Skip to Content

How To Think About Career Choices in Your 20s

Keep this in mind: There are few decisions in life that cannot be change, corrected, or reversed. (Plus a free exercise!)

This isn’t what you thought your 20s would be like. You’re going in circles, not sure what you’re supposed to be doing with your career. You feel stuck and can’t make any career decisions because the choices feel limitless.

When it comes to your career you’ll be faced with a number of choices. One of the biggest issues that my clients struggle with is making decisions, and once they make a decision, feeling good about the decisions they made.

Why? Because choices and making decisions in your 20s can feel like a double-edged sword.

On one hand it can feel like your choices are limitless. You’re away from your parents, out of college, maybe unmarried with no children; there’s nothing stopping you from traveling the world, moving across the country or dyeing your hair 15 different colors.

This is an exciting but overwhelming feeling.

Remember I said, double-edged sword, there is a downside to all these choices. The downside is that once you make a choice or you choose a certain path to go down, you’ll be giving up all the other options available to you and that’ll feel like a loss.

That feeling of loss will make you start to doubt your choice. The problem is that most of us mistake that feeling of loss for regret and then we start thinking that our original decision is a loss.

If you take anything away from this article it’s this:

Anytime you have to make a choice between two (or more) things it’ll feel like a loss. This loss is not regret, or an omen to change your mind, its sadness of the road not traveled. You have to accept now that you will not be able to travel down every road.

You have to remember that: no matter what choice you make, it’s right for you at this time of your life.

Stop thinking in terms of what you think your 20s are “supposed” to look like and start to think about what you need to do today to create meaning in your life and guide you to a future that feels hopeful.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Your 20s aren’t ‘supposed’ to look like anything–live by what feels authentic to you.” quote=”Your 20s aren’t ‘supposed’ to look like anything–live by what feels authentic to you.”]

This is where I see most twenty-somethings get tripped up. They feel this pull to create a life that they “think” they should have, instead of creating a life that feels authentic to them.

So what do you do when you are faced with a big career decision?

First, you have to remember you’ve made a million choices and decisions for yourself up until now. You’ve chosen the kinds of friends you have, your clothes, your hobbies, the food you eat, your college and major, and the list goes on.

These are all clues to who you are. You know what you like and what you don’t like. If you hate math and have never done well in math – well you can cross off future CPA from your potential career list. If you love fresh air and hiking – my guess is that taking a job in New York City wouldn’t make you very happy.

I’ve found anytime I fight against who I am and what I like, I’m not happy. Trust what you already know about yourself.

[clickToTweet tweet=”‘Trust what you already know about yourself.’ — Tess Brigham @mfttess ” quote=”‘Trust what you already know about yourself.’ — Tess Brigham @mfttess”]

If you are having a hard time making a particular decision or choice right now, think about your strengths, your likes, your dislikes, what makes you happy, what creates anxiety for you, etc.

So what if you make a decision and then find out the job is not for you?

I get it. No one wants to end up working for a terrible boss or for a company they despise.

There are few decisions in life that cannot be changed, corrected, or reversed. You can leave a job, you can leave a city, you can leave a relationship, you can leave an apartment. While you may not be able to quit your job at this very moment, you can start taking action today to find another one.

Each time you make a decision, please remember that you are not selling yourself into indentured servitude – you will be able to leave this job. I want you to know this because this will allow you to take some risks and not make decisions from a place of fear.

If you’re struggling to make a decision right now, here’s a quick exercise you can try:

1) Write out each option so you’re clear on what the choice is. Eliminate any options that you have a nagging feeling about and/or know that it is not what you want. Usually when making a decision, there are three options and two are the front-runners, but there always one that keeps weaseling its way in–get rid of it now, it’s out of play.

2) Now that you have two decisions, take one of the choices and look into the future and see your life. What does it look like? Are you on the path you would like to ultimately be on? Are you doing what is in-line with your beliefs and values?

3) Ask yourself all those same questions for the other decision.

4) Now walk away. Give yourself some space. Do something, anything, but think about this decision.

5) Come back to it see which life you would like to lead? Which makes the most sense to you?

There is no magic when it comes to make choices. A vision is not going to come to you in the middle of the night. The big “aha” moments you read and hear about are few and far between in life. Most likely you’ll get your clues on what choices to make in small and subtle ways.

We spend too much time making choices based on what could happen. Make the decision and if the bottom falls out – you will handle it then. In the meantime enjoy the choice you made. Making choices means you are moving in a direction in your life.

[clickToTweet tweet=”How To Think About Career Choices in Your 20s” quote=”How To Think About Career Choices in Your 20s”]

By Tess Brigham

Tess Brigham
Tess Brigham is a therapist and coach who specializes in working with twenty-somethings, especially those that are struggling with the dreaded “quarter-life crisis.” She is a licensed therapist who sees individuals and couples in her two San Francisco Bay Area offices. She is also available for coaching in person or online. When she is not working, she is usually trying to catch up with her 8 year old son Max and her 11-year-old pug Rocco.