“The world is your oyster!” “You can do whatever you set your mind to!” “You have so much potential!”
These kinds of statements are actually so positive that they can be completely paralysing. Whether you haven’t been following your dreams because you’re afraid of failing and letting people down, you’re trapped in a job you hate because you’ve been taught that money is more important than happiness, or you feel so unsure about what to do with your life that you feel like screaming – we’ve been there.
Especially if you feel like you’re good at / you could be good at multiple things, it can be really hard to work out what it is that would make you happy with your career in the long-term. “Slasher” careers (“I’m a curator slash artist” “I’m a director slash editor”, etc.) are more popular than ever, and it’s easy to feel unfulfilled when society has taught us that you can only be fulfilled by climbing the job ladder of one role, over a life-time.
So, where do you start if you’re not actually sure what it is you really want to achieve?
Get To Your Core
Don’t think of your career as a job title, but break it down into descriptive qualities. For example, if you want to be an actor think about it as “I want to regularly have new projects”, “I want to communicate with audiences”, “I want to collaborate with other people”, “I want each day to look different from the last”. This will help you work out whether you really want to be an actor, or whether another role that fulfils those qualities would suit you perfectly well. It might turn out that rather than needing to be a curator, you just want to have a career than involves “creativity”, “problem-solving”, and “visual art”. This exercise will put the pressure off when it comes to achieving certain high-level goals: you don’t need to be the head of marketing at Tate if all you want is a career that involves leadership, imagination, and stability. Phew!
Think Short-, Mid-, & Long-Term
In our age of instant-gratification, it can be hard to not be disheartened when you find out that some goals will take ages (perhaps even a whole lifetime) to achieve. Separate your goals – and your to-do list – into timeline categories. Emailing someone you’d love to have in your network can be on the short-term goals list. Having a solo show at Gagosian can be on the long-term goals list. This means you can stop berating yourself every day that you don’t have a solo show at Gagosian.
Accept Flexibility & Regret
You won’t achieve everything you want, or that you feel like you have the potential to achieve. That’s because there’s only 24 hours in a day, life is short, and you can’t spend your whole time on earth hustling. There will always be a career path you could have taken, an option you didn’t fully consider, and something else that you could have done that would have brought you more money/fame/traditional “success”. Accept this and watch as the pressure to find your dream career float away.
What is your reason for wanting a successful career? To have enough money to live abroad? To retire at 45? To meet interesting people? To make your parents proud? Dig deep into what you really want, and work backwards from that ultimate goal. “Okay, so if I want to pay off my mortgage in 20 years, I need to be earning this much. In order to earn this much I need to move up in the management chain of my industry’, or “Okay, if I’m doing all this just to impress my friends, I need to work out why their opinion matters so much to me.”
Get External Help
It’s easy to get stuck in a loop when trying to unpick the deepest parts of yourself and the goals you want to achieve. Talking to people who know you well will give you a much-needed boost and helpful outsider insight. Ask your friends some of the following questions to give you some clarity:
“What am I really good at?”
“What job do you see me doing in 5/10/20/30 years?”
“What is my biggest skill?”
“What do I not realise about myself?”
“What insight do I have that you or someone else would pay to learn?”
We really recommend this card game from The School of Life, which will give you ideas for what is important in your life, and what you’re not so fussed about. Similarly, the “No F*cks Given” books of Sarah Knight are a brilliant resource for chronic over-thinkers. If you can afford it, we’d also recommend a couple of sessions of therapy to literally everyone.
Author: Verity Babbs