When we were younger, many of us were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Well-intentioned adults may have been excited to get a sneak peek into our little minds and identify what we were passionate about. If you had asked me, I would have said a naturalist (think Steve Irwin); if you asked my brother, he would have said a dragonfly.
What makes this innocent question quite layered, actually? Following our passion implies that we have a clear calling that will not only make us happy but will also be lucrative. Not every individual has a passion that will provide a livable wage, and not everyone has a fully-formulated passion or is clear about what they want to pursue. In fact, we may have multiple passions that might not turn into a career but instead bring us fulfillment and happiness. Passions can be likened to deep relationships or lifelong pursuits, which can take time to develop and hone to a place of mastery and understanding. You also may find your identified passions evolve over time as you grow, and your interests change.
Here are five questions to consider as you think about your passions and your career path:
WHAT CAREER WILL SUPPORT MY PROFESSIONAL AND FINANCIAL GROWTH?
When I was 10, I looked up the average yearly income of a naturalist, which was $15,000 in the ‘90s. I thought I was going to be rich! In 2021, ZipRecruiter estimates a naturalist’s income has increased to…around $26,000 a year. To this day I love the outdoors, animals, and connecting people to their natural surroundings. But neither in the ‘90s or now is a naturalist’s yearly salary enough for me to live on.
When considering your career path, it is imperative that you have a firm understanding of whether your career of interest will offer you a livable wage. When you research projected salaries, the figure posted is often an average and may not be your actual, initial salary, but one you will make once you are in the position for some time. In addition, your estimated livable wage may also differ greatly if you compare your financial needs in your early 20s to your mid-30s. If you are at a place in your life where you can live off less, you’ll want to make sure your career leaves room for salary growth and your evolving financial situation.
WHO CAN ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS ABOUT YOUR POTENTIAL CAREER PATH?
As you think about your financial needs and goals, you will also want to research the career you are considering. This could be accomplished in a variety of ways such as online research, volunteering, or working in a field that is of interest. Due to time and financial constraints, it is not always possible to work or volunteer in an occupation to see if it’s the right long-term fit.
If you are curious about a potential career but can’t get firsthand experience, find a mentor or a group of individuals who work in that field and can provide you with honest answers about it. This information will allow you to get true insight and understanding of what the career can afford you and when. I met naturalists who had been in the field for over 20 years and held high-level positions at their organizations, and they were still working additional jobs to make ends meet. This was all information for me to consider as I had to look seriously at my personal and financial goals and the lifestyle I pictured for myself.
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ARE YOU OPEN TO OTHER OPPORTUNITIES?
I was intent on being a naturalist, but after doing research on this field and assessing my goals, I realized I needed to be open-minded and consider other career options. Even if you dedicated time and effort toward a career or passion, it may still be better to intentionally change course once you realize that field is not helping you reach your financial/life objectives. Determination is one thing, but hyper-focus and stubbornness can narrow your field of vision and cause you to miss out on opportunities in other fields or industries.
Take the skills that you have gained during your career or calling and see how you can apply them to a different industry that would pay more. I spent years positioning myself to be a naturalist and the thought of forgoing this path was difficult. Luckily, I was surrounded by individuals who helped me recognize other fields that required similar skills and shared aspects that I would have enjoyed as a naturalist. Once I became more open-minded and realized that I could leverage skills I already had, I then had to learn how to effectively market these transferrable skills to have the opportunity to try out a new career path.
WHAT SKILLS ARE YOU GAINING AND HOW CAN YOU MARKET THEM?
To make ends meet when I was younger, I rarely held less than three jobs at a time. I often considered my retail or food service jobs less meaningful than the jobs that I hoped would turn into a career. I had people in my life who pointed out the skills I was gaining from these “side gigs” and, more importantly, coached me around marketing those skills.
Approach your jobs, internships, and volunteer opportunities with the intention of learning new skills and finding ways to articulate, package, and sell these experiences. It can feel daunting to make connections or become a “salesperson” for yourself, but it is imperative if you hope to test other career paths. You must be able to communicate your abilities so you can get your foot in the door of your new career opportunity.
Treating jobs as experiments on the way to your ideal career also allows you to collect data about what you are looking for in a job, as well as what you may not want to do. With this information, you can maximize your working experience and move forward with decisions about what you need from a career.
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THEMES OR PATTERNS AROUND SKILLS OR POSITIONS YOU ENJOYED?
As you collect data from your work “experiments” and experiences, be sure to pay attention to patterns and overarching themes from projects or tasks that you are working on. Do you often take on projects that utilize certain skills? Do you gravitate towards certain types of tasks because you enjoy them and/or are good at them?
This can give you insight into potential positions that may or may not be a fit for you, both for your financial needs and your career growth. Your experience doesn’t have to translate directly to a career path—you can think outside the box to less obvious fields where you can apply your skill set (be open-minded!).
For example, one theme that I kept finding in all my different positions was that I enjoy working with and supporting others; I love when individuals learn their strengths and then leverage them to grow and succeed. Although I have always liked the methods and skills that it takes to teach, I didn’t want to be a teacher in the traditional sense. Instead, I found other career paths that utilized teaching without having to go into a public or private school setting. I have now worked with others around this passion in the outdoors, in higher education, and now at a credit union. In each place the environment was different, but I used similar tools and skill sets to achieve the desired results.
Looking for the perfect job that you love can potentially cause frustration. If you focus only on your passion, you might miss out on another aspect of a job, career, or skill set that you would also enjoy and that would be financially sound. If you can stay open-minded to various interests and not put so much pressure on yourself to find your one true passion, you’ll be better able to identify multiple career paths that you can take. With more options in front of you, you can choose a career—or careers—that will help you achieve both your professional and financial goals.
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