A professional wrestler runs for governor of Minnesota and wins. The owner and pastry chef of my neighborhood bakery is a former investment banker. A friend from college who was a computer scientist for seven years now makes her living as a sailboat captain in Seattle.
How did these people get where they are today? Through a combination of luck, confidence and lots of self-awareness. As you contemplate where your own career might take you after college, it's impossible to know what opportunities fate may throw your way. What you can do, however, is identify your interests, talents and values, and then explore occupations that might make good use of them. If you follow the three-step process below, you won't just be sitting back waiting for careers and jobs to land in your lap. You'll be working toward discovering what makes you happy.
Figure out what makes you tick by asking yourself these questions:
* What sparks and holds my interest?
* What do I do well?
* What kind of personality do I have?
* What's really important to me?
Take any career-related tests your college's career center might offer. Or think of times when you've enjoyed and excelled at a job, internship, class or aspect of your personal life. A great book to read for help with this process is Do What You Are by Paul Tieger and Barbara Barron-Tieger.
Learn about your career options. Rarely do you have the opportunity to take a class in college that shows you what the work world is like. You have to take the initiative to explore it yourself. See if your college's career office has a library of books describing different kinds of work, the typical qualifications needed and the salary ranges for various occupations. Your college's career counselors should be able to help. Also, talk to people through informational interviews, and try out careers by shadowing and taking internships or part-time jobs.
Sort out your priorities. After you've spent time on steps one and two, some of your strong preferences may start to emerge. You might learn you don't want to be in a corporate environment: That rules out investment banking. Or you might find that your interest in art wouldn't sustain a career, so you cross those types of jobs off your list. Whatever it is that you learn about yourself, you're making important discoveries that will help you choose a good career when the time comes.
Most importantly, keep it all in perspective. Remember: You don't have to live forever with any career decision you make now. Most people change careers several times during their lives, so the first job you choose right after college probably won't be your career 40 or 50 years from now -- unless you want it to be. So don't put too much pressure on yourself to make the perfect decision, and always keep your eyes open.