Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Don't read this if you know exactly what you want to do with your life

Yesterday I had lunch with some friends who are in their last year of college and are feeling very anxious about the next steps. They shared:

"Ugh, I hate not knowing what I'm going to do with my life!"

And I thought I'd share with you what I shared with them.

It's okay. 

You don't have to know. 

While it is really important to have some kind of plan so you can focus your energy in a particular direction and towards developing a particular skill set, it's okay if you don't know exactly what your post-college future will look like. 

For many of you, the jobs you will have don't even exist yet. If you had asked me after college what I'd be doing I could have never pictured this. 

While traditional careers lend themselves to clear five-year plans, we are in a time of transition and rapid economic change, so the picture can be pretty uncertain. 

But the good news

In my many interviews and readings about successful people, it's become clear that those with the most exciting and successful careers were never quite able to answer the question "what is your dream job." 

A lot of really successful people who do big things in the world didn't know what their future would hold when they started out.

But of course that doesn't mean they just stared at the sky hoping the answer would come. Most feel that same anxiety about the future, but they don't let that stop them from working really hard to grow and contribute in the meantime. 

This became more evident than ever to me in the book I started reading last week, My Life With Martin Luther King, Jr., by Coretta Scott King. 

I was struck by a section where Coretta explained that when he was in his early 20's MLK Jr. knew he wanted to be a minister, and knew he cared deeply about the discrimination and segregation in the south, but he never could have imagined he'd be leading a civil rights movement. 

What he did during his early 20's, however, was key, and it's the same for anyone who wants to succeed even if they are unsure what they are going to do with their life at the moment:

1) Learn - MLK Jr. was determined to get the best training possible, and attained his PhD by the age of 25. Coretta explains that his intense studying did not stop after he received his doctoral diploma - he was always learning. 

Do not limit yourself to your college curriculum, and don't stop studying after college. Surround yourself with books that can teach you more about the subjects that fascinate you. 

2) Contribute - MLK Jr. began speaking publicly at a very young age, and his oratory skills were incredible. He immediately began using those skills to inspire and uplift others, becoming an assistant minister when he was in his early 20's. He recognized the privileges he had growing up, and began immediately using his oratory talents and education to empower others with a sense of hope and self that served as a crucial foundation to the beginnings of the civil rights movement. 

You should not wait to contribute. Do it now, with whatever you've got. You never know what it could be preparing you for. 

3) Act - When Rosa Parks decided to stay in her seat, MLK Jr. and the people he had been working with saw an opportunity to do something big. They organized the bus boycott and he soon became the symbol and the leader of the civil rights movement. Reading about his personal journey from his wife's perspective highlights how his years of learning and his spirit of contribution came to prepare him to lead such a crucial moment in history. 

When you engage deeply, learn intensely, and care about others you will see opportunities no one else does. And when you act, you never have to think about "what you should do with your life." Because you'll just be doing it. 

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