How To Work Out What You Would Love To Do

Struggling to work out what you would really love to do? A lot of people come to career guidance wanting to do something different, but not sure what they would enjoy and wanting a sense of direction.  Even if you do already really enjoy your work, a bit of reflection can help you think about which direction to head in.

The obvious places to start are to write lists – lists of your interests, lists of your skills, lists of your lifestyle priorities, lists of your values.  But sometimes the answers are not immediately obvious and you need some different questions to dig a bit deeper.

Here are a few of my favourite questions:

When you were a child, what games did you love to play?  What books/TV programmes did you enjoy? What were your favourite toys?

Childhood games and themes can often give you clues to things you are naturally drawn to, but have perhaps suppressed as you grew older.  We are often under pressure to be realistic and to make a living, so we compromise.  Sometimes we are (consciously or unconsciously) trying to please others and following advice from others, so we ignore our natural inclinations.  Many people find themselves on a mental sausage factory – GCSEs, A-Levels, university, graduate training, career ladder – and it’s only some years into their career that they realise they are on the wrong track.  Going back to childhood themes helps us to tap into what enjoyed before we felt all these external pressures.

As an adult, which bits of the newspaper do read first?  What TV programmes do you watch?  Which websites you surf most?

Again, this may give you some clues as to your interests.  If you tend to watch soap operas, are you interested in people and their problems?  Maybe there are certain types of documentaries that hold your attention – about the environment, the economy, sports, social issues, young people – and this is likely to be an area you are naturally drawn to.  Perhaps it’s computer games – think about whether you prefer speed and excitement, or problem solving games.

If you asked your best friend/partner/work colleague, what would they say your skills and talents are?

We often think our own skills and talents are quite ordinary, so it helps to look through the eyes of someone who knows you well and thinks highly of you.  Maybe others see you as creative and full of good ideas.  Maybe you are always super-organised.  You might be intuitive and aware of other people’s problems.  Perhaps you are very tenacious.  People tend to be happiest and most fulfilled if they are using their talents to their full capacity.

When have you been happiest at work?

Think about what it was in this work situation that satisfied you.    Was it great colleagues?  A pleasant environment?  Or a certain type of project?  Maybe it was having the opportunity to give advice, to teach others, to be creative, to organise something, or to be out and about.  Or might have been something about the way the work was organised or the sort of results you were achieving.  If there are a number of work situations in which you have been happy, what did they have in common?

What do you get so absorbed in  that you forget about the time?

For some people, it might be a work task that you get so absorbed in that you end up staying late, forgetting the time.  Or it could be a hobby – perhaps sport, gardening, music, a game?  I know people who would happily play backgammon for twelve hours at a stretch, work on their garden until it is completely dark or browse a market looking for unusual treasures long after everyone else has lost interest.

Who do you envy?

You first response might be a celebrity or well-known person.  But think about your friends and acquaintances as well.  Envy is common (but rarely talked about) among friends.  You might envy them their size eight figure or their well-behaved children, which is interesting but might not tell you much about possible career directions.  Who do you envy for their working life?  And what is it that you envy about them?  It might be money, lifestyle, the respect they get, their freedom, their expertise – maybe something quite different.  Envy is an interesting way of tapping into feelings that we don’t always acknowledge.

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail?

Your initial thought might to enter the lottery, but what else would you do?  Once you have won a few million pounds, taken all your friends and family on holiday and travelled round the world, what will you do next?

Maybe you would set up your own business or invest in some other business – something that you are really interested in (a casino, a cinema, the stock exchange, a pizza restaurant, property development, a fashion shop)?  Maybe you would do some creative project – music, art, poetry or writing a book?  Or you might be drawn to some kind of social enterprise – a community centre, a mentoring sheme, a micro-credit bank, fundraising for the third world or promoting green energy.  Perhaps there is social or environmental problem that you would aim to solve.

If you were on your deathbed, with just one day to live, what would you wish you had done more of?

Sometimes we realise we are spending most of our time on things that we don’t really value or care about.  Maybe we are working long hours and not spending enough time with the family, or working in a job we hate, and putting off doing something about it.  It’s easy to get sucked into working hard in a job that you don’t much like, thinking that you’ll make enough money to do what you enjoy at some point in the future.  Only you never quite get to the future – that point where you can start enjoying yourself.

Some of these questions are worth pondering, because the answers don’t always come straight away.  It might take a few weeks, and the answer may come to you when you are the middle of the washing up, sitting on the bus or walking the kids to school.  Write things down though, and see what you end up with.

It might just be some seemingly random ideas, and that’s fine, but it might also be that over time they form into one big idea!  Even if they don’t it doesn’t matter – you might enjoy doing some things at work and some things in your leisure time.

Right, I’ve worked out what I would love to do – now what?

Of course, working out what you would love to do is only a start.  Then you have to work out how to do it!  And sometimes you have to make compromises.  But at least if you know what you would love to do, you can be on the look out for opportunities – maybe a new role at work will bring you closer to what you want, a chance meeting can spark a new project or you can make more leisure time on what you love. By focusing on what you really want, you are better able to spot opportunities when they present themselves.

And sometimes knowing what you really want to do is enough incentive to make radical changes – make a complete career change, go to university, set up a small enterprise or move to a new place!  Who knows where the new ideas could take you?

A good Careers Adviser can help you through this process, so don’t be afraid to look for professional help when you need it.

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