When I was at school I had all kinds of grand career plans. I was going to be a Blue Peter presenter. Obviously. I mean, they PAY YOU to go on a massive summer holiday every year. Or maybe I’d be a journalist. Or a barrister. Or a diplomat. I didn’t know what that last one involved other than living abroad and going to Ambassadors’ Balls where I’d need to wear gowns and eat canapés but I mean, YES PLEASE. But yeah – when I say had grand plans, what I mean is that I had no bloody clue whatsoever what I was going to do with my life.
And if you’re in the same boat and are starting to panic, I’m here to tell you there’s no need. It’s totally fine not to know what you want to do. Seriously. No. Biggie.
Even Clare Howard, a careers advisor, is with me on this. “I interview youngsters all over the country, and the majority of them don’t know what they want to do. And that’s absolutely nothing to worry about. How could you possibly know? You haven’t had the opportunity to try things or even think about jobs, really.”
There are some things that could help you achieve Beyoncé levels of future success though, even if you have no idea what that future looks like. “Nowadays people are going to have lots of different jobs,” Clare says, “so it’s important to develop transferable skills that you can take from one job to another, like communication or project management. I’d also advise picking your A-levels and (if you’re going to university) your degree because you’ll enjoy them, not because you think they’ll get you a better job.”
“Talk to people about their own career pathways and why they made the choices they did. And get lots of work experience – it gives you some of the skills that’ll make you employable, and helps you work out where your heart really lies.”
Just to be totes upfront though, once you get out into the big bad working world, you might still feel as confused as Louis Walsh at the end of Judges Houses (or Louis Walsh during any part of X Factor, let’s be honest). And that’s all good, too. I took a very winding path to get to where I am now – a general degree; a year abroad; jobs in sales, events, space travel (I wish) and marketing before I became a journalist. TBH I’m not even sure if journalism is what I’ll do forever – I’ve just finished a Masters in something totally different. And that’s fine, too.
Loads of my friends feel the same, including Faye who’s a freelance Art Director, designing magazines, books and adverts. It’s a supercool job, especially since she moved to Australia so she can surf after work (you see, your future could literally take you anywhere). But she’s sometimes felt confused. “I went through a big turmoil at uni, thinking I’d picked the wrong course (Graphic Design) and should be doing English because I liked writing. Then at some point it clicked that you can be interested in a range of things and use that to inform what you’re doing. Being interested in writing has ended up being a strength. I can see how the design and words need to fit together, and I often write concept ideas for my clients.”
But like me, she still doesn’t have a tidy life map in her head. “I don’t think what I’m doing now is what I’ll do forever and I don’t have a real plan for my next few years, which is fine. You’ve got to try different things and I think you can take things from every job. Plus, loads of great stuff has happened without me planning it. I never would have considered going freelance two years after uni but circumstances meant that I tried it. It ended up being the perfect thing for me at the time and I learnt so much. Not necessarily knowing what you’re doing can actually work out pretty well sometimes.”
And if you’re thinking my friends and I just got lucky, and that your life will defo implode unless you decide on one path RIGHT NOW, I’ve roped in another professional to help keep you breathing.
Career coach Corinne Mills thinks flexibility is where the future’s at. “Nowadays people have way more careers than they used to. People are living longer and working later and that actually opens up lots of chances for new experiences – you’re not going to want to do the same job at 20 as you do at 40 or 60.” Her advice is just to get stuck into something. “You don’t know what you like and are good at until you try things. Something that sounds glamorous, like PR, actually might not be for you because there’s a lot of humdrum work, too. Get as many experiences as you can and use each one to work out what you enjoy and what you don’t want to do again, then spontaneously work out as you go along what kind of path you want.”
And if there’s literally no job in the world that excites you, there’s still no need to sweat it. It probably just doesn’t exist yet. Caroline O’Donoghue is a Social Media Manager (which means somebody actually pays her to tweet. Dream job anyone?). But when she was at school she wanted to be a novelist. “The job I do now didn’t exist when I was at school. In fact, the only social media I had was Bebo. But when I moved to London and started bouncing around marketing jobs, social media just became my thing and I really enjoyed it. In the end though, my job actually gave me the storytelling skills I needed to write my book. A publisher bought it and I’m leaving my job soon to be a novelist!”
You see! Proof that everything will work itself out in the end. Promise.
Image: Katie Edmunds
Corinne Mills is a Career Coach for Personal Career Management