I don’t know when we decided, as a society, that people should have their stuff figured out by age 30 but what a crock of sh*t if I do say so myself. We worry about women who are still single at age 30. Or who haven’t decided if they want children. And we call someone “floundering” or “unfocused” if they’re still figuring out what they want to do for a living at that age. People: thirty is still young. I’m proud of those who’ve allowed themselves to do some exploring rather than commit to some serious commitments at that age. And I honestly worry about those who have locked themselves into some life-long arrangements at that age. Did you know that the decision-making part of our brain continues to develop until we’re 25? So, really, only after that age should we start doing anything permanent. If you still feel lost about your career at age 30, don’t worry about it. It’s normal. And now here are some things you can do about it.
Stop ignoring it
If you have that nagging sensation that you’re headed in the wrong direction, don’t ignore it. This is the time to act. You don’t want to still feel lost at age 40 or 50 or beyond. Don’t just stay in your routine that you’re comfortable with, but not actually excited about. It only gets scarier to make changes as you get older, so do it now.
And, perhaps, avoid other lost people
You may have some lovable friends who are, well, very lost. Take a little space from them right now. Hang around individuals who are also trying to find their path, and who have made it a priority to figure out what they want to do with their lives in a real way. Their energy and motivation is infectious.
Have lots of coffee dates
Meet with people—lots of people. If you find what somebody does interesting, ask to take her to coffee and pick her brain. If you think you’d like to work in a certain industry or specific job, find someone who does, and take her to lunch—ask her everything.
Shadow a few people
You may even be able to shadow a few people. If you have close friends or family members who work in an industry that interests you, they’ll probably let you tag along for a day. This is the best way to get a look at that lifestyle.
Follow your curiosity
What are you curious about? Follow that curiosity. Your curiosity leads you to what will excite you. Be really open about this one. Don’t limit yourself. Your curiosity is a part of your intuition: though it may not seem obvious right now why you’re curious about this or that, it will become apparent.
Follow your passion
Follow your passion. You know what your passions are, right? So that should be an easy one. Is it art? Is it fashion? Whatever it is, start exploring and getting more involved in that area. Volunteer to tutor at an arts center for kids or ask to intern at an art gallery. Just immerse yourself more in your passion, and you never know if it may lead to a job.
Start at the bottom if you must
If you know what industry you’d like to work in, but you’ve already put so much time into another one, don’t worry about it. Just start at the bottom at the other one. You’re actually still quite young. Don’t let pride get in the way of being the coffee runner at a company you’d love to climb the ranks of.
Meet with a career counselor
Career counselors aren’t just for college students (nor should they be—did you have any idea who you were at age 22? I certainly didn’t). There are career-counseling services for people of all ages. They can really help you explore the specific jobs available to you within your passions.
What are your skills?
Ask yourself what your skills are. Again, be open-minded. You don’t only have to write down things you’d find on a typical resume. Maybe you’re great at making people laugh. Maybe you thrive in high-stress situations. If it comes to mind, write it down.
When are you the happiest?
Now ask yourself when you’re the happiest. Where are you the happiest? With whom? Think more critically—more specifically—about that. Maybe you’re the happiest outdoors. Maybe you’re the happiest on a stage. Or with kids.
Can you combine those?
Now think of your skills, where you’re the happiest, and see if there’s a way to combine those. For example: if you thrive in high-stress situations and are happiest in the outdoors, perhaps you could work for a company like Outward Bounds.
Don’t just follow money
Don’t make the mistake of just asking where the money is. This won’t make you happy. There are a lot of jobs that can be very lucrative while leaving you very miserable. Follow your passions and curiosities: the money will follow you.
Read everything you can
Consume books like it’s your job. Go to the library, and pick up every autobiography or how-to book that strikes your fancy. The former will give you more personal looks at certain lifestyles and the latter will be more technical. It’s good to read a mix of both.
Ask your friends to assess you
If you feel stuck, ask those who are close to you what you’re good at. They know. They have that insider yet outsider perspective.
Consider your future
Ask yourself what you want your life to look like in 20 years, and then 40 years. Would you want to be in a city? Would you want to be in the country? Would you hope to have raised kids at that point? Will you want to still be working? These questions will all help you hone your idea of what a good work-life balance looks like for you, and which jobs will facilitate that.