Even though most people aren’t naive enough to expect their first job out of college to be a 24-7 party, many are undoubtedly surprised to find their first job so intolerable.
I too ended up in a job I hated, despite doing all the “right” things. I earned a bachelor’s degree and even went on to grad school to become a marriage and family therapist. After graduation, I landed a job in the mental health field. I lasted two and a half years until I finally said uncle and jumped off the career cliff with no real plan other than: get me outta here.
After I quit, I convinced my wife to sell our newly acquired house, and we moved in with her parents. Yes, I know, husband of the year material. I was a 20-something with very little work experience and no career direction.
The worst part was I didn’t even have a good cover story, like I was chasing my dream or some other semi-acceptable motivation.
The truth was that I had experienced the career equivalent of bonking. What’s bonking you say? In the cycling and running world, bonking is when you’ve hit the wall and simply can’t keep going, because you’re out of energy. That’s what happened to my career. I was out of mental, emotional and physical energy to keep going.
I started a photography business, worked temp jobs and interviewed five times in five days for jobs I didn’t want. Then I made a decision. I was going to get back on track.
Fast forward to now. I’m doing something I love, the house is back and I’m still on speaking terms with my in-laws. I made it through and you can too. Here’s what I learned about surviving a quarter-life crisis and how to find your dream job.
1. Start with you. I took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and figured out that I am an INFJ. After I had a better grasp of my unique strengths, I had to ask myself some tough questions about what I like doing in my free time, how I would spend my time if money were no object and what jobs continually sounded appealing.
2. Get the right resources in place. Depending on your situation, you might consult books, a good friend, significant other, a community, a career coach or career support group. It’s unlikely that you will have access to all of these resources, so get the ones you can in place and use them to their fullest extent. Some great books to read during this time are: “48 Days to the Work You Love” by Dan Miller, “Live Your Calling “by Kevin & Kay Brennfleck, and “What Color is Your Parachute” by Richard Bolles.
3. Make a plan. When I quit my job, I should have created a list of 10 perspective career fields that fit my personality and interests. Then, I should have created a step-by-step road map with timelines to know whether I was on track. I also should have asked myself the following questions:
- What do I need to do between now and then to get into the type of work I enjoy?
- Do I need to get additional experience?
- Do I need more education or training?
- How can I become more connected in my network?
- What do I have to offer a potential employer?
4. Implement. This was actually the hardest part. After I knew what I wanted to do, it was a matter of self-discipline to stay the course. I recommend getting an accountability partner or group to help you stay focused. Whether that is your significant other, a friend, support group or coach, you are going to need someone to kick you in the pants from time to time when the going gets rough and you want to quit.
You will get tired, you’ll begin to doubt yourself and you’ll want to just settle for the life and job you have, but believe me if you can press on, you will come out of your career crisis stronger, wiser and in the best career for you.
Although your version of quarter-life crisis may be different from mine, my guess is you’re likely asking yourself the same questions I did. Will I ever find a career I like? What do others think of me and my failure? How will I ever get back on track?
Rest assured, you can find your dream job. The good news is the key to the lock on your career lies within you.