This is a guest post written by Jenny Mullinder.
If you're anything like me, you dread the question 'what do you want to do with your life?' There are SO many things I could say in reply – I want to be happy. I want to travel. I want to love, and be loved. I want to make a difference, and leave a mark. I want to eat lots of food, and read all the books on my 'to read' list. I'd love to make lots of money, but it's not a priority.
A few weeks ago somebody asked me a different question: What are you passionate about?
The answer came easily; I love writing, especially blogging and creative writing, and I am also incredibly passionate about mental well-being. I'm determined to spread awareness that every single one of us has mental health – it's just the same as physical health, and I'm making it my mission in life to speak out on this issue and help young people look after their mental health.
I'm also pretty passionate about food, stationery, and cute baby animals. The things I'm passionate about are obvious to me when somebody asks. My passion comes across when I talk about those things (or write about them...) - but it wasn't always so easy. Growing up I struggled a lot to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, what my 'purpose' was, and what path I should take to reach the invisible goals I felt I should be working towards.
I've realised recently that the reason I struggled so much is because I was answering the wrong question. Or rather, I was answering the questions in the wrong order.
If I wanted to figure out my 'purpose' and set myself goals to work towards in life, then first I needed to figure out what I was passionate enough about to devote my energy and time to. For some people there's an intrinsic feeling from a young age that you have one 'calling' or activity which you are enthusiastic and excited about. It could be singing, art, dancing, writing, football, or a million other things. Some people seem to be born with a ready made, built-in passion which is switched on almost as soon as they enter the world.
For others though, it can take a lot of work, trial and error, and often frustration to discover their passions.
When I was a little girl, I loved writing. I started making up stories before I could write, and as soon as I picked up a pen I began scribbling my tales down to preserve them forever. Those early 'stories' make me cringe to look back at now, but they were the building blocks for one of my passions.
Without them I probably wouldn't have excelled at English in school, then took it at A Level and gone on to study Creative Writing at university. I wouldn't have bought huge A4 page a day diaries year after year, determined to write all about my life, and I certainly wouldn't have started my blog.
However despite all this, there was a time where I was unsure about pursuing or using writing as part of what I was going to 'do' in life. Before university I very nearly went to study marketing and communications, which would probably have led me down a very different path. I was interested in the media, as well as advertising and branding, and felt it was a more 'viable' career path than writing.
Luckily I didn't get into that course due to my Mum being ill meaning I dropped an A Level, so I ended up picking the city I loved most of all (London) and the thing I loved the most (writing) and applying through clearing to go to Greenwich. Best. Decision. Ever. (But that's a post for another day on my own blog...)
So how did I figure out my passions? Well it took years of self reflection, some personal tragedies, and a couple of internships which showed me what I really didn't want to be doing. I've worked out some top tips though, so you don't have to go through the same to get to your own passions!
Track your activities
For a week or two write down everything you get up to at school, work, or home. Even little things like 'organised my desk' or 'made lunch'. For each activity, give a score from 1-10 on how much you enjoyed it, where 1 is not at all and 10 means you loved it. Now you have a list of the types of activities you really enjoy doing, and the things you'd rather avoid if possible. Go through the list and think of some skills that you use when doing particular tasks, then write these down too so you have a good list of your talents!
If you're unsure where your talents lie (or don't feel confident enough to talk about things you're good at), ask a few close friends to list things they think you're good at. If they were asked to describe you, what would they say? The answers could be surprising, and make you think of things you didn't even realise you did well!
Think of the past
If you've kept a diary at all that will help, but even if not, think about things you've done in the past, whether it's work, volunteering, fun projects you did with friends, or a school assignment you particularly enjoyed. Write it down, and try to remember how it made you feel. When you've done this a couple of times you might see some patterns emerging, or a particular thing that you feel drawn to.
Have a conversation
When we talk about the things we're interested in, it's usually quite obvious – to others if not to ourselves. When you're in conversation with people about different topics, take notice of how they talk. Does their voice become more animated and loud? Do they move their arms or hands around a lot? Do they get totally lost in the topic and could talk about it for days? They're definitely passionate about it – and once you can notice other people's passions it might be a bit easier to notice your own. You can also ask them what you talk about with passion.
Check your browser history
This isn't to see if your mum has been using your computer, but rather to see which sites you spend a lot of time on. Do you visit Facebook several times a day? Maybe you'd love a career in social media. Hang out on Wattpad constantly? You could be a best-selling author! Watch a lot of Netflix? Well you might be procrastinating, but you could also become a TV critic... No matter what you spend your time doing, there's probably a job related to it.
Explore different options
Once you have a general idea of things you're passionate about, it's time to do a bit of research. Look for job roles in those areas, or that utilise the skills you've identified and read the job descriptions. Even if the jobs are far more advanced than your current career level, in a completely different location, or don't sound quite as amazing as you'd hoped, it will help you build up more of a picture of the kind of things out there.
The goal here isn't to find jobs to apply for, rather to see what possibilities exist, so that you can have a goal in mind of where you might like to go in the future. Of course if any of these jobs sound perfect, then you can go ahead and apply! Your newly fired up passion will surely come through in your application and you could end up in your dream role!
Plan your path
Now that you've got an idea of the sort of jobs you could do with the skills and passions you have, you can make a plan on how to get there. Look at the experience/qualifications needed for your absolute dream job, and then work backwards. Need 5 years of experience but don't have any? Search for internships or work experience opportunities that can get your foot in the door, or consider doing a course which relates to the field.
For a lot of jobs, especially creative ones like writing, design, or web development, you can create your own experience. Build a portfolio and do new pieces of work, even if they're only to show your skills off to potential employers.
Use your connections
Now you've got a rough plan, it's time to call in any connections you may have to ask for advice/tips/heads up about opportunities they may know of. These can be people you actually know personally, but also those you admire in your chosen field.
Twitter is your friend here – if you follow a company or person who is doing your dream job, reach out to them. Send them a tweet telling them something you admire about them or the work they do, and strike up a conversation. Before long you could be meeting up for coffee and getting the chance to pick their brains about the industry. I've made so many connections this way, and even met some friends! (It's through Twitter that I came across Holly :) )
Spend a bit of time to really commit to finding your passions, and you will start to live a much happier life. Then the next time someone asks you 'What do you want to do?' you can flip the question round and make it about your passions instead. It's a much more interesting conversation I promise.
Do you find it difficult answering the question 'what do you want to do with your life'? How have you managed to figure out your passions? Let us know in the comments!
Jenny is a Bristolian who made London her home for 5 years, then realised she was tired of the grind. She's moved North for love and her mental well being - now starting out as a freelancer and searching for the coffee shop of her dreams.