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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

How to find your dream career on your gap year

Uncover the potential of gap years with expert Michelle Dittmer! In this podcast episode, she guides you through a month-by-month exploration plan, tackling the overwhelming choices or lack of direction in building your gap year.

Embrace the unknown, take off the pressure, and focus on the next step, not the final destination. Whether you have too many interests or none, Michelle's practical tips help you discover your passion and pave the way for a purposeful gap year.

Topics Discussed

Strategic Exploration: Michelle advocates for a month-by-month approach in a gap year, offering online courses, informational interviews, and hands-on experiences to strategically explore potential careers.

Pressure Off, Passion On: Dittmer emphasizes that it's okay not to have life figured out at a young age, urging a focus on the next step rather than the final destination, relieving the pressure on young individuals.

From Interests to Insights: For those overwhelmed with interests, Michelle suggests digging beyond reputation and salary, engaging in activities that provide real insights into potential careers during a gap year.

Passion Unearthed: For those struggling to identify their passion, Michelle encourages making lists of liked and disliked experiences, helping uncover patterns that could guide individuals towards fulfilling careers.

Comfort Zone Challenge: Dittmer encourages getting out of the comfort zone during a gap year—whether through travel, joining clubs, or taking new courses—to discover unknown interests and gather the missing puzzle pieces for future decisions.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Michelle Dittmer - 00:00

If you've been listening for a while you've heard me say that gap years are a tool.

And today we're going to dive into how gap years are a tool for figuring out what you want to do for a career.

We've got some great examples and some concrete tips for using your gap time when you are confused about what you want to do with your life.

So if this sounds like you, take a listen.

Michelle Dittmer - 01:13

Hey there and welcome to the gap year podcast. My name is Michelle Dittmer and I am your host and gap year expert.

So when I ask young people why they're taking a gap year they really quite frequently respond with I don't know what I want to do with my life or I don't know what I want to study and why would I go forward and spend money if I don't know what I want to do. When I'm talking to these young people, either they have too many interests or too many career directions or sometimes they have nothing and they feel they haven't been inspired or aren't inclined for any particular pathway.

And both of these are absolutely fine.

The gap year is a perfect tool for these folks and now why do I say that?

Now it goes beyond the fact that I advocate for gap years in general but I have seen hundreds of young people find direction through their gap year and I'm going to share some of the best ideas for you and if this sounds like you that you want to use your gap year, this is the episode for you for sure! 

Michelle Dittmer - 02:33

Now before I jump into all of these ideas and tips for you I do have to put on a disclaimer and that disclaimer is that no one knows what they want to do with their life or at least very few of them do and most people will change directions multiple times in their life. Now all the gappers that I coach know that I will say this again and again and again. Most people don't know what they want to do with their life and they're going to change directions many times. So please don't feel that there is immense pressure for you to have everything figured out at the age of 17 or 18 or even 22 or 25. It's totally okay to be figuring it out as you go.

And the flip side of that is that it's actually detrimental to our health, to our mental health and well-being if we're looking and planning too far into the future and trying to have solutions too far into the future. So trying to decide on the end game or like the final career that we're going to have for 50 years, that really doesn't exist anymore.

So let's stop pressuring ourselves and our kids to have this answer. So let's stop asking, what do you want to be when you grow up? Because nobody knows and it's okay to not know. So instead of knowing that end destination, that end game, really the best thing that we can do is to make a decision on what the best next step is for us. So not the end goal, but just what is the next step. For many that might be finding some sort of schooling or training, that's going to make sense for them right now.

Our life is really all about uncovering more about ourselves and the world around us.

So every year we're going to have more information about that and therefore we're going to be able to make a better decision for our next step as we grow and evolve.

I think a really good analogy came from this amazing speaker and activist Sandy Boucher who was at our gap year launch event a few years ago and she said that your job right now is to pick up puzzle pieces. You don't know what the final picture is going to be, but you're picking up clues and piecing them together along the way.

You don't need to know what that final picture is, just pick up the pieces as you go.

So here I am giving you permission to not know what you want to do for a career and just look at what is the next right step for you.

Michelle Dittmer - 05:30 

Now that being said, we need to move from a place of having no idea about what the next step is to having some ideas of what the next step might look like. Let's jump into some activities and tips that might help you here.

And I'm going to break it down into two groups of people like I said before, those who have lots of ideas and those who have no ideas. So let's start with those of you who have lots of ideas about what you might want to look into. So the first thing that you really need to figure out is how much you actually know about the different careers that you are thinking of. What does someone do in a normal day in that career? Who do they interact with? What is the actual salary? What skills do they use routinely?

Because to be honest most students when choosing a pathway are only going off reputation and the respectability. Think like engineering, law, medicine, things that are very highly respected and theoretically have a really good salary. And sometimes it's even maybe that there's a cultural expectation or there's a family history of that.

If it's not reputation and respect sometimes it comes down to salary. So we get a lot of people going into IT or becoming computer programmers or doctors or entrepreneurs. 

Because they think it's going to be a lucrative career or they're using maybe just familiarity to make this decision. Hey, I know what a teacher does. I could do that.

Maybe I'll be a teacher or hey, I go to the dentist. Maybe I'm going to be a hygienist or I really like sports and I watch a lot of it on TV or on YouTube. I'm going to become a sports broadcaster. Now looking at kind of the reputation or the salary or the familiarity, they may not necessarily be the most reliable ways to make decisions.

And it's often why people don't end up in these careers in the long run. Even if they set out with the best intentions, they might not actually want to follow through when they learn a little bit more about that career. Or maybe they've got tunnel vision and they're going to miss out on something that might actually be a better fit. So when you do have multiple things you want to explore, Here is my best advice on your gap year is to really dig into each potential career and I want you to set aside a month for each of the careers that you're thinking about and really explore it. Let me walk you through an example to give you an idea of what this might look like. Let's say you are considering maybe medicine, maybe becoming a doctor is kind of pathway one. Pathway two maybe is a social media coordinator or communications person. And then maybe option three might be a teacher. So let's say those are the three things that you're interested in.

I want you to take a month for each of these. So in September, you're going to explore medicine. And I want you to do three things with regards to medicine in that given month. Number one, I want you to take free online courses. There are tons of platforms out there that will offer you free courses. So Coursera, Udemy, all sorts of things. You can go and just go on Google and search free med school courses, free medicine courses. Look it up and you will find some that you can take. And I want you to go through it. I want you to do the activities, the exercises, write any of the practice tests. Even if you're not getting credit for it, go through it like you were.

I want you to figure out if you actually like studying this. Can you do this for four years? Can you do this consistently for eight years or 12 years depending on what type of doctor you want to be?

So step number one or thing number one is to take those free courses, take them seriously, see them through to completion and evaluate if you could do four of those every semester for 12 years. Is that something that's appealing to you? The second thing I want you to do is do informational interviews. Now informational interviews are not about getting a job, it's about learning more about someone and their career.

So it can be a little bit awkward to request them but it is a very wise idea. Often we have to go to people we already know, perhaps it's your own family doctor, I want you to do informational interviews with three doctors. You're going to take courses number one, number two you're going to talk to three people in that profession and you're going to ask them questions about their job. What does a day in the life of a blank look like? What are the hours like? How did you become a doctor in this case?

What's the best and worst thing about this job? What skills do they use on a daily basis? Now the last question I want you to ask them may be the very most important part.

I want you to ask those three people, can you introduce me to three other people in the healthcare field that aren't doctors or in the communication field that aren't social media managers or in the education sphere that are not classroom teachers?

So you're going to ask for three referrals to people that are in an adjacent profession.

So, for example, we'll continue with the healthcare example here. Think like nurses, physiotherapists, surgeons, dentists, nutritionists, osteopaths, ultrasound technicians. There are literally thousands of ways of being in the medical field that isn't your Family Doctor You're going to have a lot of really great conversations with people in a multitude of jobs and roles and careers associated with that original career that you were thinking of. So it can be really beneficial to expand your understanding. So in this month for medicine you've taken some free courses, you've done informational interviews, the last thing I want you to do is I want you to volunteer or job shadow or intern in that profession in some way.

So I really want you to get into the job and see what it is really like. See when they get a lunch break or if they get a lunch break. How much paperwork versus patient time are they going to have on a daily basis? Now, obviously, you are not going to be able to follow the doctor everywhere. You're not going to be able to do patient work with them for privacy reasons. But maybe you can volunteer and file paperwork within the office or maybe you can clean the rooms between patients. Figure out what you can do that will put you in that environment so you can observe and feel what it might be like to be in this environment on a daily basis.

That's really important that you feel comfortable in those spaces. So those are the three things that I want you to do in that first month for the first career. Now rinse and repeat in October for a social media coordinator and November for teaching or whatever those careers are. So each month gets dedicated focus, taking a course, doing informational interviews and finding some sort of volunteer opportunity to live and breathe that particular profession.

All of these things will give you real insight into what each of your potential pathways might look like. And you actually might discover that you really love some of them or you really hate some of them or maybe that there is something that was a better fit that may be tangential to what you were originally thinking. And this can really help you to narrow down and help you with that decision making.

It really is the best and most efficient way rather than going off all of this arbitrary information that we often see young people making decisions around.

Michelle Dittmer - 14:48

Now let's jump to the other section of young people. These are the ones that have no idea about what they want to do and what they want to be. They often use the language of, I don't know what I want to do, I haven't found my purpose, I haven't found my passion. First of all, all of that is okay. You do not need to have a passion.

You do not need to pursue your purpose. Sometimes a job is just a job and that is okay too. Maybe you haven't discovered it yet. Maybe your passion is going to lie outside of your career. All of these things are okay. So if you are not feeling inspired by anything right now, number one, it doesn't mean you're not going to be and number two, it doesn't mean that everybody has to feel that way. So make sure I'm just giving you permission here that it's okay to not know. Because realistically, what you've been exposed to in high school is pretty limited.

There are millions and millions of different careers out there and in high school there's what maybe 60 different high school courses or different themes. So there's lots of stuff that you don't know and have never experienced or been exposed to.

So totally okay if you haven't seen any of anything of interest yet. Totally, totally normal. So here's what I think you should do if you have no idea. I want you to start by making some lists. Now I'm going to use the term paper and pen and writing, but if you are a digital person, by all means make spreadsheets, make Google Docs, create a notion, whatever tools you use, I want you to make some lists.

I want you to think of all the things you've been involved in to date. And at the top of each paper or sheet or form or whatever, I want you to put the name of it. So think about things like being part of a hockey team or maybe a hobby of flying a drone or volunteering at your place of worship or working at a grocery store or being part of student council or taking an art class or a baking class. So all of the different things that you have been involved with, get a separate place, a separate sheet. Now each of those sheets I want you to divide into two columns. On one side I want you to list all of the things that you enjoyed about this activity or this group or whatever you were part of. All the things that you loved and enjoyed and filled up your cup.

On the other side we're going to do the opposite, all of the things that you didn't like.

Whether it was the people, the environment, the work you were doing, whatever it happened to be, I want you to very clearly put the things you liked on one side, the things you did not on the other side. Now once you have that done for all of the experiences that you've had, I want you to look at the list as a whole and I want you to look for patterns. What are the patterns that exist across all or across some of the activities that you did? Maybe you'll notice you preferred things that were done in smaller groups or larger groups of people, or you like doing things that were familiar or routine rather than tackling new challenges, or maybe you'll notice that you were happier doing things outside rather than inside. So look and see what those patterns are. Looking for these patterns in isolation is a lot easier than looking at it as a whole.

So breaking it down this way, we're looking for patterns in all of those activities.

Once you've looked at all of that, I want you to make a consolidated list of the things that you liked and didn't like for those experiences. So what are the commonalities?

What are the patterns that you noticed? Once you have that list, now start thinking about different jobs or opportunities or fields that might align with the things that you like and avoid the things that you didn't like. What might that look like? What environment might be perfect for you.

What type of people might be your people? What experience or what skills do you prefer using? Do you like to be social? Do you like to be alone? What does that look like? Once you've done all the brainstorming that you can personally, now I want you to get out and talk to people. Talk to lots of people and ask them if they know what might fit your list. And 100% everybody saying, no, I cannot do this. This is so uncomfortable. I don't talk to people. We've been conditioned to not show weakness or uncertainty. We're supposed to look like we have it all together. And by admitting, hey, I don't know what I want to do with my life, it can come off as looking weak.

But you know what?

This vulnerability is going to help you get to the answer that you need. And to be quite frank, If you don't ask for help, you're not going to get it. So standing up and saying these are the things I like, these are the things that I don't like, what do you know that might fit this? You are going to get the support from the people around you. Now it doesn't have to be complicated. You can start by putting together a nice email for your close family members and ask for their input. Once you've got that, maybe move to close family friends and look at what the next kind of concentric circle is for you.

Ask your parents to ask around within their networks. And take a look at all of the different responses that come back to you from all of this outreach. Explore those careers. Google, what does a blank do? So what does a social media coordinator do? What does an urban planner do? What does a GIS technician do? What does a doula do? They might be jobs you've never even heard of, but somebody looks at your list and say, hey, this person might be really good at this.

Once you've kind of googled and figured out if that particular job is of interest to you at all, put it on a list if you've got something that might be interesting. You figured out what they do? Now take a look on LinkedIn. Look at people who have those job titles and see what their educational path was. See where they started in their career.

Did they go through a college program right away? Did they go into the workforce? Did they need six degrees to get to that spot? So look at a bunch of people and see what pathway might make sense for you. Even if that end destination doesn't end up being right, maybe along the way we're setting ourselves up for success. Now if you're feeling confident, reach out to the people on LinkedIn Ask them for an informational interview.

So hopefully you're going to come back with some interesting feedback that might be able to point you in the right direction.

And I say right direction, I don't say the final answer because we don't need to know that final answer. We're just trying to figure out what that next step is. Are we heading into arts or business or science? Are we heading towards college or university or apprenticeship? And while actually while we're on the theme of apprenticeship here, don't forget to check out the trades. No matter what your skill set is, no matter what your interests are, spend some time exploring the trades. It's a path to guaranteed work.

There's often paid training available and there is so much diversity that you can likely find something that would work with you and with your interests and with your skill set. So don't forget, don't forget at all to look into all of the different trades that are out there. Okay, so now perhaps you have a bit of an idea. You can start looking at post-secondary pathways and programs that would move you one step closer to figuring out the career. Or to go back to what Sandy was saying, now you're picking up one more puzzle piece in your overall picture. Maybe you still don't have a very clear path forward and again that's no problem.

It's okay to still not know. My best recommendation if you've done all of the other stuff and you still don't know where you're headed, my best recommendation is to enter into a general program. So many universities and colleges have general programs or they might call it an undeclared major A discovery or a bridge year.

These are programs that are going to allow you to take a wider variety of courses and then specialize in upper years once you've collected more of those puzzle pieces, once you've discovered more about yourself, once you've been exposed to more things that is the benefit of these general first years or these general programs. And most often, the credits that you can earn in your general years can be transferred and used as electives in other programs. So as I always say, education is never wasted. You might just need to find a way to repurpose the credits that you earned in those general programs.

Lastly I want to suggest for everyone, whether you know what you want to do, you don't know what you want to do, you have too many ideas, I want you to take time on your gap year to get out of your comfort zone and experience something very new.

So for many this is travel, but it could be a tour of a local mine, it could be taking a different Your gap year is a time for exploration. And the reality is you can't be interested in things you've never experienced before.

So getting out of your routine, getting out of your environment, getting exposure to so many things will really help you to discover things about yourself and things about the world around you. So get out there and take the trip or join the club or Join that team or take that course because you never know what puzzle piece you might find that's going to unlock what that final picture might look like.

Michelle Dittmer - 26:07 

Oh my goodness, the beauty of gap years, it really never ceases to amaze me how taking this intentional pause, being intentional about reflecting and exploring on how experiences can provide such strong foundation for whatever step is next. It really is such a beautiful journey and a beautiful tool to use on that journey to If you are struggling with what your next step is, feel free to book a call with our team.

Let us help you set up your gap year in a way that makes sense for you to explore what you might want to do for a career.

Or you can join us in our gap year GPS program where you get a year's support from coaching and we provide you with activities that are going to dive into self-discovery and career exploration and be connected with peers and qualified supports that are going to help you on that discovery journey. We can help you navigate your gap year and set you up for success in uncovering what your next steps might look like.

Don't hesitate to reach out to us, we really truly want to hear from you, we want to help you, this is our zone of genius, let us in, ask the questions and we want to guide you and point you in the right direction. As always, all of the links are in the show notes. I hope this was helpful for you and my friends, until next time, keep on adventuring!

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