How To Leverage The Most Unlikely Place You’ll Find The Best Career Advice

Recently, I was part of a speaker series for BizTank Nonprofit’s Career Exploration program. Unlike my typical business-focused podcasts and speaker appearances, this one had a slightly different audience: high school juniors and seniors.

Among other things, I talked about my career journey from high school to the present day. I shared how I navigated my nonlinear path from a creative teen to a film major, to an advertising and branding executive, to the CEO of a travel and tourism nonprofit, to an industry consultant, and ultimately, founder of my strategic writing practice.

Like many high schoolers (and, let’s be honest, some working professionals), I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. But now that I’ve amassed more than three decades of experience, I can easily connect the dots of how I ended up as a professional writer.

My biggest career advice to students was to look in an unlikely place for inspiration: their childhood. The good news is that this works for adults, too.

When we enter the working world, we tend to discount our early dreams in favor of the more practical. Earning a steady paycheck is a prime objective, and rightfully so. However, as many gain valuable experience and regular employment, they lose sight of those aspirations, dismissing them as unimportant and irrelevant. But by examining our early years, we can find clues that inform and shape our present-day professional choices.

Here’s how to look back to move forward in your career:

Remember what you wanted to be when you were a kid

Most of us can recall that thing we most wanted to be. Some dreamt of becoming firefighters; others aspired to be astronauts, archeologists, or even the president. Maybe your idea of the ideal career was a unique blend of veterinarian and pop star.

Before you allowed any seeds of doubt or negative stories in your head to dissuade you, you felt the world was your oyster; you could be anything and anyone you wanted to be. Allow yourself to return to that time where anything was possible and rediscover what your younger self most desired.

Dig a little deeper to discover your overarching theme

Though some of our early professional aspirations may have been farfetched, it’s worth exploring the true reasoning behind our choices.

For instance, when you were a child, you might have wanted to be a painter because you enjoyed that activity. But perhaps it spoke to a greater need to find a way to express yourself to the world creatively. A girl who wanted to become a doctor may possess a strong desire to help people and positively impact the world. And a kid who dreamed of having his own business may be a budding entrepreneur who values autonomy and control over security.

Examining your preferences as a child can speak to themes that matter most to you, providing you with an aha moment to help you understand the real reason that profession was so appealing.

Review your career path to see how (or if) that theme applies

Once you identify your themes, review your career path to see if you can find how they show up (or not).

Are your preferred themes the common threads in all of your roles? Congratulations; you’re likely feeling connected to your calling, regardless of your job title. Continue to keep that theme front and center when weighing new opportunities to ensure it maintains its position.

One clue that a significant theme doesn’t have an opportunity to be present in your day-to-day? You’ll likely feel frustrated and unfulfilled in a role and may not understand why. There are all parts of our jobs that we find unappealing, but when you’re denied the opportunity to put your talents to their highest and best use under a theme that matters most to you, everything will feel harder than it needs to be, and you’ll be miserable. Moving forward, do what you can to adjust your role to incorporate your theme or seek a new position that better aligns with what matters most.