In the 2004 musical Avenue Q, Princeton is a 22-year-old graduate desperately searching for his purpose. By the end of the show, he concludes that, actually, he has no idea what his purpose is – and maybe that’s okay.
I LOVE this.
It feels as though it’s been drilled into us from day one. Follow your dreams! (But only if they’re realistic.) Find your purpose! (As long as it makes you lots of money.) Get a good job! (Wait, what does that even mean?)
‘Passion’ is another buzzword we’ve heard a lot of. Many of us have been told that the only way to achieve job satisfaction, to truly ‘make it’, is to find work in a field we are passionate about. And don’t get us wrong – caring about what you do is obviously a good thing! But when words like these are overused, they lose their meaning. We churn them out on autopilot in job applications and at interviews, without really thinking about what they mean.
The problem with ‘dream jobs’
At the risk of sounding extremely cheesy, careers are a journey, not a destination. We understand the value of planning and exploring your career prospects early on. But this is not to say you are doomed if you don’t know what you want to do.
If you expect to have your dream job all figured out by the time you graduate, you are closing the door on so many other opportunities. You’re also putting yourself under unnecessary stress. Very few of us stay in the same job or even the same sector our entire working lives. Career paths are not so linear anymore. The skills you gain early in your career can help you pivot into other jobs. They can also help you understand what it is you enjoy. It’s okay if your vision of work is still a little fuzzy right now – you’ve got plenty of time to figure it out.
Work is work
There’s also a lot of talk about finding fulfilment and purpose in your work, and for good reason. At the Careers Service, we want to support you in finding meaningful work that you enjoy, are good at, and care about.
However, sometimes when we are thinking about how to answer those tricky interview questions – why do you want to work for us? Where do you see yourself in five years’ time? – we get caught up in what we are ‘supposed’ to value. The pressure to find our dream job can lead to us ignoring our own personal values – things like work-life balance and flexibility. If you enjoy your job and it meets your needs, there is no need to get hung up on what your purpose ‘should’ be. ‘Should’ statements can lead to or exacerbate existing anxiety, causing us to feel dissatisfied with what we have already achieved.
My career path is different from what I studied
This goes hand in hand with those pesky ‘should’ statements. Most of us have a vague idea of what we can do with our degree, but what if you end up doing something completely different? Is that okay?
Our answer: yes! Your purpose in work does not have to be a carbon copy of what you studied at university. Remember, the average person changes career seven times throughout their life, and so diverging away from your degree discipline is perfectly normal. Consider how versatile and employable this makes you: you’re not rigidly confined to one career. Too little structure can leave us feeling aimless, but we can use flexibility to our advantage. Read more about transferable skills and how they can open doors for you.
Your purpose at work isn’t necessarily clear when you graduate. Often, it’s something you figure out along the way, from past and future experiences: good, bad, and everything in between. We can help you understand what motivates you – get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.