Jump in and discover what you love
A few close friends expressed their concerns to me after reading my post about finding your dream job. They said it’s easy to figure out what you want to do when you know who you are.
But many people feel stuck trying to figure out who they are.
I totally agree. Choosing a career has many parallels to romantic relationship-- it helps to know who you are and what you're looking for in a partner.
It's okay to not know yet. It takes time and life experience to discover what you love.
But there are practical steps to take to help you along on the road to discovering what you were made for.
Mostly, you've got to just jump in and start trying different things.
I love how Stephanie Chasteen, also known as sciencegeekgirl on her blog, describes how she “felt” her way into her alternative science career:
I tell this to all people who ask me about my career, which defines the word “alternative.” “I’m like bacteria,” I tell them. Bacteria… do not “know” that the hot spot or acidic island is “over there.” They have no overall map of their surroundings to direct their movement in a straight line towards what they seek. What they sense instead is a local gradient — a small change, right next to them. It’s a little warmer that way. They move slightly. They feel it out again. Move. Feel. Move. And feel. The resulting path is a somewhat jagged, but non-random, path toward the thing that they love. And so is mine.
Here are the practical steps I took that led me to discover my passion.
Until about a year ago, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my career. Research was okay, but I wasn't convinced it was my passion.
Then I stumbled across science writing and my ears perked up. After a bit of googling, I found a ton of information and realized there were many possible paths.
To narrow down the options, I started testing the waters.
I had some experience writing research proposals, so I thought maybe I could become a grant writer. I bought a book that offered tips for writing grants and attended seminars on the topic. I volunteered to help my PI write a grant proposal for my project. All along, I made mental notes to myself about what I liked and didn’t like.
I also thought about journal editing. I found an opportunity to be an English editor for an international chemistry journal. It was free labor, but a good experience, nonetheless.
I was most intrigued at the thought of doing science journalism, since I loved curling up with a mug of hot cocoa and a science magazine feature story. But science journalism was also the option I felt least qualified for.
I worked up the guts to show up at the info session for the student newspaper on my campus. I sat in a room full undergrad journalism majors and wondered if I was crazy for being a chemistry grad student with no journalism experience wanting to write science news stories.
I also signed up for an introductory journalism course on my campus. This class taught me the basics of journalistic writing, which is totally different from academic writing.
Long-story short, I fell in love with science writing. By the end of 2010, I knew my passion was science communication and that I was made to be a science writer!
That’s when the hard-core networking began. I googled “science writer” and sent emails to people, asking if they’d be willing to chat with me about their career path. I talked to newspaper reporters, magazine writers, and science writers with chemistry backgrounds, like C&EN’s very own Mitch Jacoby who gave a seminar at an ACS on Campus event I attended.
I started blogging about alternative science careers for my campus newspaper. That experience landed me this electron-pusher blogging gig. All these experiences combined landed me a science writing internship at a physics lab.
And now I can’t stop talking about how great it is to discover your passion and pursue it!
All this to say…
…don’t feel bad if you’re not sure what you want to do yet.
Take a lesson from bacteria.
As you go through life and try different things, make a note of the activities you enjoy and follow the local gradient.
You’ll be on your way to finding out what you’re made for.