We all talk about the dream: doing what we’re passionate about. It’s a noble aspiration, but realistically, we’re not all able to pull this off.
Some of us start careers we thought we wanted, only to find the shine wearing off sooner than expected. In other cases, we try to make moves from a job that’s just a paycheck to something that offers more than food on the table.
It’s frustrating to watch other people dive into careers they care about, while you’re feeling side-lined, waiting for your hidden talents to reveal themselves.
Is there a way to distill this down to a science? Or are we doomed to hoping we luck out and stumble upon our greatest gifts when we least expected?
Here are some tips for finding out what you’re good at, as well as how you might apply them in the real world.
How to find your hidden talents
What makes you lose track of time?
Imagine you have a full day with nothing on the books — what activity would you do to pass the time? Is it going for a long run? Starting a new art project or playing an instrument? Writing short stories?
Identify a few of these activities and write down what you like about them.
If you’re a writer in your downtime, take note of what you like about it. Is it inventing new worlds or analyzing current events and sharing your opinion?
If it’s the latter, those qualities could lend themselves to being a blogger or an analyst. The former, you might find yourself helping brands tell their story.
An artist looking for a more reliable career path could be well-suited to UX design or something with a strategic component — as it takes a lot of big-picture planning to execute a series of paintings.
The point is, the things you like about your existing hobbies could be transferrable — it just might not be obvious from the outset.
Do some personality testing
Personality testing does have some limitations, but they might get you to think outside of the box when it comes to finding your strengths.
We recommend taking a few and being as honest as possible — not answering with aspirational responses.
The 16 Personalities Test is one of the more popular choices around, and the free test goes into great detail when it comes to the best career paths and why your personality might be attracted to those choices.
There are longer personality inventory tests, as well. There’s the Revised NEO Personality Inventory, a test aimed at measuring the Big-5 personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism).
Or, the HEXACO Personality Structure Inventory, which measures those same traits — both are around 200 questions long and take about an hour to complete.
Ultimately, test results should be taken with a grain of salt. They’re not perfect — but they can give you a sense of the qualities you might want to seek out in a career.
Obvious, right? It might be a little uncomfortable, but one of the most effective ways to identify your strengths is to get some external feedback.
The key is to ask a handful of people — friends, family, colleagues — those who know you well and likely to be honest.
Frame it like this, “I’m doing some self-work and could use some feedback.” “Or, I’m considering a career change and am crowdsourcing suggestions.”
Then ask some questions:
- What do you think I’m good at?
- What stands out about me?
- What was your first impression?
- What was I good at when I was younger?
What kind of compliments do you receive?
Building on the last suggestion, take stock of the compliments and criticisms you receive from others.
What praises or frustrations are documented inside the inbox? Understandably, it’s no fun to go searching for feedback, but looking back at everything from your LinkedIn endorsements to emails that highlight a forgotten detail can be eye-opening — and serve as a starting point for future careers.
Also, make sure you take stock of those compliments you tend to brush off. These are the qualities that could help you find a hidden gem in an unlikely place.
Take a class, do some research — really, just broaden those horizons
Upskilling is one of the best ways to carve a better career path and broaden your horizons.
If you have an existing skill set, consider looking into ways to specialize more and become an expert — or cultivate a rare, valuable skill.
We’ll add one big caveat here — if you’re looking to secure better paying, fulfilling work, your best bet is to level up skills that relate to one another. For example, if you work in marketing, you might want to take data science courses or polish your social media skills.
Another thing to consider when looking for classes or certifications is, will these skills be needed in the future?
Look at the stats before investing in a new skill. A good starting point is the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; you can search their database by occupation and learn more about which roles are in demand. Payscale or LinkedIn’s Salary Tool offer a more user-friendly approach to sizing up the job market. These sites provide you with information about careers, their pay, and job outlook.
Finally, talk to people already working in the industries you’re looking at. From influencers on LinkedIn and Twitter, to forums like Reddit and Quora, there are countless opportunities to chat with people of all experience levels. Ask questions to find out more about paying your dues, leveling up, and what the daily grind entails.
Be honest with yourself
Again, the passion thing comes into play. When you’re looking into potential paths, you definitely want to find something that pays the bills.
Really look at whether there are opportunities available before you head down a new path. Following your passion is one of those fantasies, like the American Dream. Some people really luck out.
Instead, your best bet is to find where your skills are needed and valued, then seek to find where those skills intersect with your passion.
As much as money can’t buy everything that contributes to happiness, removing financial worry from your daily life is a big part of finding fulfillment.