How to Find a Meaningful Career Path

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In the midst of global crises such as the one we're facing right now, we might feel like we need a bit more meaning in life (cue that Stacie Orrico song). Something that might help is to get more in touch with yourself and figure out what you really want (cue that Spice Girls song ๐Ÿ˜‚). That, I feel, is the first step to addressing the elephants in the rooms of your life, one of which is your career. After all, we spend, on average, a third of our lives working, so why not make it count? Whether you're just starting out in the workforce or you've been ambling along in a career that sucks the life out of you and are ready to make a change, how do you get on the road to a meaningful (for you) career path?

Understand Your Interests and Personality

Since meaningful is such a subjective term, the first thing you can do is to understand the type of work you feel you have a connection to. Sometimes, it isn't so straightforward. When I was in high school, I was planning on becoming an acquisitions editor because I loved finding really great but not as well-known books and then reviewing them (I had a book review blog back in the day). However, when I was in college taking relevant classes, I discovered an interest in digital media, and I even interned with an e-book publisher. Throughout all of this, though, I was working as a tutor and a communication consultant, mostly because they were two of the highest paying jobs on campus. I enjoyed them immensely, but teaching had never been on my radar because, y'know, teaching. When I graduated, my most promising full-time prospect fell through, and I ended up picking up a teaching job that my friend referred me to because why not. Y'all, I fell head over heels in love with teaching, so much so that I applied to a master's program for the very next academic year. The rest is history, guys. ๐Ÿ˜Œ

The reason for that walk down memory lane is to say don't dismiss certain career paths just because you think you're not interested. Try out all opportunities that come your way. You never know what you'll discover about yourself. Besides, you don't want FOMO and all that. Once you find out what path you want to take, it's never too late to pick up the relevant qualifications, like the MA in applied linguistics I ended up doing or something just as unconventional like a master of engineering management. I did my master's one year later than most people, and I'm running three years (and counting) behind most PhD applicants. My GRE scores have even expired. ๐Ÿ˜‚ If anything, pursuing more niche programs than your undergraduate can help get your foot in the door of whatever career path you end up wanting to walk.

Look at Your Values

I hope those anecdotes did a good job of illustrating how, even in relatively short periods of time, we can change our interests and even attitudes. Therefore, it's still essential to check in with yourself every now and then to gauge if you're still doing something that's meaningful to you and aligns with your values. Self-reflection is key. If journaling and meditation aren't your cups of tea like they aren't really mine, just do something easy like mull over your current situation when you're in the shower or when you're mindlessly scrolling through Netflix for something to watch while you eat (you know who you are ๐Ÿ˜‰). Just, whatever you do, don't self-reflect when you're in bed getting ready to sleep. ๐Ÿ˜‚

If and when you discover that you're starting to feel unfulfilled or losing your enthusiasm, perhaps it's time to revisit the previous step of exploring career paths, but if it's not the industry but rather the position, it could be time for progression. In some fields, vertical progression requires new skills or updated and current skills, so you might consider picking up some quick courses from somewhere like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera, which are both recognized by most companies. If anything, it'll keep you up-to-date with regard to those skills. For example, we all know that interpersonal communication skills are super important, even if you're not in something like marketing and PR. Nowadays, a lot of attention in interpersonal communication is paid on how to communicate inclusively. Things like how you use gender pronouns or how you refer to marginalized populations may seem like no-biggie, but they have a world of impact on those concerned. It's no longer just about how to communicate with people effectively but how to communicate with all people effectively.

Now that many of us have found ourselves with some extra time (and a dash of pessimism) on our hands, we kinda owe it to ourselves to make it meaningful and fulfilling, whatever that may mean to us personally.

How did you end up in your career?

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