THE BLOG

Use Your 20s To Find The Career That's Right For You

10/10/2013 05:46 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

I recently read a blog post from Penelope Trunk titled "6 things to do in your 20s to make your 30s good" and it inspired me to think of what advice I would give someone in their 20s, just starting out to build a career. What did I learn? What do I wish I knew then? I think the number one thing to remember is that it's OK to make mistakes; sometimes that's the best way to learn and grow. Choosing a career path can be scary, but if you're brave and face it head on, finding the career that's right for you will help create a happy life.

First, figure out what makes you tick.

Only you can decide what is right for you; this information won't be delivered to you by someone else. It's up to you to take an active role in determining what makes you happy. Figure out your values. What gives you energy? What are your goals in life? Do you want to own a house, travel, support a special cause, work from home, see your name in lights? Do you value philanthropy, creativity, commerce, education, nature? If you don't know what exact job you want most, look at the things you value and investigate the kind of jobs that would allow you to have them.

Think outside the passion box.

All this talk about finding your passion or living your dream can be overwhelming sometimes. What if you don't know what your passion is? Or what if you have so many passions, you can't possibly narrow them down? Test them out. For some people, your "passion" isn't in the workplace. It could be spending time at home with family, a hobby or activity you do on the weekends, or even a quality of life that your job allows you to afford. Don't look at this decision as one that will make-or-break your life -- yes, it's important, but experts say people in their 20s will have a total of seven careers in their lifetime. So don't worry right now about choosing one "big career" that will last until you're 60. Find something you like, today, and do that.

Start something.

You'll be surprised at the opportunities that momentum creates. Through experimentation and experience, you'll come to discover something that you like, what you're good at and what could help build you a future. I find a lot of young people are overly concerned with finding the perfect job immediately. That's not how life works! Sure, some people may luck out but if you ask most successful executives and entrepreneurs today, they'll tell you it took many years of trial-and-error before they found what clicked. Martha Stewart used to be a stock broker, Ralph Lauren worked at Brooks Brothers, Tina Fey, at the YMCA, J.K. Rowling got the idea for Harry Potter on a train ride while working for Amnesty International. Point is, you never know where your current job will lead, what doors it may open up, or what it will teach you.

Work to learn before you work to earn.

Once you have an idea of what it is you'd like to do, or could see yourself doing, research roles in that desired field and check out related job ads. They will tell you exactly what the responsibilities will be, as well as the requirements, so you can gain a better understanding of what would be expected from you. If you're lacking the requisite skills or experience, this is a great time to acquire them. As the saying goes, "Work to learn before you work to earn." Take on a job that pays less but will train you in a new field you love. If you need expertise in a particular software, sign up for a course on the weekends. Does your dream job posting ask for someone who's worked with a specific group of people? Find a volunteer position that does just that. Getting to know yourself through volunteering is always a win-win situation.

Do not be afraid of hardwork, challenge and diving in headfirst; it's often the best way to learn.

According to a recent survey, 86 per cent of millennials say they're hard workers but only 11 per cent of HR professionals agree. Too many people walk away from the first sign of challenge these days; if something doesn't come easy, they figure it's not worth the effort. But often, when we are faced with a task or job we don't think we can do, we do rise to the challenge and surprise ourselves with our capabilities. We didn't even know we could do it -- but we did! This is an amazing feeling, and it's one that's important to experience as early as possible in our careers because it will help us face challenges in the future. We are less likely to shy away from new situations, even when they scare us, because we know we've faced our fears before -- and come out OK. Persevering through difficulties helps build strength, courage and confidence. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, "Do the thing you think you cannot do."

Get a job that allows you to think on your feet and exercise parts of your brain that often remain stagnant.

Jobs like event planning, public relations, customer service and project coordination can all help you train your mind to better solve problems, think outside the box, collaborate with others, handle pressure and be autonomous. You can learn a lot about yourself and your strengths in a high-stress, "think on your feet" role. And these are the attributes employers want nowadays. In this Forbes article, some of the things that will get you a job in 2013 include critical thinking, complex problem solving and decision making. Often these skills don't get used -- or used to their full capacity -- in many jobs out there. So take a risk and try something new. Challenging yourself helps you become an even better version of who you are.

It's easy to think of finding a career as daunting, but remember your 20s are an exciting time! You get to experiment and test the waters, discover new things about yourself, and find out what makes you tick as a professional. By 2028, 75 per cent of the workforce in Canada will be comprised of millennials. The future is bright, and this generation is set to change the world!

xo Natasha

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