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Discovering your life’s purpose: A simple guide from a stranger

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SEPTEMBER 14, 2022

“College is a time to build on your skills to make yourself a competitive applicant in the job pool.” 

“College is a time to explore and figure out your passions.”

Both statements are equally true. One is capitalistic, one is idealistic.

I was thinking about it, and I’ve named these two statements. The first statement is what I’ve decided to call a “work career.” This is your typical career — the one that puts food on the table and pays your bills. The second statement is what I’ve dubbed finding a “life career.”  A life career is the ultimate goal. The final boss. The “thing” at the end of a long life that makes it all worth it. 

Everyone’s life careers are different, and there’s no particular way to discover yours. Maybe you’re lucky and your work career and life career are the same. No prescribed amount of guidance counselor meetings and self-help book reading will definitively reveal your life career. 

The life versus work career definitions were developed after a short conversation I had with a coworker of mine at an internship. A career is a means to an end, she said. At the end of the day, you go home, but who do you go home to? Not just your family, friends, and loved ones; you go home to yourself. Who are you at the end of a long and exhausting day? If you don’t know the answer to that question, then you’ll always feel lost. In limbo, repeating the same life every day. She told me that she goes home to take care of her grandkids, that everything she does is to be a loving and supportive grandmother. That’s where all of her hard-earned money goes. That’s her life career. 

So how do you go about discovering your life career?

I have no explanation for you. In fact, I am 65% sure that I don’t even know what my own life career is. I’ve started trying things that seem vaguely interesting, and I follow where the interest goes. If it goes deep enough, I’ve found something that I genuinely enjoy. Other times, my interest ends early on. It’s like when I failed every consecutive test in my AP Statistics class in high school. I safely decided that I did not enjoy math, and that I would most likely be a terrible mathematician. If you enjoyed statistics and wanted to pursue it, but were still failing, this conclusion would change. Then again, if you enjoyed statistics, you probably would not fail every test the way I did. Your interests don’t have to just be academic. Taking exams and receiving good grades is not an indicator of a life career. Continuously thinking about this has made me find patterns in the things I like doing. 

It may seem useless to find a life career as a young college student. After all, it might be more important to get the 10 years of experience every employer seems to want these days. Also, not everyone has the luxury of being able to think about a life passion. Aren’t we all just trying to make money and find a comfortable spot for ourselves in the cog machine that is the economy?

To that I say: Vera Wang designed her first dress at 40 — and now you see her in every Kohl’s department store in America. You can always choose to change your work career. You can wake up one morning and decide you’re going to fulfill your childhood dream of being a marine biologist. You can wake up and choose a different work career again and again. There are a million work careers. But there is only one life career. And I know I failed AP Statistics, but aren’t the odds of you picking your life career slimmer? So you should probably stop reading now and go and start finding it. 

Contact Aarthi Muthukumar at [email protected].
LAST UPDATED

SEPTEMBER 14, 2022


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