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.