Steps For How to (Try to) Figure Out Your Life

giana pacinelli

When I first graduated college, I had a major quarter-life crisis. I had enough experience to get me through three careers – but yet I didn’t know what path would get me to the one I loved.

I have always wanted to have a career, not just a job, so to not know the answer to such an important question crushed me. It was at this time that my mentor very easily stopped me from drowning in depression. If I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I needed to prepare to get the job I wanted – whenever I decided what that was. He gave me a list of books to read, had me answer specific interview questions, fine tune my elevator pitch and, best of all, he gave me a purpose. The most helpful tool he provided to me, and one that I pass on to my friends who are still stuck in jobs while looking for careers, was a simple excel spreadsheet.

If you don’t have Excel – grab an old-school piece of paper. Draw 4 lines down the page and one across the top to create headlines.

On the top of each column, make a list in this order:

  • What do I love to do?
  • What kinds of job let me do what I love to do?
  • What industries are these jobs in?
  • What companies have these jobs?
  • Who in that company has a job that I want?

The first column is going to be the easiest and also the most important. Write down everything you can think of that excites you and motivates you. I literally wrote down “express my opinions.” Envision your ideal workplace – the environment, the people, the day-to-day tasks – and list them here.

The next few sections take a bit of research, but the research is eye opening. If you’re not sure which jobs entail what you’re envisioning, look up “random job title” and “job description.” This exercise is where LinkedIn will become your best friend, especially if you’re looking for companies in specific areas of the world.

career goals

The most fun part of this exercise for me was finding the people in said companies with the jobs I wanted. If you’re getting exciting looking at stranger’s responsibilities at their job, that’s when you know you’ve found the job for you.

What’s more, my mentor suggested I actually reach out to these people in these jobs – not to get hired but to get knowledge. Ask them how they got to where they are, what they like about it and what they don’t like. Everyone has a story to tell and it is truly remarkable how many “too busy” executives want to find the time to bestow knowledge on younger generations. They may not have time to help you get a job, but they do have time to talk about themselves. And we all know knowledge is power.

Now, I’d love to tell you that after completing this exercise I was ready to begin my career. Unfortunately, I quickly ditched my spreadsheet and ventured off to NYC for what I assumed was my dream job.

Four months in, it was time to pull out the spreadsheet once again. This exercise is not one you do once and throw away. On average, Americans will change jobs more than 11 times in their lifetime. We are constantly changing as people and as a society and thus, what we “love to do” will change just as much. The second time I pulled out my handy worksheet, albeit less than a year later, it was interesting how much I had already changed. Since getting adjusted in the workforce in my first real job, I had a better idea of what was important to me in my next place of work.

When I got to the final section of my second worksheet, I had a few people to call. One of them ended up giving me a job, a job that I loved…until I didn’t.

I suggest keeping this worksheet each time you create it and watch how your interests evolve. Don’t get frustrated. Trust the process. It’s amazing what you can come up with when you devote the time to dissecting your own self.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with this exercise! I don’t expect this tool to be the secret to success – but I am always looking for ways to improve it. Please feel free to email me.


What Do I Want to be When I Grow Up?


My only focus since I was the (likely world’s first) five-year old making to do lists was to keep moving forward. I didn’t know if any of the extra curricular activities, AP classes, internships or networking events would get me where I needed to be but I knew it couldn’t possibly send me backwards. I’ve also always said (and believed) that it’s better to busy than bored and I continue to make sure that not a day goes by that doesn’t bring me even the tiniest step closer to being better than I was the day before. The issue was, and is still is, that I don’t necessarily know where I’m headed.

After side projects and extracurricular activities in high school that most likely did nothing but give me more anxiety than I gave myself, I chose to take my talents to the University of Florida (Go Gators!) to get a degree in Telecommunications Management. I had dreams of using my passion for reading and writing to work in television. Throughout college, I would write down quotes from my friends that I was certain would be plots in my future television pilots. After graduation, I moved to New York City to begin my dream job with MTV2. I worked on two shows, one being Wild N Out, which reached an audience of 1.1 million – making it the highest rated-show in MTV2 history at the time. I didn’t make it through the entire first season before deciding that show business, and NYC, just wasn’t for me. It was very discouraging that after just the second day at my “dream job” I was already thinking, ok, now what?

Although I never saw myself as a forever Floridian, I needed the Sunshine State. Being raised by two entrepreneur parents, I needed independence as well. I returned home to get my MBA in Entrepreneurship at Nova Southeastern University while also working at a marketing firm, where I learned how to combine my favorite hobbies into a full-time career. I spent about a year and a half at the marketing firm, where we helped entrepreneurs and startups get off the ground with anything from naming the company to finding investors. It was empowering and exciting to be involved in so many different industries that I had never expected to learn anything about.

This would be the part of the story where I realized marketing was it and I had found my calling. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to write that plot twist into my own life.

giana pacinelli

These days, I’m an Account Manager for an advertising agency, a Skimm’bassador for theSkimm a new member adviser for Emerge Broward, and I do freelance writing for New Times and ContentBacon.

Figuring out what you “want to be when you grow up” is a lot harder and more complicated than it was when I was five. For a lot of jobs (i.e. news anchor, doctor, baseball player) you have to know where you want to be at a young enough age where you can begin actively preparing. Sometimes, by the time you realize this, it’s too late. Most times, however, you never figure it out. I don’t think I’ll ever know what I want to do for the simple fact that I want to do everything. I’m interested in real estate, owning a sports bar, writing a novel, working for the Dallas Cowboys and definitely most interested in saying “to hell with it” and traveling the world and writing a travel blog. I’ve learned through several quarter-life crisis’ that sometimes that’s ok. Although many will tell you otherwise, you don’t need to pick one thing to do. Most people don’t. A study from Forbes says that people will have 15-20 jobs in their lives. Once you (or I) come to terms with the fact that there will never be just that one job, you (or I) can start enjoying the ride, trusting the process and believing that all the bumps and turns are part of the journey. I use to think that a career was the one thing in life you can control, that’s why I focused so hard on it. Unfortunately, you can’t even control that. So for now, and maybe forever, I’ll stick with continuing to be better than I was yesterday while enjoying the mystery of finding out where it will take me.