7 Ways to Build A Career That You Love In Your 20's

As a twenty something year old, I empathize with the anxiety, sleepless nights, and confusion that comes with starting to think about building a career, not just any career, but a meaningful one. Often times, recent college graduates (I’m in this boat with you) struggle to figure out what they want from a job or long-term career path.

After stepping out of the higher education bubble, which includes cramming for exams, reading endless textbooks, and writing essays at 2 am (we have all done this at least once), and maybe armed with some internship experience, the world becomes our oyster, which is terrifying.

We have absolute freedom without a real sense of personal or professional direction, but this will change over time. Trust me, it won’t be easy. You will continue to worry about how your life and career ends up falling into place, but I’ve learned the most important thing to do is trust yourself and commit to the process of creating a career from scratch. These are some tips to help you build a career you love.*

1. Ask Yourself 3 Questions

The first step in building a career you love and finding meaningful work requires looking deep inside and asking yourself:

  • Question 1: What do I want to do with my life?
  • Question 2: What is my gift?
  • Question 3: What contribution do I want to make to the world?

Sean Aiken is the founder of The One-Week Job Project – an inspiring journey across North America in which he worked 52 jobs in 52 weeks to find his passion. He trekked more than 46,000 miles, slept on 55 couches, raised over $20,000 for charity, and tried every job he could: Bungee Instructor, Advertising Executive, Stock Trader, Baker, NHL Mascot, and more.

He says, “If we don’t genuinely explore these questions, we risk looking back with regret.” It’s important to keep asking yourself these questions time and again because your answers may change as you continue to grow in experience.

Watch his TED Talk here:

In 2010, he published a book “The One-Week Job Project” and released the feature-length documentary. Now the OWJ project has gone global, with new participants launching their own journeys.

2. Develop a Personal Mission Statement and Career Capital

The second step requires some research. First, try creating a list of organizations and companies you would be interested in applying for a job. In general, reading job descriptions is a good way to learn about qualifications, requirements, and responsibilities for a given position (visit globaljobs.orgrework.jobs,themuse.com, or idealist.org). That said, zero in on the mission and vision of the organization or company, does their mission resonate with you? Do their values align with your values?

Also, you should consider developing a personal mission statement and career capital:

Develop a Personal Mission Statement

Your personal mission statement should be a concise representation of what’s most important to you, what you desire to focus on, what you want to achieve, and, ultimately, who you want to become. This is a 3-step process:

Step 1: Identify Your Values

Step 2: Identify Your Goals

Step 3: Write Your Mission Statement

Develop Career Capital

Career capital are the skills you have that are both rare and valuable and that can be used as leverage in defining your career.” ~ Cal Newport, assistant professor of computer science at Georgetown.

As Newport writes, “control over what you do and how you do it is such a powerful force for building remarkable careers that it could rightly be called a ‘dream‐job elixir.’” And what’s its essential ingredient? Career capital.

3. Focus on Exploring Multiple Sectors

Personally, I have explored three sectors within the past year: international exchange, consultation services in India’s education sector, and social innovation. These experiences are different from one another, but I have developed skills and learned new ways of thinking that can be applied to other sectors that I intend to explore in the future. Nowadays, young professionals are being encouraged to experiment with a variety of field, which is sage advice.

Figuring out what you like and what you want to do will mean testing the waters and finding your footing within a variety of areas and jobs (this is super exciting!). The possibilities are limitless at the outset of your career, I urge you to take advantage and become a risk-taker (whatever that means for you).

In this illuminating talk, Emilie Wapnick describes the kind of people she calls “multipotentialites” — who have a range of interests and jobs over one lifetime. Are you one?

Watch her TED Talk here:

Emilie Wapnick has been a musician/songwriter, a web designer, filmmaker, writer, law student and entrepreneur. “This is how I’ve always lived,” she writes, “moving from interest to interest, building on my skills in different areas, and synthesizing the knowledge I acquire along the way.”

As a career and life coach, she helps other people with wide and varied interests understand and appreciate who they are, in a society that asks us to pick a lane and stay in it. Her work with “multipotentialites” has resulted in the book Renaissance Business and the interesting website Puttylike.

4. Start Creating a Personal Brand

What is a personal brand?

The art of building a unique brand around yourself as an individual.

A personal brand requires: (1) credibility, (2) expressing a unique voice, (3) consistency throughout your resume/CV, cover letters, online presence (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and/or personal website) and introducing yourself to others for the first time, (4) recognizable standard (your readers and fans can grow to recognize you), and (5) self-marketing to differentiate yourself from the competition. A brand gives you the power to come across honestly, clearly, and powerfully.

Why do you need a brand?

Well, it’s simple, you are showing potential employers, clients, and the world at large who you are and what you stand for. When you are able to articulate a consistent and well-developed brand, you stay competitive in the job market.

In short, personal branding is the modern resume. One interesting and creative approach to build your brand is to use pictures. Pictures have the ability to tell our stories better than written word. With studies claiming 43 percent to 75 percent of employers check social media prior to hiring, every young professional should invest in putting her/his best foot forward online, including her/his photos.

5. Eliminate the Word “Networking” from Your Vocabulary

You are building relationships and getting to know people, and having new and exciting conversations. The concept of “networking” has become more like a business transaction, tic-for-tac, but it should not be laced with the pressure of unmet expectations and outcomes. Instead, think about “networking,” or rather building relationships, as an opportunity to have a genuine conversation with someone and maybe, just maybe, build a meaningful relationship based on common interests. This required a lot of effort on your part, but if you have a sincere interest in getting to know someone, the effort will be worth it.

6. Tell Your Story

Human beings are storytellers, and each of us has a compelling story to tell about who we are, how we found (or stumbled upon) our interests, what motivates us, and what inspires us.

Storytelling is a key practice of leadership – giving meaning and contextualizing our past, present, and future through a cohesive story or series of stories.

Dave Isay puts forth a stunning example of the power of telling stories. He opened the first StoryCorps booth in New York’s Grand Central Terminal in 2003 with the intention of creating a quiet place where a person could honor someone who mattered to them by listening to their story.

StoryCorps has evolved into the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded. After collecting over thousands of archived and broadcast interviews, Isay has created an unprecedented document of the dreams and fears that touch us all.

At TEDIndia, Hollywood/Bollywood director Shekhar Kapur pinpoints his source of creativity: sheer, utter panic. He shares a powerful way to unleash your inner storyteller.

Watch his TED Talk here:

He says, “The stories we tell ourselves are the stories that define the potentialities of our existence. . . We tell our stories, and a person without a story does not exist.” Last year, I had the chance to hear him speak at a literary and film festival in Bombay, he is a very philosophical and inspiring individual.

7. Don’t Pursue Happiness

In the pursuit of happiness, we tend to overlook a very important aspect – feeling happy and living in the moment – and constantly chase after it.

To quote the song “Happiness” by The Fray, happiness is “a little more like knocking on your door, and you just let it in.”

“Look for it, and you’ll never find it all.”

Special Note: Give these tips some well-thought out consideration, but give yourself the latitude to change your mind too. What I mean is think ‘big picture,’ that’s the first place to start the exciting journey of building a career in your twenties.