Steps to figuring out your next career move


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.

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  1. Jo
    Jo says:

    @ Dave @ Dale & anyone else who has decided that work must both be more fun and more profitable.

    First, congratulations. I think you HAVE taken the first step. And you should ask yourselves why now. Why have you become emboldened now (not disillusioned)? Why the sudden lift of confidence in yourself? It is important to understand what goes WELL. And what you discover when you ask yourself why it has gone so well? Why you have confidence in your judgment now that you didn’t have before, you will be astounded at yourself!

    Second, Amazon David Whyte and look out for his Midlife and the Great Unknown. He has books too. This is a CD of how he came to be a corporate poet full time. He tells his own story. It’s great as you are driving.

    And we’ll be looking forward to hearing what you decide to do after that!

    Congratulations again!

  2. Dave "The Volleyball Manager"
    Dave "The Volleyball Manager" says:

    At Jo:
    Thanks?!? Okay … my name is David and I quit my job (Are there 11 more steps associated with this? :)

  3. Dale
    Dale says:


    Coward that I am, I have only decided that a career change is necessary but have yet to implement – going on 18 months now.
    I marvel at people like Dave or you who chuck it all and do what they really want to do. Perhaps in time I’ll do this also…

  4. Jo
    Jo says:

    @ Dale

    That’s why I love David Whyte. OK, I know he is a world class poet but he wasn’t always. He was a marine biologist actually!

    He started small just getting some small changes to his job and after a major crisis of confidence that had him chucking up, it was so bad, he then figured, if I get do this small step, I can take another, and another. That’s the genius. Try the system and set up a goal, like I will find one small thing in my job today that makes me feel alive, and see where it takes you. What have you got to lose? Concentrate on tiny, miniature steps that you notice but don’t rock the boat. Fortunately people are so self-engrossed, they don’t notice until you start smiling and then they either wonder what you are up to (ha ha, another small joke for you, or smile with you!

    @ Dave
    and as for 11 steps, you stop counting when you are having fun! Always fancied being a trucker, actually. I’ve been watching too many movies! I like the sense of space and motion, I think.

  5. Dave "The Volleyball Manager"
    Dave "The Volleyball Manager" says:

    Well – the plan actually has evolved or a period of time … and yes, I admit – out of a sense of desperation. The perfect storm that has led to this decision are:

    1. The mortgage loan / housing crisis

    2. Job allowing pursuit of M.S. via distance ed

    3. A desire for more influence over my career

    4. Being an empty nester at age 44

    5. Not fitting into the civil service culture [read: that bourgeois Negro has an “attitude” problem]

    6. An industry that actually needs people who:
    – can pass a nominal criminal background check
    – do not possess drug problem or alcohol issues
    – can properly read and write English

    Became overextended re: real estate – my fault. I’ve always known that I need at least a terminal masters degree as my A.B. is in Philosophy. Having essentially been a Foster Parent for a decade (when I should have been, uh, going to grad school). Recognizing the relatively few “barriers to entry” of the supply chain Industry, er … trucking industry. The decision became a no-brainer. I have to succeed, as failure is not an option.

    @ Jo
    If you’re interested in checking out the lure of the “Open Road” for a few days – check out this link:
    good luck to all and truck driving (if nothing else) can compensate you while you contemplate you’re next career move – while in the transition period.

  6. Jo
    Jo says:

    @ Dave

    Thanks for that link.

    I think you have sold yourself on the notion that you have made blunders or have made several. In a way you are grieving for a self image of what you should be doing at this point in your life.

    You remind me a little of students who plough an elective and then take it again. I could never understand that – happy that I am to accept their money. I figure that if they didn’t work the first time, they didn’t really like the subject and they should trust their judgment a little more! Of course if the course is necessary to their success, then they should do it again – a little like taking your driving license several times.

    So, you have thoroughly explored a way of life and decided to take a job which allows you to finish your degree. I think you show courage and initiative. I had heaps of mature students and I think it shows a lot of self-confidence to take time out to invest in your education midlife.

    And it can be lonely. I had a student who was a ship’s captain suddenly surrounded by 18 year old’s, laughing at himself because he had no idea how to start a conversation that didn’t amount to “You! do that! Now!”. He’s doing fine now. He will finish his degree on time with great marks and he became very good with his new colleagues – making himself useful and never patronising them. I was impressed.

    Good luck. I am off to bed now. Sun gets up earlier over here!
    Thanks for the link.

    Eh? Where’s the blog on truck driving. It could be cool. Check out for a cool lifestyle blog.

    This time I am going to bed. Night night.

  7. Brian
    Brian says:

    Life is too short to waste it doing something you don’t like or being around people you don’t like, even if you get paid to do it.

    • Erica
      Erica says:

      I couldn’t agree more! I would honestly rather work at a fast food place with nice co-workers and boss than at a Fortune 500 company with people with attitude problems!

  8. Abbey Todras
    Abbey Todras says:

    I don’t have much time to comment here, but though I am somewhat pleased, I am mostly disappointed.

    I believe PT has the best of intentions toward here, though this is not the kind of “medicine” everyone needs.

    The reason is mainly that it’s harsh and judgmental, which is not helpful to those of us who already struggle with our inner critic. “Stop deluding yourself” doesn’t win me over… And this post focuses way too heavily on money, when for some of us, this is not the basic value fueling our motivations.

    While I think the frankness of the post is effective to a point, I feel that PT needs to develop her scope in terms of being able to appeal to people who are already ramming their heads against a wall with “either or” thinking– essentially, I feel this post is another example of thinking WITHIN the box because it attempts to help people with the same thinking that got them stuck.

    “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.” This paragraph sounds like it was written by someone hoping to keep people in place, and it implies giving up. I feel this is just bad advice and comes off as demeaning.

    I think I am giving myself better advice with a lot of patience, acceptance, and slow but true growth and not ultimatims, self-contortion and judgment. Adult life for me is not about money– it’s about being authentic, having integrity, and learning to have basic trust in myself. No amount of money can make your life more complete than these values.

    Maybe having some faith in our own ability to make decisions is what we really need; not someone to take us outside of our own boxes and just put us into theirs…

    • Erica
      Erica says:

      Abbey – you speak a lot of truth here and I agree with you. I think I have always had a problem with being self confident and taking pride in myself and my abilities.

      But, what Penelope wrote did wake me up. When I first read it, I thought, she is completely right. I don’t have a passion for anything. I do like a lot of things, but I don’t have a true passion for any of them.

      Then, after reading your comment I had a moment of insight. Just because I don’t necessarily have a passion for something, doesn’t mean I shouldn’t be striving for a career (or heck, a job at this point) that makes me happy. Or, even better, learn to trust myself and figure out what really makes me tick.

      Thank you for your post. Maybe I just learned a little about myself right there!

  9. Nikki
    Nikki says:

    I really love this article. I’ve been trying to figure out what I want to do with my life for two sememsters now. This article sums it up nicely– just do something! The part about passion really struck home. I’ve been saying for years, “I wish I was passionate about something, maybe then I’ll know what I want to do” But that just isn’t going to happen, so I should test the waters in a whole bunch of different areas. Also, the part about being honest with what you love hit me. I absolutely love history, but can’t seem to find a major that would suit me with it, but according to you, I should just continue loving it and do a differnt job…right?

  10. Why So serious?
    Why So serious? says:

    This was actually a pretty cool post!

    You sound like a pissed off Virgo mind you, lol, but the World does need to wake up, and realise only the time now is relevant, and to stop procrastinating on things which are never gonna happen!

    You don’t get paid to be lazy!

    Fight Club ftw!

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