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Advice / Career Paths / Career Change

How to Find the Answer to “What Do I Want to Do With My Life?”

When people find out I’m a career counselor, the next thing they inevitably ask for advice on how to answer is, “So, what do I want to do with my life?” I must admit: I never know what to say to this. Sure, I help people figure that out for a living, but that doesn’t mean I can offer near-strangers real career wisdom or guidance in a five-minute conversation.

This situation has always stumped me—until this weekend, when I attended the National Career Development Association’s annual conference. It was a fantastic professional development experience—from networking with other career counselors to presenting at my first national conference, I can’t imagine an experience that would allow me to grow as much as the NCDA conference did. But more importantly, I learned a way to answer, “What do I want to do with my life?” that’s as helpful for me at cocktail parties as it is for you when thinking about your career goals.

As an exceptionally well-established career counselor, Richard Leider had a few tricks of the trade to share in his keynote speech. In over three decades of career coaching, I don’t even want to know how many times people have half jokingly, half seriously demanded to know, “What do I want in life?” To address this, he’s developed a handy napkin test.

He grabs something to write on—maybe a napkin—and jots down, “G+P+V=C” and passes it to whomever he’s talk to. He then explains:

  • “G” stands for “gifts”
  • “P” for “passions”
  • “V” for “values”

Together, they form your calling. “Gifts” prompts you to consider your strengths. It’s always good to start with what you’re good at. Next, “passions” is essentially asking: What do you care about? Are there issues or communities in the world that resonate with you more than others? And finally, “values” are all about your lifestyle and personality. What is nonnegotiable about the way you work? According to Leider, altogether, using your gifts toward something you are invested in and in an environment that suits your values will lead you to your calling.

The formula’s simple enough, though figuring out what goes into those variables might take some trial and error—and undoubtedly some serious self-reflection. But hey, it’s a great starting place if you’re really trying to figure out your next move (and a great way to get me out of a tricky situation).

Photo courtesy of d3sign / Getty Images.