One of my oldest friends turned 30 last weekend. As a happy coincidence, I met more than a few people in the birthday party who I have known for a long time, but haven’t seen in person for years. We are all in our late 20s, and one thing kept coming up again and again as we talked: almost everyone had changed – or was thinking of changing – the direction of their life.
A guy I hadn’t met in eight years had graduated with a Master’s Degree from a technical university, only to find out that working in front of a computer was not really suited for him. Now he is in medical school with a year and a half to go. Another friend had been doing odd jobs, even graduated as an electrician, but is now studying fish industry in a university.
I have a similar story. I spent 5 years (give or take, as some of that was part-time) as an IT consultant at Accenture, despite realizing after the first year or so that working on enterprise IT systems is not really what I would consider my calling. I didn’t even know what my calling was, just that it wasn’t IT. And by calling I mean what I find interesting enough to be intrinsically motivated to do in the long-term, preferably for a living.
It took me years to find something to do that I am genuinely excited about. The important point is, though, that I did not just stumble on it. I was purposefully searching for it and keeping my eyes open for anything that might hint me to the right direction.
I am a reader, so reading became my method of discovery. As I was trying to find out what it is that I want to do, I read career guides. I read books on personal development. I read books on business, entrepreneurship, philosophy… And I started to discover certain themes that interest me. I could not pinpoint one particular thing or profession I wanted to do, but I was able to identify elements that an ideal profession should largely consist of.
Some of these elements came from what I was reading and fascinated about, and some from my past experiences. For example, I don’t know why, but I am genuinely interested in the human aspects of business; organizational cultures, workplace dynamics, and entrepreneurship. I love to learn and get bored easily when the learning, or growth, stops. I get excited when I have a chance to speak in public, and doing something creative makes me feel alive.
During the process of discovery I also forayed into some entirely different directions. After having a minor role in the Korean TV drama Athena, and knowing my interest in photography, I entertained the possibility of making my way into film industry. However, before making any huge life-decisions I bought some books on cinematography, directing, and screenwriting to get an idea of what working in the film industry would be like. I still find certain aspects of it interesting, but eventually I decided it is not the best fit for me. I came to similar conclusions about designing videogames. Although, as a byproduct of learning more about how games work, I have become very much interested in gamification; especially how game mechanics could be used in management and business contexts.
One guy who was in the same class with me in elementary school told me in the party that he had been training to become a machinist. However, what he really wanted to do was to work with computers, and was trying to get into a university to study programming. The thing is though, as I explained to him, that in all but few cases you actually need a degree to do something. If programming is what you want to do, then what are you waiting for? You don’t need to study it in a university in order to get a permission to do it. If that’s what you really want, then search online for some programming tutorials and just start learning. Start a personal project that helps you learn and keeps you motivated, and just start doing.
As it is uncertain that my friend will get into the university, and considering the classes won’t start until fall, I asked him to imagine if he’d spend just couple hours every day learning to program. How much he would already know after a month, 6 months, a year..? He would have something as a proof of his skills and something concrete that would help him land a job.
Assuming of course that he actually wants to do what he told me. Maybe he is still somewhat uncertain. In that case getting into a university and graduating four years later into a wrong profession is a huge price to pay. A price that could have been avoided by experimenting the work beforehand. You can do this kind of experimentation as a purely mental exercise, visualizing different aspects of the work. Or even better, you can actually “simulate” the work – in this case by sitting in front of a computer and actually doing some programming.
There seems to be this quest that calls for many of my generation; we are trying to discover where our talents and interests meet, and how to make a living of it. For me it took over three years of active searching and in the end the answer was nothing I would have expected it to be. All I had was hope that someday I will find it, and the knowledge that at least I am constantly doing something about it, instead of just sitting on my ass hoping for something to happen.
No one else can figure out the answer for you. It is your life and your responsibility.