So: you’ve identified what you want to do, and found a career path that you think will stimulate your curiosity, align with your beliefs, and combine your interests — good for you! That sounds sarcastic, but we’re being so serious right now: if you’ve figured out what you like, and matched up those interests to a job that’s actually going to let you indulge them regularly, then you’re already miles ahead of most of us. But sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re ahead, especially once you hit that next set hurdle, the one that trips everyone up and leaves us wondering, “I know where I want to end up…but where the heck do I start?”
Baby Steps…But Steps All the Same
We’re big fans of self-construction; it sounds like you’ve got the “self” part figured out, so now it’s time to work on the equally important “construction”! Here’s our first tip: where you start doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you just start. You don’t need to wait for the perfect moment, a sign from the heavens, an apple falling on your head, or any of that jazz — you just need to start taking baby steps.
To help you out, here are a few of our favorite ways in which you can put your rubber to the road:
- Do things the Roadtrip Nation way: If you’ve read any of our posts or are at all familiar with our organization, you already know what our first piece of advice will be: The best way to get started on your career path is by talking to someone who’s already doing what you want to do. Our company was started because three young dudes realized the value behind cold-calling professionals and seeking out their advice. These days, that advice is just as valuable, but you don’t have to buy an RV and knock on doors across the nation — you can reach out using Twitter or LinkedIn, or send an informational email! You’ll be surprised at how willingly most people will give you some advice and direction. If possible, you should still try to meet with someone in person to make that unique one-on-one connection, but if you can start a meaningful relationship with a professional through a different medium, that’s cool, too! (Disclaimer we should probably throw out there: You should avoid meeting up with randoms from the internet.)
- Do things the [other] Roadtrip Nation way: If you’re anything like yours truly — the writer who’s most comfortable perched behind a computer screen and would honestly rather eat a bug than make a cold call — we’ve built a tool for you: it’s called The Roadmap, and it uses your interests to match you up with the profile of a professional who’s currently working in a career or a field that might be of interest to you. And these profiles aren’t just filled with work experience or education, like a LinkedIn profile; they’re also packed with actionable advice on how to tackle the hurdles you might face both personally and professionally. There’s no substitute for doing your own interview and getting advice custom-tailored to your situation…but this tool is pretty dang close.
- Hit a career fair: Don’t write career fairs off as a thing of the past! As awesome as it is that you can reach out to anyone online, we’re still not sure if it can beat a good old person-to-person connection. If you don’t already have an “in” in the field you want to break into, it can be really hard to get your foot in the door, so again, the best thing to do is find someone who’s already gone through that same door and make a good impression on them. A career fair is a place where you can kill a bunch of those birds with one stone — it’s not just a place where you can find a job; it’s also a great forum in which to seek advice on your resume, or learn about entry-level positions you might’ve never previously known existed.
- Job shadow someone: After making a connection with someone in your field of choice, the next logical step is to job-shadow them. One of our leaders, Heather Cameron, told us, “You don’t really know what you like until you’re doing it.” You could spend years thinking you want to become an orthopedic surgeon, apply to a school specifically for the field, and then faint on your first visit the operating theater. (We’ve heard this story more than once!) So job shadowing now will save you time and energy down the road by helping you ensure that the job you think you want to do is actually what you want to do!
- Start a blog [vlog/Medium account/Twitter account/Instagram account/Facebook group/newsletter] about the thing you love: It doesn’t matter if your design isn’t perfect, your spelling is sometimes off, your AV equipment isn’t top-quality, or if no one’s interacting with your content (although, if you can find a community and a following, that certainly helps!). This is more about getting your ideas out there into the world in any medium as an exercise — and then hopefully, at some point it will also serve as a neat little portfolio that shows off your passion! If you’re truly interested in something, doing one of those options won’t feel like a chore; it’ll become an account you totally look forward to maintaining each day.
- Sell your stuff: If you’re doing or making something worth selling, put it out there! Whether it’s a good or a service, the best way to market it is to get it into a marketplace. Whether it’s through Amazon or Etsy, or through a more specific niche marketplace, like 99designs or Tradebit, or even at your local flea market, there are tons of people out there who are probably willing to pay for your work, as long as you’re willing to take the steps needed to get potential customers’ eyes on it.
- Start saving: This one sounds like it sucks, but it’s a reality: if your goal is to work for yourself, or if your dream job involves an entrepreneurial aspect, you’re going to need some capital. Do your research and see what kind of costs you’ll be facing, then make yourself a savings plan. (Budgeting apps like Mint or Penny can help you stay on track!) If covering your startup costs doesn’t currently seem feasible, it might mean you’ll have to work a not-quite-ideal job for a while—that’s life. But rather than accepting the first job offer that comes your way, try your best to find one that will at least appeal to one facet of your interests, or will help you build a skill you’ll be able to use later on down the line! No job is a complete waste of time, but some are definitely more productive than others.
- Take an online class: You want to go into copywriting? A graphic design class could help you understand the possibilities and limitations to what your words can do. Want to start your own business? An Instagram marketing class could help you stand out from the competition! There’s some tangential aspect of your field that you could be more well-versed in, and by locking down that skill set, you’ll distinguish yourself from any competition. Check out sites like Skillshare and Udacity, or enroll in a workshop at places like General Assembly to squeeze in some bonus networking!
Drip, Drip, Splash
Listen: the above steps aren’t particularly inventive; hopefully you’ve had at least one of those ideas! Maybe you’ve even already completed one of the above exercises…and now you’re wondering why nothing magically happened. So here’s the other, more important piece of the pie: doing one of the above actions and then giving up isn’t going to get you anywhere. The key to everything is persistence: you need to be taking baby steps, and you need to be taking them consistently.
It’s like that famous line from the film Glengarry Glen Ross: “Always. Be. Doing.” …Our production team is telling us that we may have taken some liberties with that quote, but the sentiment remains the same: If you want be successful and distinctive in your field (which hopefully, unlike the film, isn’t a shady real estate operation), then you need to keep taking those little actions and making small inroads.
As long as you keep consistently putting the work in, you’ll eventually hit upon what we like to call the “drip, drip, splash” theory: after enough time, your little actions (drips) will build into something big (splash!). This may be the end result of many small actions building up to something big, or it could just be because by continually taking action, you’re consistently open to any opportunities that might come your way. Either way, stop reading this, take a deep breath, and go out there and take some action…because you’ll never make a splash if you don’t start.
A version of this article can be found on the Roadtrip Nation blog. To watch hundreds of video interviews with innovative leaders like the ones we name-dropped above, check out Roadtrip Nation’s Interview Archive at roadtripnation.com. And to read a better, longer, much-more-well-thought-out version of this article, buy our New York Times bestselling book, Roadmap!