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US President Barack Obama looks through the menu to order before holding a roundtable discussion with small business owners at the Grand Central Bakery in Seattle, Washington, on August 17, 2010. AFP PHOTO/Jewel Samad (Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)

Remember the “good ‘ole days” when you were young? Remember what you wanted to be when you grew up? Maybe it was an astronaut. Maybe it was a teacher, lawyer, or veterinarian. And what are you doing now? Chances are that it’s not exactly what you had planned as a kid. And if it is, then here’s a huge bag of kudos and touche for you from Life’D!

For the rest of you, though, I give you the following advise—complete with a few kickass quotes.

I. Do What You Love

Cliche? Probably. Is it true? Absolutely. Granted, reality generally dictates that not all of us can or will ever be a ‘CEO’ or the President of the United States. They’re surely lofty goals, but there must be some balance between ‘reality’ and ‘grand ambitions’. That’s not to say you shouldn’t dream, and not even to not dream BIG. The key = balance.

Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life. ― Confucius

Finding a career that you’ll genuinely love and look forward to completing every day is (or should be) the single most important criteria in determining your professional journey.

II. Know Thyself

This means doing some soul searching. Think about your personal interests, your skill strengths (aptitudes), weaknesses, personality, beliefs, values, and—maybe above all—passions. Make a list of your qualifications and skills, and specifically list every job responsibility you’ve ever held. Then, draft a list of all of your long-term goals. What do you want your life to look like in five years? In 10 years? How much money do you aspire (or expect) to make? Determine the type of future lifestyle you’ll want and whether you’ll want a job, career, or both. In other words, do you want to be able to leave the office behind every night when the clock turns 5:00pm, or a multimillionaire who has worked tirelessly to get there?

“Making money isn’t hard in itself, what’s hard is to earn it doing something worth devoting your life to.” ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón

III. Determine What Type of Career and Work Environment You Want/Need

Questions to ask yourself and jot down:

  • Do I want a set schedule, or a job with flexible hours? Which of these motivates me to get the job done more?
  • What type of physical environment would be suit me? Indoors? Outdoors? Both?
  • How much interaction with the general public and/or coworkers am I looking for?
  • Am I more suited to a leadership position, or one where I mainly follow the direction of superiors?
  • Do I want a job that requires a lot of travel or one that allows me to come home (to relax, spend time with family, etc.) every night?
  • Which jobs would best complement my personality (e.g. introverted, extroverted, etc.), ambitions, and overall life needs?

Write down a few sentences about your ideal work environment based on your answers. Be realistic as possible, but at the same time—and this will be repeated—don’t limit the possibilities based on merely one or two conflicts with your ideal career and work space.

“Why do they always teach us that it’s easy and evil to do what we want and that we need discipline to restrain ourselves? It’s the hardest thing in the world–to do what we want. And it takes the greatest kind of courage. I mean, what we really want.” ― Ayn Rand

IV. Talk To a Career Counselor–Get a Career Assessment

Consider taking a qualified career assessment test or two and answer them truthfully. Afterwards, see how the results align with your prior, personal self-assessment. Any career assessment test worth its salt should give you multiple career possibilities based on your desired lifestyle, skills, personality and so forth. Although most employment agencies and universities provide fee-based assessments (sometimes called ‘individual career development plans’), there’s a myriad of good, free ones on online. For college students it’s usually free; for others, community (aka ‘junior’) colleges are typically a good place to look for reasonably priced tests.

“If you don’t wake up in the morning excited to pick up where you left your work yesterday, you haven’t found your calling yet.” ― Mike Wallace

V. Do Your Homework

Once you’ve got the results from at least one good assessment, research the crap out of the suggested careers. Study job descriptions, outlook for the fields (i.e. “realistically, what are my chances of getting this type job when I actually go to apply?” and “will there still be demand for my skills?”), the required education and skills, opportunities for career growth, typical benefits and so forth. An excellent resource to start with? Try the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which boasts a goldmine of information about thousands of career fields and paths, career prospects, average salaries, working conditions, benefits and more.

VI. Talk to Veteran Professionals in Your Chosen Field(s)

Talk to people with years of experience in your desired career(s). Ask as many questions and get as much advice from the professional as possible. Could this person also be your very own mentor? If so, never pass up such an invaluable apprenticeship. “Where do I find these professional mentors?”, you might ask. Trade shows, industry/market conferences and workshops, universities (the vast majority of tenured professors have formerly worked extensively in their field.

VII. Check Out the Princeton Review Career Quiz

Take a minute to register at the Princeton Review and take their test just to get started. And keep in mind, there are tons of other free, quality online career assessment tests. After your done, take note of what you’ve learned about yourself and what you may be best at doing for the rest of your life (no pressure there!), but don’t take the results as absolute, either.

VIII. Draft a Career Plan, Set Goals

Time to really get serious. Take everything you’ve learned about your prospective career(s)—e.g. from career assessments, advisers, lists, research…—-and draft a plan of action, and set things in motion. The point is not to go all gung-ho, but just to get started.

“The crowning fortune of a man is to be born to some pursuit which finds him employment and happiness, whether it be to make baskets, or broadswords, or canals, or statues, or songs.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

IX. Get the Necessary Training

Be realistic: The lions share of any decent-paying, life-fulfilling jobs require at least some post-secondary education, skills, and actual experience. That said, choose the right school, and get on-the-job training and/or an internship if at all possible. Any related experience you can pick up counts! Internships get you invaluable firsthand experience, particularly if you can afford to have a non-paying job for a short stint. Check out sites such as Monster and; regularly check internship postings and apply often.

X. Summary

  • Kill negative or career-hindering preconceptions about yourself, career ambitions and ‘reality’. For example, many people fall into the “I’d love to do that, but…” trap. Never limit yourself like that; don’t be afraid to push the proverbial envelope (the ‘envelope’ here being your future career).
  • Never pursue a career just for the big bucks and benefits: Don’t even do it for mainly the money. Follow your heart and your passion, even if in the beginning it does pay crappier than that ‘guaranteed’ 100k/year job. 
  • As it relates to the last point, do you know who the top 10% of income earners in the U.S. are? Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs: I.E. People who followed their passions instead of blindly ‘following the money’, that’s who.
  • Ignore the naysayers. Laugh in their faces and go prove them wrong. Let no family member, friend or anyone else tell you what you “should be doing”. You are the master of your mind, the captain of your soul. Do what YOU want to do, that which makes you look forward to every single day at “work”. And make no mistake, this is all about you.
  • Be realistic about your skills, as most careers do require at least some of them to get your foot in the door. And if you don’t have the right skills, go get them. The world is yours.

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan