Start with What Interests You
You will probably not love your first job. First jobs usually suck. That’s why they hired you. Much like a relationship, you have no idea whether or not this particular thing will work out for you. Expecting to fall in love on the first date or first day on the job is unrealistic, not to mention the immense pressure it puts on everyone. Apologies Stacy from 1st grade.
A better approach is to simply try out what interests you. Youth provides you the luxury of time to experiment and find your niche. Some things won’t work out, but that is simply the world telling you to go in a different direction. Learning you hate something is fine.
I’ve had many jobs before landing in media and entertainment, but I have always bent toward the pursuit of my personal interests. I studied politics and power structures, so I volunteered for a politic campaign. I caught the travel bug, so I taught English which gave me the freedom to explore while supporting me financially. I wanted to party on the cheap in Spain, so I became a club promoter (aside: interests don’t always have to be noble).
My final year of university, the prospect of choosing a career path was an impossible task. It took hundreds of informational interviews to narrow my focus. The final decision came from the simple fact that the people and business of media interested me most. The people were vibrant and personable while the business was big and rapidly changing.
The mindset of pursuing interests is both productive and liberating. You need not immediately find love in a career. Cultivate interest by surrounding yourself with people, places, and things you gravitate to. By pursuing your interests, you uncover your strengths while finding things you enjoy along the way. No pressure.
Foster a Love of Learning
I did not enjoy my first job in entertainment. Bright and eager, my interest in becoming a talent agent quickly dissolved when I realized that I shared few interests with talent agents and did not gel with the culture. Apologies agents and CFO of WME.
However, despite not finding much joy in my first career stop, I did try to learn as much as possible. You are always in a position to learn, even from situations you dislike. So while I looked for my next job, I took the opportunity to work on several desks and talk to as many people as I could. Despite it not being the right place for you, there is value in any organization you join. Don’t take it for granted. You are being paid to learn.
At WME, I learned the language of the business, specializations within entertainment, the buyers and sellers in the industry, media dollar value, and that I wanted creativity to be a major part of my career. Those lessons led to my next job at a branded entertainment agency. There I discovered marketing as a career path, found I excelled at client service, and learned to love research. It brought me closer to my natural, personal talents, cultivated from hours pouring over the business of entertainment and media.
Curiosity is a powerful human motivator. Embrace it. Any experience, both good and bad, is an opportunity to understand where your talent and interests lie. A job mismatch isn’t a failure. It’s an opportunity to grow.
Using Your Strengths to Find a Career You Love
Perhaps you already have your passion, but following it seems a sure route to financial ruin. Or maybe you’ve got lots of interests and really want to do something inspiring, but you’re having trouble determining which path would be “perfect.” (Here’s a hint: there’s no such thing.) And how are you even to know what you’re really good at it, anyway?
The hunt for your passions and skills begins first and foremost with a career aptitude test and a skills and interests inventory, which will help you not only determine what you’re good at and what you enjoy, but also the difference between your core versus supporting passions and talents. This is important, because you might have a skill that would make you miserable if it were the focus of your career but will empower your passions if placed in a supporting role.
Let’s say, for example, that you have great organizational and interpersonal skills, but your true passion is making artisan bath products. These skills may make you an excellent administrative assistant, but you’ll feel even happier using them as you create your own business plan, network, market and manage to really get your passion product off the ground. A skills and interests inventory will help you identify and align your passions with your talents.
Give a Few Things a Try
The best way to discover where your passions and strengths will be most valuable is to give a few things a try. If you’re fresh out of college and just starting out, that could mean everything from taking on internships, to changing roles every 18 months, to even working a certain amount of hours for free for someone whose career you want to emulate.
While passions should drive your major career moves, it’s actually your natural curiosity that will help you find your niche. After all, the Einsteins and Steve Jobses of the world didn’t get where they were without a deep engagement with their subject matter and constantly asking questions. This is all the more important if your strengths don’t match up exactly with your passions.
You may, for example, not be so great at cycling, but your passion for the sport may lead you into becoming a sports journalist or even an engineer who studies ergonomics and designs the very bikes those riders use to set world records. By following your natural curiosity and asking the right people the right questions, you’re far more likely to land in a destination you find intrinsically fascinating.
Get your personal brand out there
Maybe even have a few headshots like a hungry actor ram-raiding agents around LA. The slicker your image, the clearer your level of investment in your new career becomes. And companies like invested people.
Make sure your personal brand is authentic, consistent, and tailored to each specific position for which you apply. Your brand should just be you. Because you, my friend, are totally worth selling to the world.
Many of my non-editorial jobs have been grinding, miserable experiences. On top of these, writing in my spare time meant that I was often working 15-hour days just to fit everything in.
If you’re in the same situation, you don’t need telling that it can suuuuuuuuuck. Boy, did those 8 hours a day stretch. As they warped and extended, so too did my spiraling depression and anxiety.
However, it’s important to know that not all crappy jobs are on the same level. I’ve had terrible jobs and terrible jobs. You can find yourself getting comfortable and even enjoying parts of a job that doesn’t suit you.
I took pretty much every job that made me miserable out of necessity, and going into any long-term situation without a strategy is a recipe for disaster. Doing so without knowing what you want can have even worse consequences.
I was lucky. I’ve known I wanted to write since I was first able to. But even with that certainty, what did I want to do with words? Editing? Writing? Proofreading? Marketing? Communications? News?
It’s very easy to get hit by option paralysis when you’re digging to find work you’d love, even for people like myself who already thought they knew. Here’s how I paved my own road to career contentment.
Unless you’re willing to take an internship of some kind, plunging headlong into your preferred industry without experience is going to take either a lot of extracurricular work or a small miracle.
That doesn’t mean crowing about achievements that haven’t happened or lying about your qualifications. Every single job has elements that you may enjoy or that allow you to surprise yourself with how good you become at them.
If you’ve no idea what your ideal job looks like, slowly build a FrankenJob. Taking an example from my own life, I sold ad space for a food industry publication for 2 months and got fired for… well, being sh*t at ad sales.
However, I knew that I didn’t want my next job to involve outbound calls and convincing people to buy stuff they didn’t need. That landed me in insurance, and the job met those requirements.
During my 3 years in medical insurance, I started writing whimsical Christmas e-mails and took over the newsletter. I also grew to love the world of medicine and the notion of helping people feel better.
It wasn’t journalism, but it was something I could say I did in an interview. With this said, the job was brutal and the public unforgiving. It was the final straw, but it wasn’t for nothing.
I stayed there until I saw a role come up at Medical News Today, one of Greatist’s sister sites. I managed to combine just enough clinical knowledge and just enough freelance writing experience to warrant an interview.
A job can make you happy for many reasons. It might afford you a lifestyle you like. The task itself might fill you with warmth and inspiration. You might love the effect the role has on the world, or you may just be fascinated by a particular industry.
Apply for as many jobs as you can, and not only for practice. You should take full stock of your emotions while you apply. Does it feel like a chore? Are you just applying for the sake of it? Complete the whole thing. Does it feel good afterward?
If you have these doubts and hang-ups during the application, imagine what 5 days of this every week would feel like. And then throw it in your bulging sack marked “Nope” and set it on fire.
Applying for a job, especially if you already have one you despise, should feel like an opportunity. You should want to get the application to the employer with the eagerness of a toddler showing off a finger painting, just to be able to start in the role sooner.
People often protect themselves from this excitement to temper expectations and cushion against fear of rejection and disappointment. However, it’s important to really feel that excitement.