Here’s how you figure out what to do next in your career: You line up all the stuff you like to do and you figure out which one will pay best. Don’t complain to me that I’m too focused on money. Really. Just do the exercise. The ones who are complaining the most right now, after reading just this far, are the people who are most in denial of what adult life is about.
Look, figuring out what you should do is actually a hard task. Because you have to start eliminating stuff.
1.) Eliminate stuff. Cross off your list all the stuff that you like to do but that pays well only if you have the career-equivalent of winning the lottery. Stuff like being a feature film director, being an opera singer, or being the owner of the Chicago Cubs.
Then eliminate all the stuff that you think would be fun but probably will never pay well: working in a nonprofit, working in local government, being a travel writer.
2.) Look at what’s left. If you are a risk-taker, entrepreneurship is left. If you are not a risk taker, then something in corporate life is left. That’s because this is what adult life is for most people. You get up every day and work at a job you never dreamed about doing when you were a kid.
3.) Check in with yourself. Do you feel like you are going to die? Have you been writing songs since you were 5 years old and you cannot imagine living if you don’t write songs? You can still write them. At your house, after work. Have you been skiing every day you possibly can since forever? Then get a job in Aspen and ski at night.
You don’t need to go into journalism because you love writing. You need to write because you love writing. The same is true for everything else you love. Just because you love something doesn’t mean you need to get paid for it.
4.) Be honest about what you love. If you’re not making time to do it regularly unpaid, then you probably don’t love it. Here’s the litmus test: Sex. We do it regularly, unpaid, and we love it. Run this test on other stuff you supposedly love. Do you crave it like sex? Then you probably don’t love it that much. You probably love the idea of loving it, the idea of who you are when you say you love that thing.
When I graduated from college, I did all these things that I’ve just told you to do, and it was soul-crushing. The corporate jobs made me ill. But it was very clear to me what I wanted to do: I wanted to play professional beach volleyball. I was ready to commit everything to that. It did not meet the criteria of being something that could probably support me, but I did it anyway, because it was so completely clear to me that that’s what I wanted no matter what.