Here’s how you figure out what to do next in your career: you line up all the stuff you like to do and you figure out which one will pay best. Don’t complain to me that I’m too focused on money. Really. Just do the exercise. The ones who are complaining the most right now, after reading just this far, are the people who are most in denial of what adult life is about.
Look, figuring out what you should do is actually a hard task. Because you have to start eliminating stuff.
1. Eliminate stuff. Cross off your list all the stuff that you like to do but that pays well only if you have the career-equivalent of winning a double bingo game. Stuff like, being a feature film director, being an opera singer, or being the owner of the Chicago Cubs.
Then eliminate all the stuff that you think would be fun but probably will never pay well: working in a nonprofit, working in local government, being a travel writer.
2. Look at what’s left. If you are a risk-taker, entrepreneurship is left. If you are not a risk taker, then something in corporate life is left. That’s because this is what adult life is for most people. You get up every day and work at a job you never dreamed about doing when you were a kid.
3. Check in with yourself. Do you feel like you are going to die? Have you been writing songs since you were five years old and you cannot imagine living if you don’t write songs? You can still write them. At your house, after work. Have you been skiing every day you possibly can since forever? Then get a job in Aspen and ski at night.
You don’t need to go into journalism because you love writing. You need to write because you love writing. The same is true for everything else you love. Just because you love something doesn’t mean you need to get paid for it.
4. Be honest about what you love. If you’re not making time to do it regularly unpaid, then you probably don’t love it. Here’s the litmus test: Sex. We do it regularly, unpaid, and we love it. Run this test on other stuff you supposedly love. Do you crave it like sex? Then you probably don’t love it that much. You probably love the idea of loving it, the idea of who you are when you say you love that thing.
When I graduated from college, I did all these things that I’ve just told you to do, and it was soul-crushing. The corporate jobs made me ill. But it was very clear to me what I wanted to do: I wanted to play professional beach volleyball. I was ready to commit everything to that. It did not meet the criteria of being something that could probably support me, but I did it anyway, because it was so completely clear to me that that’s what I wanted no matter what.
5. Admit if you lack a clear passion. If you don’t have something that is overwhelmingly important to do, then you probably don’t have anything that you’d absolutely rather be doing than getting up and going to work every day. So just start doing that. In any field. And stop deluding yourself that you have so many interests that you can’t choose. Really what you have is no clear interest and only a bunch of things you would consider if you had nothing to do.
6. Get busy. Doing anything. But you do have something to do. You need to earn money. And since you don’t have anything that’s making you feel like you’re gonna die if you don’t do it, go get a job in a cube and stop complaining. The best way to find yourself is to start doing things. When it comes to ourselves, we find by doing, not philosophizing.
When I stopped playing volleyball, I tried tons of different jobs, trying to figure out which one was right for me. I changed jobs every year. And I figured out where I fit.
But all that time, I wrote at night. After work. Marci Alboher writes about “slashes,” those people who have two careers, like, lawyer/actress. But really, we all have two careers. We have the career that is what we do that earns money, and we have the stuff we do at home because we love it. Career is not just your day job anymore—career is how you spend all your time. Spend it doing things that matter to you, and don’t discount that struggling with what it looks like is a necessary phase. Time spent struggling to figure out what matters to you—that something that should be as important to you as sex—is essential to you becoming you.