It seems that more than ever, young professional women are feeling “stuck” in their careers. As writer Lisa Miller puts it in “The Ambition Collision,” when it comes to having a vision for our careers, young women have “lost it, like a child losing grasp of a helium balloon.” They feel “adrift,” “discontented” and “contemplate bleak futures” for their professional lives.
It’s likely that up to this point, life has been a sequence of checking items off a to-do list in order to claim accomplishment. Think about it: grade school, college, internships, a first job and so on. We assume our path is a steady climb to the top, but it might look less linear in reality.
“The truth is, you don't really know what you want until you experience it," says Anna Goldstein, an NYU certified life and business coach. "You have a lot of beliefs about what it means to be successful and when you're just starting out in your career, it's hard know what all your options are.”
From the day we receive our college diplomas, we think about our careers in terms of what we should do. If you’re feeling stuck, it’s time to figure out what you want to do. Goldstein recommends three steps to start:
Find a mentor
Someone who has more professional experience than you and can help you identify your strengths. Having a support system in place will give you the courage to go for new opportunities, pick you up when you fall down and keep you motivated along the way. Surround yourself with positive people.
Pay attention to when you feel excited
What are you naturally drawn to? What comes easily to you? What would your friends and family come to you for? Knowing yourself will help you find work that is aligned with your passion and talents.
Let yourself dream.
Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” When we are stuck, it's usually because we are looping in the same thoughts over and over again. Think outside the box. Take risks. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain — especially in your 20s!
Once you identify your interests, passions and strengths, you might find that your career is meant for a different path. Your first inclination may be to seek a new full-time job. But, be wary — a report by Jobvite found 46% of job seekers feel it’s been harder to find a job in 2017 than last year.
If the job search is coming up empty or you’re not entirely sure you’re ready to leave your current role, consider a side hustle. Whether it’s freelance work or inventing a new product, you can begin to feel more fulfilled by pursuing something else in your spare time. In fact, the Jobvite report shows 25% of job seekers have a second source of income outside their regular job.
If you're worried about balancing a full-time job and a side hustle, Goldstein says passion and motivation will help you find the time. And while our careers are important, Miller argues, we place too much weight in how they define us.
“No woman should be expected to find all her happiness in one place,” she writes. “The lesson for my discontented friends is not that they should ditch their professional responsibilities, but that they should stop looking to work, as their mothers looked to husbands, as the answer to the big questions they have about their lives.”