A guide to understanding what you want to do in your career

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Whatever stage you’re at, the question of what you want to do will arise time and time again. Sometimes you’ll have a tidy answer, but at other times you’ll feel clueless, and the uncertainty might even prompt feelings of anxiety. However, you can be rest assured that you’re far from alone. A glance through our Creative Lives series will highlight just how many people have been in the exact same position. Drawing on their learnings, expert advice and our own observations, this guide will walk you through how to navigate the unknown, with practical techniques and actionable exercises to empower you along the first steps of your journey.

Unpacking the uncertainty

Before we delve into solutions, let’s take a deeper look at your current situation. The uncertainty surrounding your creative career path is not unfounded and often arises because of various factors.

🧠 What’s going on inside your head?

Indecision and choice paralysis
Faced with so many career possibilities, it’s only natural that you’d be indecisive about having to pick one path. What if you invest time into pursuing something and it doesn’t pay off? What if you have so many different interests that you can’t narrow them down – or, what if you’re not passionate enough about anything to make a career out of it?

All these “what ifs” stem from a deep-rooted anxiety around making a ‘wrong’ decision. But this perfectionism and self-pressure can lead to choice paralysis and procrastination.

Self-doubt and comparison
On top of that, insecurity and self-doubt might be convincing you that there’s no point in trying anyway – especially because it seems that so many talented creatives are out there, all vying for similar roles. By comparing yourself to others on social media and downplaying your own achievements, you could be holding yourself back from moving forward and reaching your full potential.

🌊 What’s going on outside?

Global uncertainty
It’s not just you, though. The unpredictable nature of the modern world also makes it much harder to make life decisions – so much so that it’s even taken on a fancy acronym: VUCA. Coined by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus, the framework refers to the “volatility”, “uncertainty”, “complexity” and “ambiguity” that we’ve been experiencing over the past few decades.

Changes in the job market
Off the back of a global pandemic and the advent of artificial intelligence, industries and jobs have also been rapidly evolving in recent years. So if you’re pondering over where you’ll fit in, which creative disciplines to pursue and how to future-proof your career, it might be contributing to your inability to decide on what to do.

🤔 Is being indecisive actually a problem?

Well… yes and no.

It’s completely valid to not have it all figured out right now, or indeed at any point in your life. Take it from Nils Westerlund, former design director at Doberman agency: having gone from making music to doing product design, his advice is to be “rest assured, that whatever you have planned will change, and that’s alright because it will be all the more exciting for it.” Plus, you don’t want to end up feverishly applying for any opportunity you see just for the sake of it, as you might end up burning out while scattering your efforts in a million different directions.

At the same time, you can’t stay stuck forever. Given how much our brains crave certainty, an indeterminate state of indecision can be really psychologically draining, especially when it seems like there’s no solution in sight. Staying stagnant for too long might also mean missing out on opportunities you’d never expected, from places you would have never thought to look.

How to get started

What should you do, then? We have four potential starting points that can apply to whichever stage you’re at in your journey, so meet yourself where you currently are and go for what feels most helpful for your own circumstances.

💭 Get to know yourself

The value of self-reflection
While it can seem counterintuitive to start figuring out your career by stopping to contemplate it, self-reflection is a powerful way of gaining clarity. After all, if you haven’t had time to cultivate an intention, how would you know where to focus your attention?

Through reflecting on your strengths, interests, experiences and aspirations, you’ll become more aware of what you find meaning in and which directions you’re being pulled towards.

How to get to know yourself
So take some time to consider what you’re good at, what excites you, where you’ve thrived in the past and what you’re curious to explore. From writing in a journal to creating a vision board, there are plenty of ways for you to go about self-reflecting, and below is just one that you could try out.

Interactive Exercise: Ikigai Diagram

The ikigai philosophy
Ever heard of ikigai? It’s a Japanese concept that revolves around finding a sense of purpose in life. But, far from opening up any existential spirals, it emphasises process over perfection and is grounded by four practical considerations:

  • What you love
  • What you're good at
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for

When you find the sweet spot where all four spheres intersect, that's your personal ikigai – your reason for being.

How to find your ikigai
Download our worksheet (or draw the diagram out) and fill in each sphere. Once you’re done, step back and take a look at your answers. Where do they overlap? Is there something that you love, you’re good at, is needed by the world and you can be paid for?

While you may not find something that ticks all of the boxes just yet, it's a great way to gain some insight into what truly matters to you and where your passions lie.

The Ikigai Diagram

📚 Do your research

The importance of learning
As the saying goes, knowledge is power. You may not know exactly what you want to do, but it can certainly help to explore what’s out there – especially because there are always new developments in the creative careers landscape.

Whether it’s a discipline you want to know more about or a skill you’ve been keen to pick up, educating yourself can help you hone your craft and expand your understanding of the industry. In fact, you might even discover jobs you hadn’t realised existed before.

Ways to build up your knowledge
To start exploring potential pathways, try taking a look at the Job Roles page on Creative Lives in Progress or the Job Profiles section of Prospects. These will help you learn about the skills, responsibilities, working culture and salaries for roles across the creative industries.

You could also attend seminars, conferences and workshops to gain a deeper understanding about certain topics or disciplines, as well as enrol in online courses on platforms such as Coursera, Skillshare and Udemy, to develop your skills in certain areas.

Interactive Exercise: Creative Exploration Journal

Setting aside learning time
Whether you’re looking to learn a new skill or diving deeper into industry knowledge, consistency is key when it comes to learning. So set aside time for it each week, and keep yourself accountable by documenting these creative explorations in a notebook or digital document.

Tracking your progress
Here’s how to go about it:

  • Establish the goal you want to achieve for that week
  • Write down the activity you’ll be undertaking to achieve it
  • Reflect on what you’re learning as you go along and set new goals accordingly

For instance, if your goal is to learn more about different career paths in publishing, you might search up job descriptions or look at the LinkedIn profiles of industry professionals. If you then find your curiosity being piqued by, say, sales roles in publishing, your next step could be to learn more about the publishing market and its current trends.

All of this will help you in future job applications and interviews – but it’ll also teach you more about yourself and your own interests.

💬 Talk to people

The need for networking
As many of our Creative Lives interviewees have shared, connections are crucial in the creative industry. While part of networking is about getting your name out there, it’s also about knowledge-sharing and building relationships within the community. This is especially useful when you don’t really know what you want to do. People know people, so even if they’re not in a sector you’re interested in, they might know a great person for you to talk to.

How to create new connections
If you’re looking to connect with other entry-level creatives, try attending events or participating in online communities – many of which you can find on websites like Eventbrite and Meetup.

If you’re hoping to gain insights from people within the industry, don’t be afraid to reach out directly to more senior creatives for informational interviews and mentorship opportunities. With the wisdom they’ve acquired from their experiences, they’ll be able to share how they navigated their careers and advise you about yours. Just make sure you introduce yourself, have a clear objective, and come prepared with questions!

Interactive Exercise: No-Pressure Networking

Networking can be many things
Reaching out to others can feel daunting, but it really doesn’t have to be. Most people would be more than happy to shed some light on their professions or offer career advice, especially if they’ve been in a similar position before. Plus, networking doesn’t have to take place in a formal setting at all, because it can happen anytime.

An easy way to grow your network
To take the pressure off, try striking up a conversation with someone that you’ve encountered and found interesting. This could be a person you’ve noticed at a co-working space or a speaker you enjoyed listening to at a poetry reading – whoever it is, just ask a simple question to break the ice, find out more about their background and discover how they navigated their journeys.

Remember, it’s all about building authentic relationships, so start small and cultivate meaningful connections in your everyday life, before moving on to sending out those cold emails or approaching industry pros!

🤹 Pursue opportunities

The power of being proactive
We can almost hear you saying, “but the whole point is that I don’t know what I want to do!” Yet, not being 100% certain doesn’t have to hold you back from exploring opportunities that interest or excite you. It’s not so much about following a passion as it is about following your curiosity – because you never know what you might learn or who you might meet through your experiences.

Not to mention, opportunities emerge from other opportunities. Just by taking action, you’ll be gaining momentum and opening new doors, alongside building skills and experiences through real-world applications.

When to start pursuing opportunities
This step works especially well once you’ve had the time to reflect on your interests, done your research and spoken to others in the industry, because all of these elements help to cultivate a more intentional approach to applying for opportunities.

Interactive Exercise: Opportunity Goal-Setting

Set a goal
Start by setting a goal – this could be as short-term as you’d like, but be sure to make it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and time-bound. In other words, it should be a SMART goal that produces a particular outcome in a designated time frame.

For example, instead of having a vague aim to learn more about the fashion industry, set a goal such as “Gain work experience in a fashion design role over three months in the summer.”

Take actions that align with your goal
Once you have your goal, start seeking out opportunities! If you’re still exploring what’s out there, you could try:

  • Doing an internship
  • Work shadowing at an agency or company
  • Taking on some freelance assignments
  • Starting a project of your own
  • Trying out virtual work experience on platforms like Springpod, 4skills, Forage and Start

The CLIP opportunities board is always brimming with creative opportunities for a wide range of disciplines, and you can also check out our lists of places to search for creative jobs in the UK as well as platforms to find creative jobs outside of London.

🌟 Bonus tip! Confidence

Whichever technique you choose to start with, the most important thing is to believe in yourself – and the first step to cultivating that confidence is to stop saying that you don’t know what you want to do. There’s nothing wrong with admitting it, but repeatedly emphasising your uncertainty can leave you feeling helpless and make it more challenging for others to help you as well.

So instead of shying away the next time someone asks what you want to do, talk about all the things you’re thinking of doing, or are interested to learn about. Be open to trying new things, take small steps, embrace this stage of exploration – and, no matter what you do, remember that your journey doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s.

Written by Nicole Fan