Each week, TopResume’s career advice expert, Amanda Augustine, answers user questions on Quora like the one below. We’ll be republishing those answers here. A certified professional career coach (CPCC) and resume writer (CPRW), Amanda has been helping professionals improve their careers for over 10 years. Have a question for Amanda? Submit it here.

Q: What practical advice would you give to someone who is looking for their true calling?

Some people are fortunate enough to know exactly what they want to do with their lives from the time they are young, while others stumble upon their true calling later in life.

Whether you’re 25 or 55 years of age, there’s still an opportunity to pursue a career that you will find meaningful. Below are some of my favorite job-goal exercises to help you narrow down your search for a rewarding career.

Take a trip down memory lane.

Tap into your childhood dreams. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? Consider what about that profession drew you in. Was it the nature of the work? The industry that you’d get to work in? The environment? You may not be able to pursue that dream job as a prima ballerina, but you might be able to leverage your existing skill set and find a job at a ballet academy or Pointe Magazine.

Related: How to Figure out What You Want to Be When You Grow Up

Pretend you’re a cat.

This is one of my all-time favorite exercises. I originally got this one from Karen James Chopra, LPC, MCC, NCC of Chopra Careers. The rules are pretty simple:

  • Assume you have nine lives, and in each of those lives, you must work.

  • You will not win the lottery, marry rich, or receive a huge inheritance.

  • Whatever skill set or experience you need to do the job, you have it.

  • However much money you need to make to be happy, you make it.

  • Every job has equal prestige.

What nine jobs would you hold? The idea of this exercise is to remove all the barriers. When all the “But…” statements are erased, you’re free to choose professions that truly interest you.

Once you’ve made your list of jobs, take a step back and review it, looking for themes — are you drawn to work in a corporate environment or positions where you answer to no one? Do many of your dream jobs involve working with animals or being creative? What you didn’t include in this list is just as important as the list yourself. Again, while the jobs you wrote down might not be realistic career paths at this point in your life, the goal is to look for common threads that could help you research roles that are realistic and you’ll enjoy.

Inventory your work history.

Take a piece of paper, Word document, or Google document and make three columns. In the first column, make a list of every position you’ve held over the course of your career. This includes paid and unpaid experience, full-time, part-time, and temporary positions, internships, and volunteer experience.

In the second column, write out what you liked about each position you’ve held. Be as specific and detailed as possible. What about the work environment, nature of the work, company culture, boss and colleagues, industry, pay, etc. did you like?

In the third column, list what you disliked about each position you’ve held. What about the work environment, nature of the work, company culture, boss and colleagues, industry, pay, etc. drove you nuts? Again, be as specific as possible.

Once you’ve filled out all three columns, take a step back and review your findings. Look for themes or clues that will help you understand the work environment and type of work that you enjoy most.

Create your billboard top hits.

Consider your proudest moments over the course of your lifetime. Think about your college career, your professional work history, your volunteer experience, and other extracurricular activities you’ve been involved in, and brainstorm the top five accomplishments that you found to be rewarding and satisfying.

Once you have that list, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Why were these achievements so important to me? What about them did I enjoy most?

  • What was my involvement? Was I tasked with the project, or did I initiate it on my own?

  • What was my key motivation? (recognition, pay, a promotion, contributing to the greater good, etc.)

  • What was the environment like? Was it entrepreneurial and fast-paced? Slower but controlled?

  • What was the focus of the project? (the arts, new program development, social consciousness, etc.)

  • What core values drove my work during this project? (collaboration, empowerment, accountability, innovation, efficiency, diversity, service excellence, etc.)

This exercise will help you identify the key skills, core values, and ideal work environment in which you thrive. Use this information to brainstorm possible career paths and associated job goals.

Final thoughts

In today’s marketplace, you are not confined to having only one career for your entire professional life. Gone are the days where you clock in and out for 20+ years and then retire with a gold watch and a pension. You can have many different chapters to your career!

Click on the following link for more job-goal exercises.

Read Amanda Augustine's answer to "What practical advice would you give to someone who is looking for their true calling?" on Quora.

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