What do you want to be when you grow up?

This question has been around forever, and has haunted all of us since early childhood. While we were still trying to figure out how to tie our shoes and color inside the lines, grownups were already asking us pointed questions about our lifelong ambitions and goals!

Getting older didn’t make the answer any easier—not while we were dealing with the drama in choosing majors, internships, externships, and co-ops – all opportunities designed to get us closer to our careers. Of course by then, lots of us had made our choices, but a lot more still felt unsure (while being careful not to show it.)

But what if you didn’t (or don’t) have an answer to the question, “What do I want to be when I grow up?” and you have NO idea how to get started.  It may be easier than you think.

First Step: Stop freaking out. Yes, we’re in college or getting ready to graduate and we have to decide what we want to do with our lives RIGHT NOW, but we still have time. You have your whole life ahead of you to find what you really want to do. Believe it or not, even after you are sure, you will probably change your mind! Most professionals you meet will tell you that they didn’t choose a major until their junior year, or their post-graduate studies. For many, their occupation now is not even related to what they majored in.  When in doubt, always remember you can change your mind.

Second Step: Think about what really, really interests you. If you start your career selection process off by thinking about what will make you the next Bill Gates, then you’ve got the wrong idea. If you aren’t truly interested in your studies, then you won’t work hard on them. You also won’t perform as well as you think you will. Think back to elementary school. You always did best in your favorite subject, right? That’s still true. So discover what you really like and go from there.

Third Step: Narrow it down. Think of choosing a major, graduate program, or job opportunities as a funnel. You dump a lot of stuff in the top and you get a little stuff out. After you have figured out what you are genuinely interested in and good at, create your own image instead of trying to fit yourself into one that may seem ideal, but just isn’t for you.

Yes, all of this is ‘easier said than done,’ but it can be done . . .it just takes time and some focused attention. With the job market in its current state and a cost of education that keeps on climbing, it is hard to be optimistic about your future career.

The best way to conquer that frustration is to take advantage of opportunities that come to you. It may not be what you have always dreamed of, or what you envisioned yourself doing, but you never know what an unlikely opportunity might turn into! It could be your long lost dream job, or just a step in a new direction. You won’t know if you don’t try.