ago. The funny thing is, once I achieved them, it seemed pretty easy.

My fourth piece of advice is dream big (but be realistic).
posted by KokuRyu at 12:15 PM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Get a better understanding of what you love. What you are good at might not coincide with that. You are asking two different questions. What do you love? and What are you good at?

If you really find what you love, getting good at it will be irrelevant.

Just do not live in the fantasy that there are no compromises. I am an artist and do what I love. But I had to make changes to accommodate the financial support of it. I had to learn business and become a businessperson (and actually study it, take classes, research, etc.). You just have to be prepared to take responsibility for the support of what you love.

I am now transitioning into being a writer and am ready to take on the other aspects of it that do not include sitting in a mountain retreat with a cup of tea in a sunny dress writing my heart out. It's a lot of work, study, etc. but because I love it, it's not 'bad' work.

Life is too long to not fill it with everything you want.
posted by Vaike at 12:16 PM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

If you really find what you love, getting good at it will be irrelevant.

The above reads wrong. I mean that it will be irrelevant in the sense of 'becoming' good at it will also be enjoyable and part of what you love, so to take on that challenge you will still be in the place of 'doing what I love'.
posted by Vaike at 12:20 PM on November 7, 2009

Like a lot of the other posters here, I work as a freelancer in an artistic field. A lot of times when people talk about quitting their job to do what they love, that's the type of job they have in mind. If that's not you, this may or may not apply.

What people entering these jobs don't know (and what musofire is talking about) is that making it a career and not a hobby can be soul-crushing work, so that "never work a day in your life" saying is pretty much a lie. Because at the beginning these jobs aren't about setting your own hours, it's about the hours of work setting your life. You take on jobs that you don't like, with insane deadlines, with little pay all with the hopes of climbing the ranks and staying in the game longer than your competition (who will mostly drop out to find jobs with shorter hours, better pay, and/or more immediate success after a while- which is to say to do almost anything else). You network constantly, and balance running your business with feeding your artistic side. There will be aspects to your dream job that you will find tedious. So given the amount of heartache and worry that this career will cause you, your goal cannot be to simply stay in business and have an ok career. You have to dream huge and work really hard- those are the people who stay afloat with ok careers and then a few of them go on to live the dream and be the best in their fields. There are absolutely no shortcuts and those who rise to the top seemingly by luck alone need more than that to last.

So considering the amount of commitment this takes, I can't recommend any test or book or computer program. It's whatever you're doing when you say to yourself, YES, this is what I want to do! If you hear yourself saying that when you're on vacation, I would strongly suggest getting a "means to an end" job that kylej talks about and there's nothing wrong with that. However, if you decide to go through with it, you'll find that the saying that started you down this road is said by people who are so passionate about their work they're like mothers who can't remember the pain of childbirth.
posted by Thin Lizzy at 12:57 PM on November 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

Just be aware that turning what you love to do into your career can often turn what you love into a just another job.
posted by Thorzdad at 1:24 PM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

Absolutely agree with kylej. For a lot of people, turning what they love into their job is a surefire way to kill their enjoyment of it; it will absolutely feel like work once you're relying on it to pay for anything because you won't be able to put it away when you need a break from it. Also, getting good enough at anything that it will pay your bills requires tons of work. The two things I enjoy most are writing and singing, for example, but both are hard, hard work to produce anything worth a damn even after having done both of them for hours a day. I have made bits of money off of both but I would never expect either to support me financially.

Find a job that pays the bills, doesn't stress you out, and allows you more free time and chances are you will be happier than you are now. I've always enjoyed jobs where I have little responsibility and drama-free coworkers because my day is pleasant enough and I can do whatever I want when I get home.
posted by Nattie at 1:26 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Unless you get yourself stuck in a really soul-crushing job, you can be happy doing most things. It is about attitude, taking pride and satisfaction in your work, and not getting stressed or overworking yourself. I work a part time, minimum wage job. It barely pays the bills (and I have had to cut my 'bills' to the bare minimum to exist) but it is tremendously relaxing and when I'm done, I still have the whole day (seemingly) to do whatever I want. Alot of naysayers here are telling you to suck it up and get a job but I think if you are willing to examine what makes you happy in a whole life kind of sense then you can find the kind of work that you enjoy and still survive. Prioritize which things matter the most to you; free time? money? travel? Put those in order and decide which ones you can compromise on to maximize the ones that are most important.

Don't give up, if you really want this, you will make it happen. Good luck!
posted by stubborn at 2:01 PM on November 7, 2009

Response by poster: thanks for all the comments. certainly learned a lot.

i guess i know what i am good at and what i am not good at.

first, the good: very rational, have strong analytical mind. one piece of evidence (may not mean anything): i scored top 1% in GMAT long time ago. as i am working in the field of finance/accounting, i can only guess i am getting even better at this over the years.

then, the ugly: very low emotional intelligence. introvert and scare of networking (of course, i can always force myself to socialize if I have to, but i am not enjoying it). tend to come to an opinion on things and people rather quickly (you guessed it, always on the lower side as well).

So any career tracks/jobs you gurus can suggest here?

as always, thanks a million.....
posted by kingfish at 2:09 PM on November 7, 2009

Do you have working at finance/accounting? Do you dislike the work itself, or is your job too much stress?

It sounds like you've already picked what you're good at, maybe if your specific job is stressing you out try to find new one with less pay but also less stress?
posted by kylej at 2:29 PM on November 7, 2009

The following was recommended to me by someone who said he did a lot of career assessment exercises and introspection and felt like this one was the most helpful. I'm sure it's from a book somewhere and I wish could point you to that, or at least quote how he explained it to me exactly, but I can't. Anyway, it goes like this:

Get about 40 notecards. On the first 5, write "necessary" "like" "ambivalent" "dislike" "must not have". On the rest of them, write down all the kinds of things you can imagine doing at a potential job. Anything. From "making copies" to "sucking up to my boss" to "working with kids". After you've filled up the cards, arrange them into the 5 columns and you will have a nice, comprehensive picture of the attributes of what job you would like.

I like this approach because I think often people tend to oversimplify why they want a certain job. Using this technique you can look a bit more holistically at finding a job you might really enjoy, even though it is perhaps not your "dream job".
posted by ropeladder at 2:48 PM on November 7, 2009 [3 favorites]

32 isn't too late to start a new career. I'm starting over at 43, actually I'll be 45 by the time I'm done with grad school... Nothing is *impossible* if you're willing to work at it.

I'd check out the books that troyer mentioned - and someone else mentioned What Color Is Your Parachute? which is supposed to be helpful. Try that too.

I'm pretty sure that there are no short cuts, unless you can find something to do that you're already good at. You say that you're good with analytical things, maybe you can do something with databases? That's what I did before Fate stepped in.
posted by patheral at 2:50 PM on November 7, 2009

I think it's good to keep in mind that what is "realistic" is a matter of perspective. In many ways "being realistic" is just another way of saying that you shouldn't take risks. I also disagree with the notion that doing something you love for a profession will kill your enjoyment of it. Becoming good at anything requires quite a bit of hard work and determination- of course it's not always going to be fun. However, I bet if you asked anyone who's achieved success doing something they love, you'd be hard pressed to get them to quit and do anything else.

How do you figure out what you love to do? Simple. Stop and think about things that excite you. You don't need to have some great earth shaking epiphany, it can be something as simple as an interest in coffee or running. It's not really as complicated as people make it out to be. Lets say that you love travel and cycling. Why not set up a business taking groups of cyclists on exotic cycling tours around the world? Even the most off-the-wall ideas can be turned into income with a little creative thinking. I just read a wonderful story about two kids who combined their mutual love for travel and local advertising to start a website where they travel around the country filming commercials for local businesses free of charge. They later post the videos on their website and let people rate them. Not only are they offering a noble service to small businesses, but they're doing something they love and generating content for their website which they can monetize through advertising and sponsorships. Personally, I quit my job as a film editor two years ago and now make a full-time income at home through web development and marketing. It's not that I hated my old job, I just wanted to have flexibility of time and place. Now I have the ability to focus attention on my true passion which is documentary films.

For the sake of brevity, I'll recommend one book to you that encompasses many of your concerns and helped me immensely in my own life: "The 4 Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. Don't let the cheesy title scare you away, this is the single most helpful book I've ever read on lifestyle design. It's helpful because it is filled with actionable items rather than inspirational platitudes. NOTE: If you choose to purchase this book, I'd wait until December 18th when the new revised edition is released.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 4:07 PM on November 7, 2009

Here are some questions:

What do you do now in your spare time? That is, when you have free time, and can presumably do most anything, what DO you do?

What hobby has engrossed you the most in your life? what did/do you love about it?

What non-fiction books do you like to read? are there any that you're really looking forward to reading right now?

I kind of disagree with a lot that's been said here. I think it's possible to turn your interests into a job you love. Also I know Barbara Sher and have taken a workshop with her, and she's very very good, so I recommend her books highly.

There's one: I could do anything if only I knew what it was --- something like that -- that helps you figure out what you want to do.
posted by DMelanogaster at 4:10 PM on November 7, 2009

I think doing what you love is almost more work than doing something that just passes your time and pays you well.

As a scientist, I really deeply love what I do, but because of that love and passion I am constantly compelled to keep pushing harder, working more, getting more done, etc. If I had a job I cared about less I would be happy to shelf my concerns at 5pm and live a normal life. Instead I am fully consumed by my job, so much so that it impacts my health and relationships.
posted by sickinthehead at 4:39 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I don't see this posted yet, so: Previously. If you're short on time, head straight to Grumblebee's comment, which, to put it lightly, "has favorites."
posted by whatnotever at 5:52 PM on November 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think the best piece of advice I ever heard was that "if you really wanted to be an artist/ musician/ writer/ circus performer you'd be out doing it right now instead of sitting here talking about it". A lot of people have fantasies that stop them from realizing that they actually do quite enjoy what they do or that they know exactly what they love but have already rejected it for some reason or another.
posted by fshgrl at 7:19 PM on November 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

I did a major career change in my 40's. I found Barbara Sher's book mentioned by troyer above to be very helpful although when I finished it, I still did not know what I what I wanted to do. I just kept mulling it over, thinking about what I liked to do, whether I thought I would continue to like doing it as career field for the next 10+ years. When I first thought of the career that I am now in, I immediately dismissed it as impossible since it meant getting another Masters plus an internship. But I couldn't find anything else that spoke to me in the same way, so I went back and re-evaluated if there was a way to make it practical. It took me about a year to go from first thought to actually starting my graduate program but then I tend to be a careful, methodical decision maker.

I also found that the Strong Campbell Interest Inventory (administered by career counselors) to be very helpful in identifying some new career paths that I never would have thought of but might have suited me very well. (IRS agent was the one that surprised me the most but on reflection made sense.) I found it much more helpful than Meyer-Briggs and the other tests career assessment that I've had the chance to take. Still, the most useful technique was just to spend a lot of random time thinking about the question until an answer came to me that just made sense emotionally as well as logically.
posted by metahawk at 8:40 PM on November 7, 2009

How to do what you love by Paul Graham.
posted by jgwong at 4:56 AM on November 8, 2009

Response by poster: thank you all. i definitely gonna check out the books mentioned here.
posted by kingfish at 9:08 AM on November 8, 2009

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