Life After College: Finding Your Post-Grad Career Direction & Purpose

This article was originally published on Zencare.

Finally – you’ve been anticipating this day for years! You’re walking away from your college graduation with boundless excitement, hope, and motivation to tackle the world.

Then you wake up the next morning, and reality sinks in: How do you channel that enthusiasm… into a solid, tangible profession?

For many, college isn’t adequate preparation for the reality of the working world. Rather, college is there to provide you with the education to obtain a job.

So if you’re at a loss for next steps, don’t freak out. Now’s the time to capitalize on your positive energy – and use it to figure out what direction you want to head in with your career and general sense of purpose.  

Answer these guidance questions to understand your initial direction  

At a loss for where to start in your career hunt? The following questions are designed to help steer you in the right direction.

When you’re ready to answer them, try going to your favorite cafe, ordering your favorite drink, and getting yourself feeling relaxed and positive.

There’s no right or wrong answers here – only what feels the truest to you.

Was your college major still aligned with what you want to pursue professionally?

Or are you interested in exploring other (potentially new-to-you) fields?

If the perfect job was to land in your lap right now, what would it be?

Is it with a marketing firm? Reading scripts at a television studio?  

What excites you most about the job? And is it possible to obtain the same excitement in another position or field as well?

What do you see yourself doing in 5 years?

This is more than a stereotypical interview question – knowing where you want to go (or at least what’s possible) can help you get on the path there.

Are you more motivated by money, or by fulfillment?

Yes, it is possible to have both! But – especially when you’re starting out as a professional – one often gets sacrificed for the other.

What excites you on a day-to-day basis?

Is it helping other people, face-to-face? Thinking creatively with big ideas? Writing or reading articles?

What are some skills that come easily to you?

Do you work well under pressure, or are you more of a time-management guru? Are you an effective communicator over email? Do you help resolve issues well?

Is there a career that someone talked you out of?

And what was it that attracted you to it initially?

What makes you feel accomplished?

Is it helping others with a problem they’re facing, in the moment? Copyediting friends’ lit papers? Collaborating with others on building projects that entail physical labor? Being coach on a rec team?  

Throughout your journey of growth, you can reflect on these answers to stay grounded and connected to your goals.

Try these exercises to transform your direction into action

Now that you’ve answered the questions above and done some internal digging to understand the direction you want to head in, start defining your goals more clearly. This will help you take those important first steps towards accomplishing them!

Write your career goals down

Doing so makes it feel official; plus, it often helps you if you can actually see the journey lined out.

Example career goals include:

  • Joining a PR, design, or marketing agency  
  • Working in a certain field, such as environmental  

Design the steps needed to accomplish your career goal

For example, if you’re considering working in the environmental field, you might not know where to start – so you schedule 2-3 informal interviews with contacts in your extended network to understand what’s out there.  

You might need to start at the “bottom” to get where you want to go eventually.

If you need help staying motivated, visualize what it will look like when you have arrived at, and completed, your career goals!

Make a mission statement for your life

A personal mission statement is designed to make clear who you are, what value you contribute to the world around you, and what your core beliefs are.

When writing your mission statement, keep the following in mind:

  • What are my values?
  • What’s the legacy I want to leave behind?
  • How do I want to act, and to have others describe me?

You might want to share with those closest with you to get their feedback. It’s okay to shape your mission statement as you grow!

This statement is meant to highlight where you are going in relation to your goals. This will help you:

  1. To stay focused
  2. Remind yourself of what you are working towards
  3. Help you work through the fears that arise
  4. Highlight the steps you have taken and the steps you still need to take

How to find purpose outside of a career

Of course, not everyone obtains their life purpose from their 9-5! Other people find fulfillment outside of work by pursuing passion or purpose.

Here are ways to tap into your inner purpose outside of work:

Expand your mind

Learn something new outside of a text book or class room. Take up a new hobby, learn a new language, write that book you thought of when you were in school.

Explore your spiritual beliefs

Religious or not, tapping into a deeper level of spirituality can give you a strong sense of self – especially once you discover what you believe, and feed that belief regularly.

Volunteer on a regular basis

You may find you love dogs if you volunteer at the ASPCA or love working with the elderly if you read at the nursing home.

It may take years and lots of different experiences to find your purpose. The most important thing to do throughout your self discovery journey is to enjoy the process. You are at a very unique place in life where you get to discover yourself and create whomever you want to be. Your possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Consider seeing a therapist for career counseling

If you need help dealing with any issues that come up as you visualize your professional future, or assistance in setting personal goals, a career therapist can help you understand and add value to your self-discovery journey.

By Alice Song
Alice Song Career Counselor