Discover Your Path: Navigating the Journey to Authenticity through Career Exploration

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Navigating a new work environment can be challenging. You’re just starting your career and might feel grateful for the opportunity, but at the same time, may notice that unfair expectations are being placed on you. You may feel socially awkward around those older than you and like you have nothing in common with those further along in their careers or personal lives. You might even find yourself wanting to create healthy boundaries around time and relationships at work but feel like you haven’t yet “earned” the right to do so.

At the same time, you’re forming your identity. This is the time when you’re figuring out who you are, who you’re not, and who you want to be. While our identities shift and evolve throughout adulthood, young adulthood is when we’re exploring different versions of ourselves, trying things on to see if they fit, and deciding which parts of ourselves we want to keep and which parts to leave behind in adolescence.

The Transformative Power of Career Exploration in Shaping Your Identity 

Your new job is part of this process. As you’re navigating expectations, your boundaries, and social interactions, you’re figuring out who you are. Your career is giving you more than just a salary, it’s giving you a place to get clearer on your identity. But it doesn’t need to be stressful. It can be a fun way to get to know yourself. Perhaps you realize how much you enjoy the camaraderie of working together with a team and the collaboration process of making a project come to life. That’s great data! You can keep that in mind as you consider other positions. Or maybe you realize how hard it is for you to be assertive when others place unfair demands on you. You decide this is an area to build upon so it’s not an issue for you in the future.

You also get to decide the type of person you want to be at work, which may be a different version than what you’re used to. Maybe you’ve been unreliable in the past, but you now want to be someone others can trust. Get specific on what being reliable looks like at work and make the commitment to yourself to follow through. Once you’ve become accustomed to this new version of yourself at work, you can start implementing it in other parts of your life as well.

Empowering You

Many of the young adults I coach are navigating these very things and while it can be a bit tumultuous at times, it can also be liberating. As they’re figuring out what’s truly important to them and the type of future they want in their careers, they get better at setting boundaries because they know what they’re okay with and what they’re not. They navigate social interactions better because they feel more confident about who they are and who they’re becoming. And they know what expectations are reasonable and which aren’t because they’re clear on their own personal vision and road map.

5 Steps to Help You Create Purposeful Career Choices

  1. Get clear on your vision for your future. Take time to figure out what you want your future to be like. Journaling each day for 2 weeks where you focus on your best possible future will help you do just that. Pick a point in time (it can be different each time you journal) and write about what you’re like, what you do during the day, your hobbies, your work, your living situation. This exercise will help you figure out what you want for yourself and how your career fits into the picture.
  2. Create a road map. Now that you have a vision for your future, even if it’s still a bit foggy, write down the steps you’ll need to take to get there. Get as specific as possible and break down the bigger steps into smaller ones. Be sure to include your nonnegotiables, which are the things you absolutely want or need to do along the way and highlight those as a reminder of their importance.
  3. Decide how you’ll overcome obstacles. Expect that things won’t go smoothly and that there will be times where your motivation is low or you’ll run into major barriers. Figuring out what those might be and deciding how you’ll deal with them now will save you a tremendous amount of energy later.
  4. Find an accountability partner. We’re much more likely to follow through on things when we have someone else who knows our goal. Find a roommate, old classmate, or friend who has something they’re trying to achieve and decide how you’ll hold each other accountable. You don’t need to be working towards the same things- they could be trying to get in shape while you’re working towards a promotion- but you just need to be consistent in cheering the other on and in holding each other responsible for what you say you’re going to do.
  5. Take time to reflect and revise. You’re going to discover new things about yourself along the way so it’s essential that you take time to reflect on what you’re learning and make any necessary revisions. At the end of each month, write down what went well, what went wrong, and what you’ve learned about yourself. Consider your road map and make changes to goals, steps, or deadlines.

Young adulthood can bring feelings of uncertainty and instability. You might be surprised with what you discover about yourself as you navigate your career, which can also feel scary. Keep a journal to document your thoughts and feelings during this time. It’ll help you process what you’re uncovering and give you space to explore these thoughts and feelings further. Also make sure you’re taking care of yourself with the foundational pieces of mental wellbeing. Eat a balanced diet, stay hydrated, get in some form of movement each day, and spend time with people who inspire you.

Taking time to make purposeful career decisions will benefit you in the long run. You’re setting yourself up for a sustainable career path that is aligned with your values and your vision, which means greater happiness and success in your future.

Recognized nationally for her expertise, Dr. Melanie has been invited to the White House to discuss the paramount importance of teen mental health. To learn more ways to supercharge your mental health, check out Dr. Melanie McNally's Therapy Bootcamp.

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