Finding The Right Career For You Starts With This One Simple Question

Olivia Christian grew up with a very particular goal as a child. She wanted to work in politics, and she did. Every year, from the age of 10, til she was 25, she chipped away at that goal with laser focus. It was her dream career, after all. Or, at least, the dream career she thought she wanted.

By 25, Christian was working for the fourth time in an elected official’s office. But now, the goals she had so meticulously outlined as a child no longer fit the lifestyle her adult self wanted. So, she pivoted.

Today, Christian works as a marketing strategist committed to helping others discover their personal “brand story.” She splits her time between leading brand development workshops and hosting the sportscast, The Game Last Night.

In this edition of “Nobody Tells You This, But…” Olivia Christian reflects on the advice she wishes she heard earlier in life. That is, career paths are winding ones that sometimes require a 180 turn—and that’s OK. Ahead, in her own words, Christian explains how she figured out which career path to ultimately take. And, in the process, what questions we can all rely on to determine our own.

Nobody tells you this, but …

A lot of times in movies and magazines, it’s like every little girl dreams of her wedding day. I was not that girl. What I dreamed of was being president. And in 1988, Jesse Jackson was running for president. I was 10, and inspired by his run, I ran for office at my school. (My dad made me buttons!) I kept working in politics and policy all the way up until I was 25.

Then, I got to an age where I thought, “I no longer want to do this.” In retrospect, I sometimes wish someone would have told me this all-important truth: Don’t be so concerned with checking off the list of what you should be doing, what you should be studying, or who you should be working for.

“Think, instead, about how you want to feel in your job.”

Think, instead, about how you want to feel in your job. What is it that you want to feel? How is it that you want to feel every day? And then, find a career and an opportunity to create that for yourself every day.

I liked what I was doing when I was 25. I felt good about it. But, then sometimes you get to a place where maybe you hit a wall, you no longer like that job. Or you’re thinking, “I want to do something else.” It’s OK to have those ideas in your mind. Expect the wall! Be okay with hitting the wall. We all do. And sometimes that means we do a 180 turn in the other direction.

When I got to 25, I thought, “I don’t want to kiss all the babies” in order to be a politician. Instead, I realized I only want to work for the individuals and organizations I thought were doing the very best work. The only way I could do that was if I worked for myself and I got to pick and choose my clients. Because, that will affect how I feel. And, in turn, that will affect the outcome for those organizations and individuals I work with.

That’s why I tell people is not necessarily about “checking off the list,” of your work and life goals. That list will keep growing. You might wake up one day and say, “Yes, I did it, but I feel like crap. I’m trying to just get to Wednesday, and then I’m trying to get to Thursday.” That’s not what anyone wants, is it?

To find the right career for yourself, think about how you want to feel, what elements of your old work you’ve enjoyed most and what makes most sense to combine the two. There are still elements of politics that I feel engaged in, but I only pick the stuff that I like, where I feel fulfilled or I can be a resource to people.  Thinking about your life and work as one long checklist won’t help you find those connections and deeper meaning.

I think it’s easy to read this and think, “Sure, do what you love.” There are plenty of signs on Instagram or Pinterest saying, “Do what you love.” But I think it’s more than about just doing what you love. I like nachos and ice cream, but that doesn’t mean I can eat them each day!

But, I know what lifestyle I want and how I want to feel throughout the day. I know how I want to be able to have coffee at 6:00 a.m. I know I want to be able to meditate and enter my day feeling like, “Awesome, what am I going to accomplish today?”

So, ask yourself: What kind kind of career moves do I need to make so I can enter and end my day in the way I desire? Think, “How does this make me feel? How do I want to feel throughout my day?”And, “What can I do to get there?” If that means crafting  a career that maybe is different from what you initially thought, then that’s OK. That’s what, “doing what you love,” really means.

Finally, my other big advice is to meditate. I wish I would have meditated earlier. But, that’s a whole other article. A friend of mine was trying to get me meditate like 15 years ago and I was like, “What?” Lesson learned.

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