Finding Your Niche

I’ve always known I wanted to be a writer in some capacity. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s or so that I started realizing how many people had no idea what they wanted to do with their careers. My thoughts are below.

State of the Labor Market

The only way people make money–which is, after all, how we afford the necessities of life–is by trading their useful skills, knowledge, or products for cash. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (see below), the eligible civilian labor force is ~156 million people. Of those individuals, 37.3% of those people–58 million people–are not looking for work. As for the 62.7% who are participating, I can’t guarantee that all of them are blissfully happy pursuing the careers of their dreams. In fact, it’s a good bet that many or most of them are not.

Labor Force Level

Labor Participation Rate

While some folks push for a guaranteed basic income and others promise that the age of peace and abundance will soon be upon us, until those actually arrive, most of us will have to work. And given that prices and material demands keep increasing, odds are that we’ll continue to spend a lot of time working. Wouldn’t it be great if we actually enjoyed what we were doing?

This sort of talk drives labor economists and corporate executives nuts because there are still some “dirty jobs” that theoretically no one wants, like garbage collector or bus boy (had that job for two months–yikes). Fair enough. Eventually we’ll get to the point where robots or trained squirrels will be rented out to handle the jobs we really hate, leaving us free to stuff we like. But what if you don’t know what you like?

Start with what you can do

Sometimes it helps to make a list of your skills (things you can do) and knowledge (things you know). I don’t just mean the things you do on your current or past jobs. Include things you can do at home and out in the world beyond the workplace. Make it comprehensive: everything from actual technical skills to more domestic skills like cooking or faucet repair. Are you seeing any patterns–particularly in the areas where you do well? Which of those skills could help you pay bills?

What do you like to do?

Okay, so you’ve listed everything you can do (writing, editing, formatting, PowerPoint presentations, Excel spreadsheets, etc.). You might even want to get into the weeds about the specific variations of your skills (report writing, marketing copy writing, brochure writing). It’s important that you list as many as possible because you want options.

Now, of the options you can do, what do you like to do?

This might require you to add more things to your list. For instance, you might know how to run events and you might know a lot about accounting, but you might not enjoy either of them. Fair enough. As Christian Slater said in the movie Heathers, “Everybody’s life has got static. Is your life perfect?”

Fusing Mind, Body, and Spirit

You should be able to identify things you enjoy doing and learning. So now–if you haven’t already–start throwing onto your list of skills and knowledge the things that constitute hobbies for you. The trick is to find things that you’re passionate about.

In case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m a big fan of “judo advice.” That is, I try to identify what direction someone wants to go and throw them in that direction. If you have a passion, it’s probably because you did or learned something you enjoyed and continued doing more than once. Having done it more than once, are you good at it? Can you make real money at it?

Admittedly, it’s easier to combine some abilities and interests than others. You might be good at plumbing but passionate about clog dancing. There might not be a huge demand for clog-dancing plumbers. But you could find a clog-dancing troupe with a leaky pipe. Perhaps they can refer others so you can go out on your own? Sometimes it’s a matter of finding creative ways to meld your interests and abilities in creative, fulfilling ways, even if the final effect isn’t quite what you originally had in mind.

Anyhow, just to repeat: I’m a big fan of finding out what you’re good at, finding what you’re passionate about, and then finding some way of mind-melding the two. And hey, if you get that clog-dancing plumber thing working, let me know.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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