How to Find Your Career Niche

When you’re a kid, one of the most commonly asked phrase on any sort or generic questionnaire is “What do you want to be when you grow up?” It’s expected, from a very young age, that you have enough of a secure identity to confidently declare your dream profession, your penultimate life’s work. Will you be a doctor? A police officer? An astronaut? An everything bagel salesman? You’re told that everything is within your grasp.

It’s taken me 30 years to figure out roughly what I want to be when I grow up. I’ve gone down several divergent paths over the years and, at this point in my life, I still only have a few vague ideas of my skill set. That doesn’t matter, though. Your skill set and the sum total of your education, ambition, and work experience have very little to do with the job that, above all else, you belong doing.

The biggest factor in determining your ideal employment situation is, quite simply, your own fulfillment and happiness.

That’s not to say money doesn’t matter too. It does. Depending on your lifestyle, your material wants, and your overall monetary needs, salary may be a large piece of the pie to consider. There should be a balance between your dreams and the fair compensation for all of your hard work contributing toward those dreams. If you’re working day and night with every bit of passion you can muster, you deserve to see some reward and financial stability for your efforts.

Trust me, though, when I say the money will come when you’re doing good work and mastering a job that was already in your niche.

I started out not giving a fuck about money. I was a party-hard drinker, stoner, and lazy lounge about. I was both depressed and unmotivated and I channeled my attitude into every aspect of my life. I was always raised to believe, because of a somewhat above-average intellect, that I was smarter and sharper than everyone else and I’d do just fine in the real world, given this gift. I abused this assertion by letting it lead me down the path of apathy and boredom and mediocrity. I let my grades slip, I refused to take any job seriously until after college, and I let every excuse I could fabricate talk me out of any opportunities I was presented with.

I decided I didn’t give a fuck about money and I just wanted to pursue my creative side. I decided I wanted to write fiction, screenplays, and comedy and edit video. I went after a Film and Media Arts degree. After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles for the first time at the height of the most recent recession (2010). I pounded the pavement every day looking for jobs and I couldn’t get a break. Fast food restaurants wouldn’t even call me back. After 7 months of this, I decided to move back home to the east coast.

Since then, I got hungry. I’ve leapfrogged to a higher salary at every subsequent job and I’ve narrowed down more and more what I want to do with my life. From shitty temp jobs to the NFL, I took any task that could point me in the right direction and I approached it differently than I ever had before—I tried.

At the beginning of 2015, I even had the privilege of moving back to Los Angeles and working for one of the most fun, innovative, socially collaborative companies I’ve ever worked for: Hulu. Why did I leave, though? What drove me away from such a household name of a company and out of the sunny west and back to the sometimes apocalyptic northeast? Aside from wanting to be close to my family who are struggling with the failing health of my 2 remaining grandmothers, it didn’t feel like where I wanted to be.

I had discovered the first aspect in my working life that I required in order to be happy: balance. I didn’t want to live at work and that seemed absolutely required in order to successfully and accurately manage my responsibilities at that job. I lasted a year and a half before I was too burnt out to continue. Since then, I’ve realized work-life balance is the first official requirement of my career niche.

Admittedly and unfortunately, I kind of phoned it in toward the end, but I made sure the transition went as smoothly as it could for my coworkers. I never wanted to leave anyone out to dry, no matter how much my heart wasn’t in the work.

I’ve also spent an exorbitant amount of time in all of my jobs talking to people. Whether it be managing digital advertising campaigns, talking to snotty financial professionals, taking orders from sales people who only saw me as a conduit for their commission, or helping new employees settle in, I was always talking to people. Also, I talk way too much and I interrupt people. It’s not because I don’t respect your opinion or want to listen to you, but I just get way too excited about the twists and turns of conversation.

Through all of my interpersonal dealings at each consecutive job, I discovered that teaching people new things and best practices and being a source of emotional support for my peers was something that truly inspired me. Mentoring and giving advice was the second aspect of my working life that I needed to cling to (as if you couldn’t tell by my preachy ass blog).

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this aspect of myself before on this site and I’m far too lazy to look, but I suffer from a pretty serious case of OCD. It manifests itself in a number of different, overbearing ways, but the most apparent is my need for efficiency. Whenever I’m doing a task over and over, I try to figure out the best and quickest way to complete the task and still maintain the same level of quality. This is very useful for the line of work that I’m in, and I’m constantly looking for new ways to save time and improve processes. The ability to give my opinion on and help implement process changes and top-down efficiency is the final leg of my ideal career that makes up the holy trinity: balance, mentoring, and process improvement.

Of course, my strategies for success are by no means a one-size-fits-all solution, but I hope you’re able to see the point I’m getting at with everything I’ve said thus far. It takes time, patience, experience, introspection, and honesty with yourself to see where you truly belong. Take the time to examine your working life and pay close attention to those moments that give you an overwhelming sense of warmth inside. Write down every time you feel that way about something in your life. Find the common threads.

After all, you spend more time at work than you do with your friends, family, and loved ones combined. Make sure you’re doing something that you love.