Figuring out the right career for you is an incredibly overwhelming decision. How are you supposed to know what you want to spend 1/3 of your day doing for the rest of your life?
Forget mid-life crises. More and more millennials and Gen Zers are having quarter-life troubles. Between a global pandemic and the rise of remote work, even the career aptitude tests that once helped are no longer relevant.
So how do you discover what you want to do with your life? And how do you know if a job is a right fit for you or not? Fortunately, there’s a surprising way to figure it out that will never require you to take another “passions test.”
Map Your Experiences
Your previous experiences hold the keys to everything you need to know about finding work that’s both successful and fulfilling. While you probably haven’t had experience in every industry out there, you’ve probably had at least a few successful or fulfilling experiences. That means that we have hard evidence of what is successful and fulfilling for you.
Every single person has reliable, predictable patterns of success and fulfillment. For some people, they’re always successful when they can be honest and vulnerable. They’re still thriving; then they get to be goofy and playful and zany.
The key to discovering your own is to map your previous experiences and look at where you’ve already been successful and fulfilled. Also, it’s a lot easier than it sounds. You’re going to be able to map those experiences for yourself by the end of this article.
Start with What’s Worked
To start, pull out a piece of paper and write down three successful things you already have in your life. They could be anything—a successful friendship, a successful relationship with your mom, a successful project you worked on at work or in school. It doesn’t matter where you start. We all can think of three successful moments.
Now, next to each of these moments, write down what you wanted to make other people feel from your efforts. For example, did you want your friend to feel Connected? Safe? Empowered? Intimate? Fun? Or, in that successful work project, did you want your boss to feel Proud? Supportive? Ecstatic? Invigorated?
Just jot down as many words as come to mind for each.
Flip It to Where You Haven’t Been Successful
Once you’re done writing those, let’s look at the opposite and see where you haven’t been successful. Think of three moments in life that have been challenging, frustrating, or unsuccessful. It could be something like a bad breakup, losing a work opportunity, getting a bad grade, or fighting with a friend. Take a moment to reflect on each of those three moments.
Write each one down, and next to each, write what you felt in those moments—maybe Sad or Scared or Frustrated or Angry or Lonely. Then, write what you wanted to feel—maybe Happy or Brave or Relieved or Peaceful or Connected. For example, let’s say that one of your moments was a bad breakup. Maybe you felt Isolated, Embarrassed, Hurt, Ashamed, and Ugly. Perhaps you wanted to feel Connected, Supported, Empowered, Proud, and Beautiful.
Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Take a look at your two lists and circle any empowering word that you see twice or more. For example, if you wanted to help people to feel Connected in that successful work project, and you wanted to feel Connected in your breakup, circle it. If you have any similar words—like Energized and Invigorated—you can circle those, too. Use your judgment.
Ideally, you have somewhere around 5-10 words circled. Suppose you’re under that number, circle any words that feel resonant. If you’re over it, see if you can condense any similar phrases into the overarching one. Now, take a look at the few words you have before you. In every single one of your most successful moments in life, did you feel all of those words? In your friendships? In your favorite job? In your most significant accomplishments?
Now, imagine the opposite of those words. Did you feel the opposite of those words in some of the most challenging, frustrating, unsuccessful moments of your life? If so, these words can help guide you to what you want to do with your life.
But How Does This Relate to My Dream Job?
We don’t have a job—or a relationship or friendship or anything in life—just for the sake of it. We do work because we want to feel something and share something with the world around us. Maybe we’re always looking for opportunities to make things more efficient. Perhaps we’re still trying to feel Freer, or we love being Funny and making people smile.
It’s something that’s been with us since we were born. It’s who we are. It’s showed up in our successful and unsuccessful moments because it’s in every single moment of our lives. It’s what’s made us successful in every friendship, relationship, and accomplishment we’ve had.
So, let’s pretend the words you’ve circled are Efficient, Free, Funny, Connected, and Healthy. We can use those words to guide you to the most successful and fulfilling work for you. So, we immediately think of something in the health space that will help you connect with people and make them laugh.
Maybe you start thinking something in the medical field as a doctor or nurse might match that. Perhaps you pick up the book or movie Patch Adams to think about bringing Funny and Connected to children at hospitals.
In your interviews, you stress how Efficient, Free, Funny, Connected, and Healthy you are and your commitment to making others feel those things. When you’re assessing schools and programs, you check in and make sure they can make you feel those things. Any time you’re stressed or struggling, you check to see if you’re doing things most Efficiently, Freely, and Funnily. We know that’s what works best for you.
It becomes an entire roadmap to success and fulfillment. If something doesn’t work out, you have an inherent map for what went wrong and which career might be a better fit. Because the job itself matters less than you feeling Efficient, Free, Funny, Connected, and Healthy, if you think those things, you will always be successful and fulfilled, no matter what.
Mapping Experiences is So Much More Than Just Work
While this short intro is incredibly insightful, it’s just the tiniest taste of how deep you can go in exploring your sensitivities. It applies to finding relationship success, body love, self-esteem, better friendships, more money—you name it. We all have an inherent formula for success and fulfillment. And we have the evidence of it in our lived experiences.
If you’d like to go deeper to discover those sensitivities for yourself, join this free 36-minute training to map your experiences: mikeiamele.com/map.
When You Know Who You Are, You Know What You Want to Do with Your Life
Knowing what you want to do with your life is so much more than just a career—or even a relationship. It’s about knowing who you are and how to get the most out of your life. You bring a unique blend of skills, passions, curiosities, and gifts that the world has never had before—and will never have again. Living the fullest life imaginable is about knowing what those are and how to share them with yourself and the world in every single moment. A lot of us live life like we’re shooting darts in the dark. If we’re lucky, we might hit the bullseye a few times. But, even then, we have no idea how we did it.
Mapping your experiences is like flipping on the lights. You know what leads to success and fulfillment for you—what hits your bullseye. It doesn’t mean you’ll get it entirely every time. But it means the lights are on, and with practice, you can get closer and closer.
Turn the lights on in your life and know how to live the life you deserve—and the one this world needs from you. Then shoot straight for the bullseye.