Careers

How to Follow Your Interests From College to Career

Elizabeth French/Roadtrip Nation

“So, what do you want to do with your life?”

When you’re a kid, this question feels like a fun challenge, or an open-ended adventure. But as you progress through life and more of your peers start to lock down their answers, that question can feel like the most stressful ten words in the English language.


A few people seem to know from a young age what their answer might be. But for me and two of my friends, the question weighed heavily on us even as we walked across the college graduation stage.

In hindsight, it was clear that we’d gone to college because we’d felt like that was just what we were supposed to do. We’d enjoyed school, our majors and the community we’d found, but we had no clue how to apply who we were as individuals to the “real world” in a way that felt authentic.

Our solution was to take a journey of self-discovery — to drive across the country in a beat-up bright-green RV (cheaper than hotels!), find people in careers they loved, then ask them how they’d gotten there.

Three months and 15,000 miles later (all without a functioning shower), we’d had 85 heartfelt conversations with all kinds of inspiring individuals, from Saturday Night Live director Beth McCarthy-Miller to lobsterman Manny Kowino.

What emerged from their stories contradicted what we’d believed when we first set out: That you have to set aside who you are and cram yourself into a J-O-B. Instead, we met people who weren’t just living for the weekend and counting down until retirement — they were living fulfilling lives that integrated their work with their unique interests.

More than anything, we learned that our idea of what a career could be was incredibly narrow. Programmers don’t just make websites, doctors don’t just work in hospitals and not all scientists wear lab coats. There are an infinite number of in-between spaces, and the people we met on the road had followed and combined their interests to find them.

When we got home, we knew we couldn’t keep what we’d heard to ourselves — and 17 years later, Roadtrip Nation is still collecting and sharing career stories and advice through the documentary series, films, a bestselling career guide and a suite of career exploration products.

The reason we're still sending people on road trips and having these conversations is because through all stages of life, that question will continue to pop up — "What should I do with my life?”

If you're here, you're probably just starting the process — trying to figure out a major, choosing a school, deciding if you should start at community college, or if you want to get skills and training in a certificate program. But you don't have to wait as long as we did to find out who you are or what you like — you can start asking yourself those questions now, and letting the answers guide you toward what you want to become. It starts with exploring your interests.

Embrace the Mashup

What’s the secret to finding fulfilling work? We’ve found that the happiest people aren’t the ones who picked a career and then reverse-engineered themselves into it. They’re people who pursued their interests first, acquired the skills and education needed to strengthen them along the way, then put in the work building a career around them.

As you start exploring careers, you’ll find that plenty of career aptitude tests seize upon one aspect of your personality and try to cram you into a box. “You love nature? You should be a park ranger!” But we believe in a much more expansive career exploration process — one that starts with your interest in nature and asks, “What else?”

Are you also interested in local government? You might be inspired by Denise Verret, deputy director of the Los Angeles Zoo! Are you considering majoring in engineering or architecture? You can pursue LEED accreditation and plan green buildings, like sustainability advocate Cecil Scheib. Do all of your classmates consider you the fashionable one? Patagonia designer John Rapp just might have your dream job.

Start Exploring

To help more people find these stories, inspiration and lessons for their own paths, we developed the Roadmap, a tool that starts with your interests and lets you explore where they can take you. It draws from our archive of over 1,000 interviews and videos to help you find where your interests meet, then shows you personal stories from people in careers that connect.

You’ll see each person's educational path and hear if they’d recommend it to someone else. And you’ll learn about the skills and experiences that helped them excel, so you can start planning classes, majors and outside activities you might want to pursue.

But their stories are about more than what you should major in, or where to go to school — you’ll get heartfelt, human advice on getting through the tough challenges along the way, like balancing school and work, changing course midway through a college major or being the first in your family to go to college.

Now’s the Time to Start Defining Your Road

Looking back through the rearview mirror, I’ve realized that if I’d seen more examples of people following their interests from the get-go, I could’ve given myself more room to try new things, choose a major that deepened my existing interests and build skills relevant to my future work. Family barbecues would’ve been a lot less stressful, too.

And if I could go back and talk to that freaked-out, semi-lost college version of me, I’d tell him just one thing: As long as you start following your interests — whether they take you to a four-year university, or to a lobster boat off the coast of Maine — they’ll ultimately lead you down the right road for you.