Advice Forum: What Do I Do With My Life?

Photograph by Alma Lo

Hi Tigress Mag,

I’ve never been one of those people who know instinctively what to do with their life. I’ve gone through phrases where I want to study x after high school, or pursue a career in y, etc—but that’s all they’ve been—extremely varied phases. Coupled with the fact that where I live, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find a job (in most areas) without having to move interstate/overseas, therefore the “smart” option is to study something with good job opportunities regardless of whether you like it or not. I don’t want to spend my life doing something I half-heartedly like though…help?


Lost, dazed, and very confused

Dear lost, dazed, and very confused,

For the entire duration of my childhood, I dreamed desperately of becoming a writer. (There was a brief moment when I contemplated a career as an astronaut, but that didn’t last long.) Whether I was into poetry or short stories or nonfiction, I just wanted to be sitting at a desk in a quiet house somewhere, turning daydreams into books.

I loved words. The mundane act of putting pencil to paper always felt like magic.

I don’t remember a precise moment when that dream got crumpled, but I think it probably happened in small, tiny punches as I grew up, learning slowly that writing books wasn’t a particularly practical nor reliable occupation. At “career day” in elementary school, no writers came to talk to my class—doctors, yes, and insurance agents and engineers and an event planner who was everyone’s favorite because she brought fun free giveaways, but no writers. By high school, I still wanted to write, but I listed psychology as my prospective major on my college applications because it sounded more impressive, and then I wound up studying communications—two separate subjects that danced around my truest passion from what I figured was a more realistic place.

After internships in marketing and nonprofit advocacy, I took my first job in public relations, because it was the job I could get and because it sounded interesting and because, frankly, I didn’t know what else to do. It took me six months to realize that I hated public relations. So, I worked as an assistant for a fashion blog; I worked as a photo stylist; I worked in retail. I let my curiosities guide me into opportunities I hadn’t predicted nor particularly prepared for, like consulting on social media strategy (something that just happened to come naturally to me) and photographing portraits and events (something that I just enjoyed as a personal hobby). When I was asked to take on unexpected projects, I said yes.

I’m 25 now, and I’m still exploring. I still can’t predict how I’ll possibly be paying my rent in five years or ten years or fifteen years, because each new job opportunity shifts my perspective. Each venture teaches me more about what office environments fuel my productivity (and don’t), what motivates me (and doesn’t), what I’m good at (and not so good at), what stresses me out versus stokes my spirit, and what I’m still yearning to learn.

And do you know what else I’m doing now? I’m writing. I’m writing for a variety of magazines and websites like this one, and I’m working on a book.

Here’s the point: I’m one of those people who knew instinctively what to do with my life, and it still took time to come around to it. I’m so glad it did. It’s good to be lost, dazed, and very confused, because bewilderment leaves room for experimentation. It’s an opportunity to consider a wide range of options, to explore until you find the job that’s your true match, and to ask more questions. Here are some of the questions you might want to be asking:

How are your varied phases linked together? When you look at the different vocations you’ve considered, what’s the common thread? It might be thin and hard to spot, but there is one. Try jotting down each one of the possibilities and listing what attracted you to it in the first place—find the overlaps.

What are you curious about?

How do you want to feel on a daily basis? What values drive you?

What’s the way you relate best with others? A profession is a public pursuit—it’s the impact you make on society through interaction with your fellow humans. For you, perhaps it’s helping people who are otherwise under-served. Perhaps it’s making people feel less alone. Perhaps it’s entertaining people. Perhaps it’s teaching people to see things differently.

What mundane act has always felt, to you, like magic?

I think it’s deceptive to refer to careers as “callings,” as if they’re standing on the rooftops, shouting out our names. Really, your dream job might feel more like a quiet whisper, a tender poke, an invitation, a riddle. It might be messy. It might take time.

Just start somewhere. Simply start. Whether you choose the “smart” option or not, whether your first job bores you or thrills you, you won’t know what work works for you until you try it. What you’re choosing now is not necessarily the way you’ll spend your life—it’s only the first step in your trajectory. And as long as you let your curiosity continue guiding you, you’ll eventually wind up wherever you’re meant to go.




Alma Lo

Alma Lo is a photographer from Taiwan. See her photos on Flickr.

Leah Pellegrini

Leah Pellegrini is a Brooklyn-based writer, photographer, and creative communications strategist. She is also an avid doodler, a devoted journal-keeper, an avocado toast aficionado, and a concrete jungle explorer. She believes in small beauties, the significance of serendipity, and the healing powers of a sunset and a mug of hot tea. You can follow her on her Instagram account @leahcpell or find more of her work on her blog called The Core Stories.

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