The puzzling question, “What am I going to do with my life?” will rear its ugly head at many points in your life. As daunting as it is, you are not alone. Finding out what you are interested in, good at and can be paid for can be very difficult – these three things rarely overlap perfectly. Let us kickstart a meaningful inquiry into your career choices, skill sets and goals by distilling career planning into three types of goals; much like the process of puzzle-solving.
Getting the big picture - Long-term goal setting
Which industry do I want to be in? What type of environment can I thrive in? What kind of career would suit me?
Your long term goal will inevitably define your medium and short term goals, so it is important to decide this first. It can be incredibly daunting to commit yourself to an industry because it feels like a lifelong commitment. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Many people make career switches, bringing their life experience and transferable skills from one industry to the next. The only thing you need to consider is where you see yourself in 10 year’s time. Nobody really predicts further than that.
Ikigai is the convergence of what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and what you can get paid for. The word refers to having a direction or purpose in life, that which makes one's life worthwhile, and towards which an individual takes spontaneous and willing actions giving them satisfaction and a sense of meaning to life. When it comes to long-term planning, Ikigai can be a useful tool to structure our thoughts.
Ask yourself, what ideas, stories and environments excite you? What do you find yourself getting effortlessly drawn to?
Some indicators of what you might be interested in could be reflected in the media you consume, the classes you paid most attention to in school, or ideas you find yourself thinking about on a daily basis. A genuine interest in a field of study will eventually show itself through your subconscious actions.
However, it isn’t always that easy to identify a career-suitable interest. You need something that can also get you the type of lifestyle you aspire to. Do you prize stability over instability? Does a 9-5 work day sound like a waking nightmare or a comforting amount of structure? Most jobs will be somewhere in between both ends of the spectrum, but some will be a more comfortable fit for you than others. For example, the creative industry is known for having a more volatile working environment, with a higher degree of flexibility as opposed to corporate industries like finance and law, where hours are concrete.
Moreover, you need a working environment that suits your personality type. Would you prefer a highly social, collaborative job or one where you work alone? Someone very agreeable may not fare well in highly competitive working environments such as finance, whereas someone with a lower ability to compromise may find themselves more comfortable doing independent work such as auditing or accounting.
Looking at the middle – Medium-term goal setting
What do I need to do in order to achieve my long term goals? Which skills do I currently possess?
After finding out which industry you are interested in, the next step is finding out which skills are relevant to your industry of choice? Do a deep dive into the industry; find out the key leaders, the skills that are most important and most in demand. Do you possess most of these, or do you lack a lot of them? After this, ask yourself: how I can build these skills?
For some, the order might be reversed. You might not find your dream career by identifying industry then skill, but instead by identifying your skills first, allowing your natural talent to lead you to the industry of your choice. What is it that you feel most confident about doing? If unsure, ask your teachers, family and friends. More often than not, they will be able to tell you what you are good at.
A lot of soft skills can be transferable across industries, especially leadership, teamwork, communication, creative problem solving and critical thinking. These qualities will aid you in whatever job you end up in. It might be worth taking time to develop these areas through courses that require collaboration, innovation and analytical thinking.
That said, hard skills are necessary to excel in some jobs. While careers in law and medicine have a high barrier to entry, skills in digital marketing, coding and design can be learned through a variety of online courses. Mastery to a level of professionalism with skills will undoubtedly take longer than a couple of months, but you can start off with short-term goal setting.
SkillsFuture Singapore publishes comprehensive Skills Frameworks across a range of industries to create common skills language for individuals, employers and training providers. The one for Design which our UI/UX program aligns with can be found here.
Finding corner pieces – Short-term goal setting
What are my immediate next steps? What are my limitations?
Following the medium-term goal setting, the only thing left to determine are short-term goals, which can be anything you want to achieve from 1 week to within the next months. These are the practical actionables that are going to propel you forward into achieving your medium-term goals and eventually, your long term goals. The type of short-term goals you should set depends on the speed at which you need to (and can) pursue them.
Do you just want something fun and challenging to fill your time with? Is this something you already have experience in and are hoping will be a stepping stone into the job of your choice? The former can afford a slower progression, while the latter might require a higher intensity of attention.
For instance, you probably shouldn’t park a huge sum of money on something that you only want to do as a hobby. Dipping your toes into the water shouldn’t come at an exorbitant cost or turn into a huge time commitment, especially if you’re a complete beginner. If you’re just looking for exposure, prioritise relatively low-investment courses. Plus, there are many upsides to the self-taught route, including flexibility, low cost and a more relaxed journey of growth. This is a great approach for skills that might only be supplementary to your career choice.
Alternatively, if you want career-furthering, consider post-training outcomes. Be clear on what placement opportunities are offered after the course, as some course facilitators organise networking events while others use direct placement. Also, look for whether hiring companies recognise the course qualification and if they prefer one software over another.
Be sure to read through the course syllabus and have the course manager answer any questions you may have. Don't be afraid!
Collecting all the puzzle pieces
In summary, the course you take and the career you end up in depends on your passion, skills and personal limitations. Everyone has different needs and capabilities, so take your time deciding which one suits you best. You can also take comfort in knowing that there are thousands of people all around the world facing the same questions, figuring it out as they go along. Not everyone gets their career right on the first try, and that’s okay!
Despite all the long-term, medium-term and short-term planning you do, there is still value in allowing life to take you where it chooses. At the end of the day, what's most important is listening to your intuition while considering the wise counsel of people who love and trust you.