I’ll never forget that night. My coworker and I were in the office until 11pm tracking ads when we asked each other: “Money aside, what would you do for your career?

I said I wanted to be a personal trainer, and she said she wanted to be a teacher — quite different from the media sales jobs we had!

I’m sure a lot of you have asked yourselves that same question: “What do I want to do with my life — really?”. But it’s easier to ask than it is to figure out the answer. Or maybe you know the answer, but you don’t yet know how to take action.

I’ve been in your shoes. So to help you on your way, I want to share with you my own experiences with discovering a career that I loved, as well as five actionable tips to help you do the same.

How I Found a Career I Loved

During my first five years out of college, I worked for fantastic companies — but for some reason I left every night feeling detached. There had to be a career out there that was better suited for me.

I knew what I didn’t want, but also had an overwhelming amount of thoughts about what I did want. I tested out several career options — including becoming a full-time personal trainer as I had dreamed of doing that late night at the office — but learned that most of these options worked best for me as hobbies.

It wasn’t until I spoke to a career counselor from my alma mater, Syracuse University, that I had my “aha” moment. She helped me realize I wanted to do for other people what she was doing for me: help them with their career development. It clicked! During our conversation, I realized she was saying to me everything I would have told someone else in the same position. This gave me the confidence to go after a career I knew I could excel at.

This breakthrough was invigorating, but it was just the beginning of learning how to parlay my passions and skills into a career. Knowing what I wanted to do was only part of the equation (though a very important part). There were still a lot of factors I had to evaluate in order to make a transition: financials, my transferable skills, my ideal work culture, what open opportunities there were at that time, etc. This turned out to be an arduous yet exhilarating process.

In the end, I landed an amazing job as an Account Executive/Recruiter at Clarity Staffing, a boutique recruitment firm in Manhattan. I relish going home every day knowing that I helped a company find an amazing addition to their team while also finding someone a job! It’s the first time in my life where I feel content with what I’m doing. I’m less anxious, feel more balanced, and leave work with a smile on my face — having a job that I love has been good for my health!

In the process of making an exciting yet realistic transition into a career that I’m passionate about, I learned there are five key steps people must take in the pursuit of a fulfilling career shift.

Creating a Lifestyle You Love: Your Action Plan

If you are also searching for a meaningful career change or trying to turn you passions into your career, I recommend taking the following five steps on your path to a fulfilling career and lifestyle:

Step One: Start with Self-Awareness

You need to understand who you are, your lifestyle priorities, and what gets you out of bed every morning. While sitting down and asking yourself these questions is a good start, there are also tons of resources that can help you better understand yourself.

A great place to start is a classic book called "What Color Is Your Parachute?". It provides information and exercises that can teach you about yourself and point you to best-matched career paths. Also consider taking a personality test such as a Myers Briggs Type Indicator, which can recommend certain careers based on your results. These tests and exercises shouldn’t serve as the authority on your life, but can inform your process and provide direction.

Step Two: Seek Out a Mentor

Identify someone in your network who knows you and can be your champion, such as a former manager or professor. It doesn’t have to be someone in the industry you want to work in; the point is to align with someone who can provide advice and coach you through the process of uncovering your interests and entering a new career field. This person can potentially help you gain insight into your desired field, serve as a reference for you, or help you network.

Step Three: Work that Network

People are your strongest assets. Before you begin applying for jobs, educate yourself about different career paths by talking to as many people as possible. Use LinkedIn to seek out people who have your dream job and ask for an informational meeting. Find out more about their current role and the path that got them there —everyone’s journey is different, and people love to tell their story (case in point!). Treat these meetings as interviews — your contact may be hiring or can provide a referral. (You only get one first impression, so it’s crucial to nail it!) In these meetings, be prepared to succinctly tell people who you are, why you’re looking for a change, and your career aspirations.

Step Four: Gain Real-World Experience

Volunteer or intern for organizations where you can offer your time and expertise in exchange for an opportunity to learn more about an industry. If you are pressed for time or don’t know where to start, check out relevant Meetups on Meetup.com — there are tons of different niche groups where you can meet and connect with likeminded individuals. Another way to gain more insight is to attend industry events or webinars — they’re great networking opportunities and help you stay current in the industry.

Be aware that learning more about a particular career path might steer you away from a job or industry you thought you wanted to pursue, which is ultimately beneficial.

Step Five: Get Your Personal Brand Out There and Apply for Jobs

This is the final step, and should be taken only once you feel you can be strategic in your search. Rebrand yourself by revising your resume, cover letter, and social media profiles to reflect your updated career goals and to highlight new and relevant skills. An effective personal brand is authentic and consistent, as well as tailored to each specific position for which you apply.

The Takeaway

The journey never ends, but you too can craft a fulfilling life for yourself. It won’t happen overnight, and there will never be a day where everything is perfect — you and your passions will continue to evolve — but take action now, anyway. Do what you can to find satisfaction and meaning in your everyday activities. You are the only one who can make this happen for yourself — so go exploring and find what makes you smile!

This post was written by Erica Ravich, an Account Executive/Full-Cycle Recruiter for Clarity Staffing, a boutique recruitment firm in NYC. Erica is also a Volunteer Career Counselor and Career Development Panelist at NYU Wasserman Center for Career Development, Mentor/Speaker at Upwardly Global, and a NASM Certified Personal Trainer. The views expressed herein are hers. To learn more about Erica, follow her on Facebook.

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