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Why it's ok to have no idea what to do

Book open Reading time: 17 mins

Choosing a career and knowing where to start can seem downright impossible. There are so many options. It’s daunting, confusing and often anxiety-riddled. Add to that advice that tells you to ‘follow your passion’ and ‘do what you love’ – you might like things, but do you really love them? It can all prove rather overwhelming. Here are five things to help you on that all-important path to figuring out what to do.


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1. Start Thinking about values

A great place to start is to identify your personal values because no one is happy when they do things they don’t believe in. Values are highly subjective and personal – there is no right or wrong. Start writing a list of attributes that matter to you now and what you think might become important as you get older. For example, maybe a balance between your professional and personal life is important.

Perhaps it’s earning a lot of money. You might be someone who wants to help others, or alternatively, you may be looking for something where you can develop your skills and train over a period of time. Of course, some of these values will change and develop throughout your career. In the first instance, try to make a list of values that sit well with you. To get you started, here are ten values. List them in order of importance: 

  1. Achievement
  2. Compassion
  3. Helping others
  4. Adventure
  5. Structure
  6. Routine
  7. Success
  8. Money 
  9. Risk
  10. Excitement

Take a career in a start-up – it might be great if you want to risk but not so good if you value structure and routine. Start thinking about what really matters to you. Look at the different types of roles and organisations out there and assess your values against them. It should help you in your process to identify what could be a good fit.

Read: Doing what you love, or loving what you do

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2. Identify your skills 

We all tend to be naturally good at some things and not so great at others. It’s no different when it comes to the world of work. If you’re someone who excels at selling and negotiating deals, the chances are your analytical skills might be somewhat weaker. Equally, if you’re very technical, your artistic or writing skills might not be as strong.

Of course, these are generalisations – exceptions do happen – but identifying what you’re best at will help you on your path to discovering what type of career could suit you. What’s more, knowing what you’re good at and not so good at is essential when it comes to an application process where you often have to identify your strengths and weaknesses.

Most skills tend to fit into a business function. For example, if you love process and order, then you’ll probably find you’re better suited to operational roles. Equally, if you’re good at influencing and chatting to people, you should be looking for a role that will involve you networking and liaising with colleagues and clients.

It can prove very helpful to get people around you to tell you objectively what they think you do really well and not so well – and get them to provide you with examples. Friends, family, teammates, society members and even part-time work managers can all give you valuable insights into where you perform best.

As legendary management guru, Ken Blanchard said, “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.” Sometimes it is hard to hear that you’re not good at certain things, but none of us are perfect and developing self-awareness around your own strengths and weaknesses will stand you in very good stead.

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3. Break down roles and sectors

All too often, students can become too fixated on a particular company or sector in which they want to work – such as finance or marketing – rather than the actual job they will do, e.g. operations or analyst.

By thinking about your skills (as previously mentioned), you’ll find you can apply them to many different sectors. There are great marketing, brand and advertising roles in finance businesses and analytical roles in advertising or media businesses.

By considering role types as much as you can, you’ll find a wider range of options that may be an excellent fit for you. This makes it more likely you’ll find a job you’ll love and thus excel at.

Take the time to think about what you’ll enjoy doing on a day-to-day basis, as well as the types of people and teams you want to work alongside.

Have a look at our career path guides for more information, or take our career path test to discover careers that match your skills.

4. Meet people 

There are a plethora of career options out there, each one full of people who have a great understanding and knowledge of what the job entails. Talking to people is one of the best ways to find out more about a particular career. At Bright Network, our graduate members regularly meet with undergraduate members to share their stories and pearls of career wisdom. Asking questions such as ‘what’s your favourite thing about your job?’ and ‘what do you enjoy least?’, ‘what does this role lead to?’ and ‘what skills do you need to excel?’ can be really helpful in identifying whether you would enjoy following a similar path.

You’ll find people are more than happy to answer questions about their careers and the decisions they’ve made along the way. That’s why so many graduates return to campus with their firm, to chat with students about their own choices.

Even in this digital age, career events remain one of the most helpful ways to explore your options – which is why so many people who attend Bright Network events find out exactly what it is they want to do! Remember, if you’re interested in a particular sector but lack the contacts, get in touch with the Bright Network team – we’re here to connect you to others and help you get the advice and insights you need.

Read our advice on networking.

5. Don't be afraid to experiment

It can take a long time to find the right career or role for you – even Steve Jobs spent 10 years “in the wilderness”.

It’s a question of experimentation as you test your values and skills against different roles, learning from those experiences what you like, and often far more importantly, what you don’t.

A career can’t be rushed, so don’t get too frustrated if it takes longer than planned. Some people might find their perfect career route straight after graduating, or even before, but many do not. Try not to compare yourself to others – everyone works out what they want to do at their own pace. There is no right or wrong, and the more experience you build up, the clearer it’ll all become. It’s no longer the norm to have just one career: most people have several.

Learn how to decide what job you'll love.

6. Imperfect action beats perfect inaction

So... You've been mulling over an idea for a while. Maybe it's an internship you've been thinking about applying for. Perhaps it's a new business venture. Or maybe you've been pondering taking up a new hobby. The big question to ask yourself is - have you made any progress with it?

If the answer is no, you're not alone. All too often and all too easily we fall into the trap of 'paralysis from analysis’. Far too many intelligent, talented and capable individuals overthink their idea, scrutinise it and never actually do anything with it. 

The key to success is to take action - ‘imperfect action beats perfect inaction’. This blog on Richard Branson’s approach highlights the importance of simply getting things going. Branson quit school to start a record business, chartered a plane when he had no money and now has over 400 companies under his Virgin flag. His secret – he got started.

Now of course Branson is something of an extreme example. ‘Getting started’ doesn’t have to mean taking massive risks but it does mean actually doing something rather than just pondering it. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll learn. So what are you waiting for? 

Echoing this idea is Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg - she says "done is better than perfect". Make sure you're thinking big, getting ahead and well, quite frankly, getting started. Good luck and above all, enjoy it. 

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