Whether you’re a recent graduate trying to figure out where to go with your diploma, a stay-at-home mom wanting to find a way to make some extra money for her family, a newly divorced individual trying to find a way to make money to support yourself, or a recent retiree who wants to spend some time doing what you love for the first time in your life, this article will help you find the answers for which you’re searching.
“Melanie’s portfolio is jam-packed with rich, expressive portraits that capture not just an image, but the essence of the person in front of her lens. She’s shot all the big names: Sting, Colin Farrell, Heath Ledger, Rudolph Giuliani, Sir Ian McKellen. Melanie does portrait work, editorial photography, and Fall 2004, she and photographer Nigel Parry released a striking collection titled Precious. The couple is donating all royalties from the book to the Starlight Children’s Foundation – an international nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the equality of life for seriously ill children and their families.
A Chicago native, Melanie worked briefly as a photojournalist in France, then spend her twenties learning the ropes as a photo assistant. She eventually struck out on her own and is currently represented by the prestigious CPi agency. Thanks to a sharp eye and a gracious, fun-loving spirit, Melanie has a thriving, globetrotting career in one of the world’s toughest markets – New York City.
What does your work mean to you?
Passion. Absolute passion. If I’m not shooting, I get depressed. It’s like food. Taking pictures. Photography is a way of life, not a job. In fact, I can’t even say, ‘I’m going to work today.’”
This passage is from Nicole Williams’ and Cheri Hanson’s Earn What You’re Worth. The photographer being interviewed is Melanie Dunea.
How does a person happen upon a career like Melanie describes? Is it pure chance? Does Melanie just happen to have a good attitude? Do we all need to become photographers? The truth is, we can all have the passion Melanie describes and we can all feel that way about our work.
I don’t know Melanie’s story of how she decided upon photography. Some people do get lucky and fall into a career they love. There are also a lucky few who learn to truly love the job they have. In my experience, however, a large percentage of us spend a good portion of our careers feeling unfulfilled, lost, and not really knowing what to do about it.
The problem seems to start immediately after high school. We don’t really know what we want, what we want to do, or what our talents are, so we allow someone else to choose our career for us. Our parents or friends choose our college and major for us based on their perceptions of us, all with good intentions of course, but often, not on the mark of who we are or want to become. Whether we receive any post high-school education or not, we often enter a field based on what’s available and paying a decent salary at the time. Anything new is exciting and the challenge of learning a new career can be enough to keep us going for a while.
At some point, you find you’re in the wrong field, unsatisfied, not making much of a contribution, and not making much of a life for yourself either, even if you’re making good money.
Here’s the good news; it’s never too late to start living your life on purpose. Below is a list of questions you need to answer about yourself. Take the time to write out your responses. You can use a word processor if you must, but I like to write these kinds of exercises longhand because it engages more of my brain, and invokes more of my intuitive mind.
- When you were a child, how did you answer when anyone asked you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” How realistic was your answer? Is that something you could see yourself doing today? As children, we were very intuitive. Perhaps becoming an astronaut or fire fighter is no longer in your value system, but what does that desire tell you about what you could be doing?
- What special skills or talents do you have? Do you have a knack for taking things apart and putting them back together? Are you amazingly able to connect with people no matter what their background? What are you just naturally good at? What have you been told you’re good at? Write down everything that comes to mind and leave room for writing more as you think of them later.
- There was a time, it could have been a long time ago, or recently, when you did something that made you feel like you were on top of the world. What was it? What were you doing?
- What do you like to do? What do you do in your spare time? What do you choose to read about? What are your hobbies?
- There is something that you do that, when you’re doing it, you completely lose track of time. Hours feel like minutes. What is it? What are you doing?
- What do you have a passion for? Is there a business near you that could utilize that passion? Do you already have the skills necessary to work there? Do you need to get more education? You might have a passion for and a burning commitment to several things. That’s fine. What are they? How do they correlate?
- How much money do you need/want to make? This is important because it will help you determine at what level you need to pursue your passion. Where I live, you would not make enough money as a yoga instructor to support a family. Therefore, you would need to think bigger – owning your own gym, where you are the yoga instructor, but the money comes from the business of selling memberships with access to a wide variety of equipment and space.
- What does the market need right now? How can you use your special talents to meet that need? Don’t skip past this question. If you need to do some research, do it. This is important not because you will fail if you ignore it, but because attempting something that’s going to be hard to sell will discourage you. It will take you longer to find where you fit in. More importantly, there is some way you can make your passion fit what today’s market needs and that’s the ultimate joy – not only are you doing what you love, but your customers, whoever they are, are in love with what you have to offer.
- What would you do if you knew you could not fail? Oliver Wendell Homes said, “All limitations are self-imposed.” There really is no such thing as failure in business; there are only results. If your first idea doesn’t work, you’ll try another one. The great thing about working in an area you are passionate about is that everything you do builds on the next step.
For example, my passion is motivational writing and speaking. Since starting my business a little over a year ago, I’ve written proprietary training documentation and delivered the training associated with it for two very large companies. I’ve also written my own training system for the dental field. Now I’m blogging full time and learning how to design and host websites. The dental training system hasn’t taken off yet, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t. I have speaking engagements for next year that relate to that system. I meet new people every week who want me to speak or write a workshop series for one of my specialty areas. In January, I’m starting a workshop at a local technical college based on career development. My previous work in systems and training development have set me up perfectly for it, not to mention that empowering women and helping everyone become their best is my passion. I’ve attempted many things in the past 15 months, with mixed results; most have been successful, a couple have not – yet, but I’ve enjoyed every single minute of the work involved because I am doing what I love to do.
As you answer each of the above questions, you will begin to see a pattern and the answer as to what to do with the rest of your life will become clearer to you. It could be that you need to continue your education further, or need to do some research about what occupations would utilize the talents you have. You might have to use some acquired skills to gain access to the money you need to develop the talents you know you have. It could be that you see your life continuing in long phases.
For example, a young woman who’s just started a family might see herself as a successful attorney, but wants to stay home while her children are young. Okay, so while your children are home, you’re going to work on your education and do everything you can to get yourself prepared for when you are ready to enter the workforce. You can plan for as many phases as you need. Besides, you’re not going to accomplish your entire life in one day – do you really want to? Our lives tend to expire when the universe is finished with us. So if you’re still living, and I assume you are if you’re reading this, you’re still here for a reason. What is it?
Don’t be afraid to go after what you think will work. I know a woman who truly enjoyed cleaning her house. Once both of her children entered school, she wanted a job that would allow her to set her own hours. She went through this exercise and every answer kept pointing her in the direction of starting her own cleaning business. She thought she was crazy and some of her friends even told her she was “too good for that.” Thankfully, she didn’t listen to them. She realized she could make good money, choose only the jobs she wanted, and work when she wanted. She loved the work. Can you imagine how delighted her clients were to have someone cleaning their home who really loved doing it? I’m glad she dismissed what her friends said. She realized that she wasn’t just a “cleaning lady,” she was an entrepreneur. More importantly, she was in charge of her schedule, and her life. She wasn’t cleaning houses because she had to; she was restoring order and cleanliness to families’ lives because she wanted to.
I know one woman who is 70 years old and retired from her main career, and is still working as a writer. When I asked her why she continues to work, she replied, “I’m saving everything I can to pass on to my children and grandchildren. There’s no sense in a person like me who has the talent and ability to work to not do so just because society thinks I’m old. I still have something to offer, and as long as I do, I will give it to the world. Can I make too much money? My children don’t believe so!”
One fantastic tool that helped me last year when I Woke Up, was taking the MAPP assessment. Even though I felt I knew what I wanted to do, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t just trying to get out of dentistry. I was also curious as to what other careers my skills and interests might be useful in. The free assessment gave me basic information on where I would be able to apply my skills and confirmed what I thought I wanted to do. I then paid for a more extensive explanation that opened my eyes as to what the market needs and how my talents would fit. If you’d like to take it, here it is
Take the FREE MAPP Assessment
Another good tool I’ve used in classes is What Color Is Your Parachute? Several versions of this book exist, the latest is 2007, there is a version for teens, and there is also a workbook. You’ll do more exercises like I’ve had you to above.
My husband loves his work; he’s a Dentist. I used to think he was just a hard-worker, highly motivated, or insane. One day I realized that while he is a hard-worker and highly motivated, he really just loves his work. Which is where the insane connection comes in as far as I’m concerned! (Just kidding.) I decided that I wanted to have that same passion for my career. I now do. Writing and speaking. I know what Melanie Dunea is talking about when she says that she gets depressed if she’s not shooting (pictures); I feel that way about writing. I can skip one day of writing if I’m totally involved in doing something else, like taking a day off to get organized, or working intensely on my websites, but much more than that and I start to get depressed. Speaking is an absolute high for me. Put me in front of an audience and two hours feel like two minutes.
Everyone deserves to feel that way about his or her work. It’ hard for me to believe, especially since I tried it, but I know a woman who adores bookkeeping. (Insane!) She loves analyzing monetary results and creating reports. I know people who love working at many jobs the rest of us either couldn’t or wouldn’t do. If you’re in a career that you dislike, maybe it’s time for you to give it up to make room for someone who will love it. Find your passion, and the dilemma of what to do with the rest of your life will take care of itself.
Obviously, I would like you to complete the writing exercise of answering the above numbered questions. If you’ve decided to skip it, do this instead; write your response to the question, “what will my life look like if I don’t try?”
This post has been featured in many carnivals, including the Carnival of Careers in Middle Age.�
Posted under Inspiration, Motivation