Where do you want to be in five years?
It's the classic question every mock interviewer prepares you to answer. But rather than search for an answer you hope will get you a job, I want you to think about what you really want for your life. Here's four steps to get you started:
1. Grab your laptop or a notebook and go to your favorite place on campus. Go to the one you know taps into your spirit, because you're instantly uplifted just by being there. This could be a beautifully decorated room, a church sanctuary, or even your own bedroom. The goal is to be among surroundings that make you feel warm and at peace.
2. Sit quietly for five minutes with your eyes closed, breathing deeply in and out. Picture yourself in a job you love. Do you see a large office or a small, entrepreneurial environment? What type of work are you doing and what kind of people are your colleagues? How much money are you making? What does a typical day look like? Keep your eyes closed for the entire time, focusing your mind only on positive thoughts of work that fulfill you.
[Learn about starting your own business in college.]
3. When the five minutes are up, open your eyes and do some free writing of the experience. Write down what came to your mind and how you felt about what you saw. There's only one rule here: Don't stop writing for 10 minutes. Don't try to edit as you're working. Just keep writing until the time is up.
4. Try this exercise at least once or twice a week for a month. Look for patterns that emerge in your writing, and pay attention to the picture of your desired future as it becomes clearer in your mind. You probably won't see a clear vision right away—that's normal. This process requires commitment to succeed, so even if it feels totally uncomfortable or unnatural at first, stick with it for the full 30 days.
[Read about whether careers are becoming perpetual job searches.]
In my work, I speak to college students who come to hear about the "rules of success" in their first job. But just beneath the surface is a real and deeply-etched question mark about what kind of career would make them happy.
Not knowing the answer to this question kick-starts a cycle that is familiar to millions: You send out résumés for jobs that are "available," and you take the first one that seems to fit best. It's not a path any student really wants, but it's one that ultimately comes back to not knowing what you want in the first place.
As bestselling author Marcus Buckingham wrote in his book, The One Thing You Need to Know, "Clarity is the antidote to anxiety." So, if you're feeling anxious about your future, if you're worried about the unknown, or if you'd just like to be more purposeful on your career path, commit to the steps above for a month at least.
The answers you seek are available, but they are quiet, and the only way to hear them is to still your mind and listen.
[Learn about job prospects for new college graduates.]
As you start this process, if you get stuck or need an extra push, I'll be posting inspirational messages for you every day on Facebook. As I mentioned in my first post, my goal with this blog is to help you find success from the inside out. Let's start by reducing the nonserving traffic in our heads so we can make room to discover what matters most.
In a coming post, we're going to focus on building your brand using social media tools like Twitter, LinkedIn, and Slideshare (see a preview). If you don't complete the hard, deep-diving work of figuring out what you want from your life and career (i.e., your "message"), it's going to be more difficult to make these tools work for you.
Please leave a comment below or reach out to me directly to let me know if there's anything I can do to help you on your journey.