Ah, the big question of “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It never fails to be asked of kids and college students. And it never failed to stress me out completely. These days, people ask me a different variation of the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?”
I’ve never really thought of a career as a destination. That you arrive here and you stay and you know what you’ll be doing for the rest of your life. I think this mindset is common among people my age and certainly has its benefits and shortcomings – flexibility is fun and if you follow your passions, you enjoy work more! But it also means we can miss out on awesome retirement packages and developing a lifelong niche in a particular area. I tell you this to give you context for your question – these are my ideas of what ‘career’ means.
Now, you asked me about how I determined my current line of work, so I imagine you’re like me in that you want your job to be enjoyable and not ‘just a job.’ If you don’t care about not loving your work, then your decision is much easier.
I’m a big fan of the idea that what we did when we were kids is often where our passions and talents lie as adults. The connections might not always be clear-cut and it might only be though looking back that find those connections; those instances and memories where we connect the dots and realize, “That was totally pointing to my future passions.”
Let me share a little of my own journey to illustrate this point.
I’ve always been the entrepreneurial type. It started with my obsession with the Babysitter’s Club – aside from adoring the characters; I admired their ability to run an organized, success business. My friend and I went door-to-door in fourth grade to offer our mother’s helper services to neighbors. I followed up with a flyer in every mailbox in my neighborhood.
Two years later, I opened up my own preschool – seriously. It makes me giggle to think about people trusting a sixth grader to do this, but I was Passionate. I created lesson plans, subscribed to preschool magazines, and had six paying customers who sent their children to my weekly preschool.
My penchant for design wasn’t far behind. I had a favorite font starting as a fifth-grader when we first started using word processing programs. I was strangely obsessed with Century Gothic. Take-away: I am a dork.
My senior year of high school, I was editor of both newspaper and yearbook, and I’d spend hours during and after school working on layout and design for both. I discovered I had a real passion and talent for learning the design programs, choosing fonts and color palettes, and coming up with exciting new layouts for the publications. I scoured design magazines and ‘best of’ publications for inspiration. I gladly stayed late after school working alone in the publications lab. I won the senior award for publications. Take-away: Look to your past – what were you passionate about? What were you naturally good at? Do those things.
I remember thinking, “I want to teach yearbook when I grow up. I freaking love this more than anything ever.”
When I got to college, I realized a major existed that would essentially have given me a career doing layout and design – visual communication design. It was exciting and I was secretly jealous of anyone I met with the major. Strangely, though, I never considered switching my major to that. I can’t recall the reasons why I chose not to at this point. Take-away: Don’t do this. Listen to your gut and pursue that instead of pursing what you deem ‘reasonable.’ Passion is not unreasonable.
My typography/layout/design love lay dormant for all of my college years, only surfacing when I needed to design a cover page for a paper.
The year after college, I worked at an afterschool center and was charged with updating numerous brochures and pamphlets. It was as if someone struck a match and lit my passion all over again. I spent hours working on the designs, but the time flew by. I excitedly looked for more ways to exercise this creative muscle – making every lesson plan and worksheet stylized and gorgeous. I was put in charge of editing and designing the center’s newsletter. Take-away: What work doesn’t seem like work? Do that.
The next year, I was in a college community service center. The first day, we were given a handful of brochures about the university. I realized I was spending more time focusing on the design than what was actually in the brochures. Take-away: Notice where your mind wanders. That is your passion.
I immediately decided to enroll in two graphic design courses at the local community college and flourished there. My teacher remarked [warning: horn-tooting ahead] that he’d rarely seen such talent at the beginner level. Taking those classes were one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sure, it wasn’t fun giving up my Saturdays, but it was huge asset for a relatively low cost. Take-away: Education is good. Dabble in community colleges. Praise from professionals in the field you hope to be in should be noted and tucked away for a time when you doubt yourself. And, yes, you will doubt yourself.
Fast-forward three years and I’ve got a steady stream of design work that earns me more than my day job each month. I love, love, love this field because I’m always learning something, always challenged (sometimes to the point where I want to quit and doubt myself when I have a particularly difficult line of code that is troubling me), and I get to work with amazing, inspiring people. So, am I still undecided about my career? In the sense that my future and career are fluid and ever-changing, yes. I like to reinvent my future and am honestly not sure where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing in 5 years.
As corny as it sounds, listen to your heart and go with where your passion lies. If you need something more structured to determine where you find happiness, check out products like The Joy Equation, which will help you connect the dots. Or just do lots of talking and journaling and thinking. Best of luck, Ashley!
PS: I use the Adobe Design Premium Creative Suite – mostly Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign.