When Should You Know What You Want To Be?


July 11, 2012

Growing up, did you imagine yourself as a professional baseball player or firefighter?  Maybe you wanted to be a ballerina, movie star or princess.  As children, we all have dreams and fantasies of what we’ll be like as adults.  As we approach our teen years, we tend to start giving it more thought and consider being doctors, veterinarians, or other jobs we hear about.

When did you know what you wanted to be?

I heard a 23 year old young lady tell the story of how she went off to college completely unsure of what she wanted to do.  She couldn’t decide.  Now, at 23, she had dropped out to figure it out.  She was frustrated it didn’t just come to her.

Some people have a calling, some of us are told what our parents think we should become, and some just have to figure it out.  I am quite certain I had no idea what human resources was as I was growing up so it would not have been a career to consider.  It wasn’t until half way through college that I figured it out.

On the flip side

The other side of the coin is that maybe it’s better to never get settled into something to the point you get stagnant.  In the HR industry, there are so many options of how to use your skills that you can start out working in recruiting, move to compensation analysis, choose another job in benefits and wind up leading HR for a company.

So, how would you advise that 23 year old?  I’d tell her to:

  • Ask herself what she really loves doing, not for money.  Then, try to find a job that incorporates that, or skills like that, into a job.
  • Finish her education.  If nothing else, make sure to get a good general education.  It’s not so much about learning the subjects, it’s learning how to think and process information.  It’s learning how to organize and plan.  All good skills for many careers.
  • Job Shadow.  When in doubt, find several jobs that seem interesting and ask to shadow someone who does that job.

What advice would you give?  Share in the comments….


  • Great advice Trish. Finishing school is essential…connecting with a legitimate career counselor at her college will give her the profssional support necessary to be more intentional about her career planning v. “waiting for it to come to her.” As we know, life is about going after what you want, not waiting for it to come to you.

    Great post.

    • @Jay- Speaking to a career counselor is a great idea. I know they have tools to assess strengths and weaknesses and that, along with good discussion, can be a great way to start guiding someone. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sorry Trish, I have to call BS on this line – “Ask herself what she really loves doing, not for money. Then, try to find a job that incorporates that, or skills like that, into a job.” It reminded me of the scene from Office Space – “The counselor asked, ‘What would you do if you had a million dollars?’ That’s BS ’cause no-one ever says I want to clean the toilets.” At 23 she needs to find a way to pay the bills. So finish school and get a job.

    Develop and monetize your loves in the off hours. If you’re one of the lucky few, you’ll be able to turn that into your full-time gig.

    Just keeping it real.

    • @Scott- So glad you weighed in with the other side. I think you’re on the money….for some people. However, I stand my my recommendation because in many cases it works. In this case, the girl loves SCUBA, water, outdoors, etc. So, steering her to explore careers in something like oceanography or careers where she can work in that outdoor lake/ ocean environment is a perfect way to guide her. It’s not impossible to find jobs by starting with what you love. Keep me on my toes and real though. 🙂

  • I like the shadow idea. This is a good time to use family and family friends and see if you can spend a day with them at their job to see what it’s really like. I was into computer graphics when I was younger for the purpose of creating ads. A family friend took me with him to his job and introduced me to the computer graphics team there. They taught me some things for the day and left me at a computer to work on some designs. It was a good experience. Now I’m a Marketing Manager and the ads I create are copy based, but I use a similar creative thought process.

    Mentioning to her what do you love is useful, but also asking what are you good at can be beneficial. What they are good at can help them excel in a career and what you love can still be done as a hobby.

  • Great points from All;

    Funny I had never heard of Recruiting in college and I fell into it accidentally 30 years ago. Now every time I interview a recruiter I ask them how they got into Recruiting and I have never heard anyone who planned to get into Recruiting, sometimes their stories are great.

    Trish, I would add to your question about what do you love doing, what are your really good at doing; if someone can find their passion and their skills and then go find a job or an organization that needs that combination they will have found their niche.

    Also the earlier comment about finishing college and getting a good education is spot on; in my parent’s generation a high school diploma was the minimum requirement, in my generation it is a BA, I suspect in our children’s generation it will be an advanced degree.


  • Oh, I feel the pains that this 23 year old is experiencing. I remember going through the exact same frustrations and confusion. I ended up changing my major from what would be a very focused career path in architecture to one that I thought offered more flexibility. For me, this decision led me to major in marketing. Today, I am very happy with the path I choose but during this transition in college I had no clue if I was properly evaluating my choices and I frequently questioned my decision.

    I agree that a good education is always the basis for a good career – whether you know what it is or not! It can be difficult to find a job with the traits that you love, but not impossible. It just takes some hard work and patience to find that right fit. Sometimes it just comes to you (or falls in your lap) and other times, you have to work multiple jobs until you figure it out. It’s different for everyone, but everyone is capable of it! Lots of luck to the girl you mentioned!

  • Great post – if she can afford it and has settled in ok, I would absolutely recommend finishing her education – depending on the course she may be able to use it to further a career she is interested in, plus she can pick up experience through the numerous clubs, societies and volunteering opportunities the college must have.

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About Trish

A former HR executive and HCM product leader with over 20 years of experience.


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