For the last seventeen years I have traveled around the country and asked 16 to 24 years olds what do they want to do next? What are the preparing for? What kind of career are they interested in? While I receive a lot of thoughtful answers most of the responses I get are dreams of flash, adrenaline, and fame.
I call this phenomenon the "Red Bullification" of the job market. For most new entrants into the world of careers and jobs the primary motivator is to work at a job that is so crazy awesome that going to work every day will be like being on an amazing vacation, and their day to day responsibilities should provide an endless stream of opportunities to post to social media amazing pictures of what they are doing that all of their friends wish they were doing . In short, if their job isn't so amazing that Red Bull wouldn't want to sponsor them, if they aren't flying wing suits, racing mountain bikes, performing on stage, or swimming with dolphins, then they must be trapped in a cubicle somewhere slowly dying inside and living for the weekend.
Most people have no concept of what really makes work meaningful and fulfilling. The reality of course is that all work, even swimming with dolphins, has days and moments that can feel like....work. The reality is also that millions of people find thousands of jobs personally fulfilling, meaningful, interesting, and worth getting out of bed and looking forward to every day.
Figuring Out Work
So, if you're around 16-24 years old (or older!) and trying to figure out this work thing, or if you are the parent of a someone in that age range, how do you counteract the Red Bullification of the job market? The way to find meaningful work that allows you use your best skills, contribute to and make a difference in the world, and to support yourself and others in the process is to do three things.
The first, and most important, thing needed to find a job you love is to figure out that kind of work you like to do and what kind of work you are good at doing. The only way to do that is to gain experience, which is a fancy way of saying, "get a job". Don't confuse this with chasing fancy internships. A great internship in the field you are interested in can be a really helpful thing, but what I am talking about here is simply working. Volunteer, start a business, take a minimum wage job, get a summer job, work part time, etc. The key here is not to find a specific job that you want to do, which is unlikely at starting level jobs, but to find out what kinds of work you like to do. Do you like working with people? Physical labor? Working with ideas? Understanding data? Leading? Organizing? Your goal should be to get as many different kinds of work experience possible, and to pay attention to what you like to do and what you don't.
Once you start building experience the next thing you need to do is to start building skill. More skill means more opportunities, and the more skilled you are at something the more you usually like doing it. Like working with people? Take advantage of any opportunity you have to learn how to get better at customer service, handling problems, being polite, making sales, etc. Like organizing things and working with data? Find ways to learn how to get better at spreadsheet programs, plan events, manage projects, etc.
The third thing you need to do is the most important. As you gain experience and build skill you must be aware of what you are learning and how you are improving. Then you need to constantly look for the opportunities where you can use your best skills to provide the best value and make the biggest impact. You will find deeply satisfying work that you love at this intersection of your skills and the world's needs.
Wingsuit Not Needed
You don't need to fly wing suits or swim with dolphins to have a great job and a great career that will provide for your needs, make a difference in the world, and give you a great reason to get out of bed and head to work every morning. You need experience, skill, and an awareness and ability to combine those things and find the places in the world where you can create the most value.