“What should I do with my life?” isn’t the most straightforward question to answer, especially if you’re a college student with your entire professional career ahead of you. Yet, while it seems like a big, scary question, there are a few steps you can take to quiet your job search anxiety (and hopefully keep that quarter-life crisis at bay).
1. Take a “What Should I Do With My Life?” Quiz
Career quizzes are different from a typical school assessment. They should be a low-stress — even fun — way to determine what career paths you might be a good fit for.
“Begin with identifying your passions and their strengths,” says Steve Flores, associate director of employer engagement at Scripps College. “Identifying causes and values you truly care about can help you find organizations and businesses that share a mission that resonates with them. Students who lean into their strengths when trying to find a career path of interest can feel less anxiety, which can make career exploration less intimidating to begin.”
That’s why we’ve created a “What should I do with my life?” quiz that asks questions about your personality, interests, strengths, and goals to help give you a starting point of careers to look at. The best part? You don’t need a five-year career plan to take it.
>>MORE: What Is Career Planning?
“What Should I Do With My Life?” Quiz
Ready to take a quiz that helps you decide what to do with your life? It’s completely free — you’ll just need to sign up to get your results!
2. Do Your Research
Now that you’ve gotten your career quiz results, it’s time to go into research mode. Maybe you got a career quiz result of a career path you’ve never heard of or considered. That’s great! It’s a chance to look at what people in that role do, what their everyday responsibilities are like, who they work with, what their work life is like … the list goes on.
You can start with a simple Google search. Learn the basics of what the industry is and the available roles. Then, use LinkedIn or another job board to look at job descriptions.
To get a detailed understanding of different careers, try to answer the following questions:
- What does someone in this role do every day?
- What teams or other roles do they work with?
- What is the goal or function of this role?
- What kind of company is this role suited for?
- What skills would I need to land this role?
- What is the work environment of this role like?
- What’s the pay and demand for this kind of role?
>>MORE: Learn about different careers and get insights from experts in the role on the Forage blog.
3. Explore, Explore, Explore
Once you’ve found some paths you may be more interested in, try them out for yourself! You can explore careers in a variety of ways:
- Academic courses
- Independent projects
- Part-time or freelance work
- Forage job simulations
“Humans can’t know, they can’t possibly know, without experiencing,” says Dr. Carl Nassar, PhD, LPC, and professional counselor. “So, rather than pressure yourself to know, instead go and give yourself a wide range of experiences. Try an exploratory year where you sample several classes in a wide range of fields, and just see how each class feels. Get a part-time job or two and see what sort of things you enjoy most about the work — if you’re a barista, is it talking to the people you like most of all or is it spending time getting the espressos and the chairs to look just so?”
There’s value in every experience, whether you disliked your internship or loved being in a school club. Knowing what you don’t like is just as important as knowing what you do like, and understanding why you do or don’t like something is even more critical. So when you ask yourself, “What should I do with my life?” even if these experiences don’t give you an answer like “become a lawyer,” you might be able to say, “something where I help people daily.”
4. Block Out the Noise
There’s no doubt your parents or other trusted adults in your life have an answer when you ask, “What should I do with my life?” Yet their opinions are just that — their opinions.
“One mistake many students make is placing too much importance on what they think they should do, what they see their peers doing, or what their family expects them to do,” says James Lowry, founder of career management platform Pathwise.io. “From the get-go, they need to see their career as their career. They’re going to live it every day, and they shouldn’t start off by just trying to make someone else happy.”
Yes, it’s essential to consider what the people who know you think is best for you, but you don’t have to pick a path because they’ve said so. Take outside opinions with a grain of salt, especially when you’re just starting to figure out what to do with your life. The world is your oyster, and while that may be overwhelming, it’s also exciting — you can pick a career path you want.
5. Focus on Your Priorities
Part of figuring out what you want to do with your life is understanding your priorities. While a career quiz helps you do that, it’s important to get even more granular with the life priorities you have. For example, let’s say you’re a great fit for careers in advising people, and you’ve found through research that law might be a good path for you.
Next, consider your life priorities: do you want to make money quickly? Are you focused on building relationships? Making an impact? You don’t need to write a life plan — you need to figure out what’s important to you and how to ensure your career choice aligns with your values.
Using the same example, if you’re focused on finances, becoming a corporate lawyer is a great way to make a lucrative salary early on. If you’re more focused on impact, a public defender might be a more fitting choice.
6. Talk to People
Chances are, you won’t have the time to explore every single career path you’re interested in. That’s OK! Talking to people in a field, industry, or company you’re interested in is also a great way to get an inside view.
“Shadow people who have the job you want or find them and ask them questions,” says Scott Lieberman, founder of Touchdown Money, a site to help people with financial and career decisions. “You can reach out to nearly anyone using the internet. Ask them what it takes to succeed in the field.”
During these informational interviews — where you meet to learn more about a person’s career — you can ask questions like:
- How did you decide to pursue this career path?
- What’s your favorite part of your everyday responsibilities?
- What teams or other roles do you work with?
- What did you do as an undergraduate to help you get onto this path?
- What skills help you succeed in your role?
>>MORE: Learn the top informational interview questions to ask.
7. Let the Pressure Go
Coming up with an answer to “What should I do with my life?” can feel stressful and all-encompassing — it is your life you’re trying to figure out! Yet, you don’t need a philosophical, final answer.
“Understand that you won’t figure it out in the beginning, but understand that all you need to do is choose the first step,” says Omer Glass, CEO of Growthspace. “So, it’s not that big of a decision. Most people start with something and find themselves doing something completely different. You can’t know where you’re going now. Just start doing something that interests you, that you’re passionate about; you don’t have to try to figure out everything now.”
8. Get Started
“One mistake students often make when trying to figure out what to do with their life is waiting for a ‘eureka’ moment where they expect their life’s purpose will suddenly become clear,” says Shontae Graham, associate director of career development at York College of Pennsylvania.
“Career development is often a slow process, made up of experiences, reflections, and even mistakes. Waiting for that one moment of realization can lead to missed opportunities and could cause unnecessary stress and anxiety.”
Instead, Graham encourages students to dive into different experiences, even if they aren’t 100% sure it’s the right path.
“Taking incremental steps towards a larger goal is usually a more realistic and effective approach,” he says.
What Should I Do With My Life? The Bottom Line
Trying to answer “What should I do with my life?” is far from easy, but there’s no need to panic. Start by being curious. What kind of work makes time pass quickly? Do you have skills you’re interested in building? What are you naturally good at? What do you value out of work?
Curiosity should then lead to action. Explore different career paths, whether through a virtual job simulation, internship, or networking to ask someone about theirs. Don’t put pressure on yourself to decide on a single, definitive answer; instead, your goal should be to learn more about yourself, what you like and don’t like, and how you can take steps toward doing something you love with your life.
“The biggest mistake is to try to figure out everything and not to act,” Glass says. “The worst thing is to wait because you haven’t figured everything out when you cannot figure everything out. What you need to do is to jump into the water. Choose something that you’re kind of interested in and just go. A lot of things can happen: you can understand that this is your dream career. You can understand that this is not for you. You can understand that there is something else in this organization that has a better fit for you. What you need to do is to start and not to linger.”
Image credit: Canva