“How Can Anyone Help Me When I Don't Know What I Want?”

Sophia's feeling lost and wants to start connecting with people, tapping into their guidance and support. But without knowing where she wants to get to, she struggles with what to say and is losing confidence fast. How do you ask for help when you don't know what you want?

What's your career history and current job?

I've been a criminal barrister for the past 14 years.

It was always my dream when I was a little girl; my father (who I adored) was a policeman, and I grew up with a very strong sense of justice and righteousness.

I always knew I'd go to university to study law, always knew I'd pass the Bar, and always knew I'd work as a barrister.

What I didn't know was that I'd discover law isn't actually right for me.

And so now I'm on a 'career break', otherwise referred to in my household as a 'jump into the hopeful unknown' (when we're feeling optimistic, at least).

How do you feel about your work?

I've left it, so that probably says it all!

I had a sense that I was in the wrong place fairly early on in my career, but I always pushed that thought away. I imagined that as I became more successful I'd have more control over the work I took on, and that I'd become more grounded in my emotions and judgement. Actually, the longer I stayed, the more out of place I felt, and the more confused, and the more disconnected from that black-and-white, right-and-wrong certainty I had when I was young.

The day-to-day reality of life in the law never matched up to what I dreamed it would be when I was young, and I think on some level I'll never forgive it for that.

Having said that, I do have days (fairly frequently) when I have to battle the urge to run back to the nest. I know law. I'm successful. It's easy to want to return to it when I'm feeling as uncertain and directionless as I am now… but I suppose that's why I made the leap in the first place!

What would you like to be doing instead?

I don't know.

I've got some hunches (I like working with people, I'm interested in social issues, I enjoy reading about psychology and art history and travel), but nothing firm enough to state with any conviction. I have lists of things I like, but that's about as far as it goes.

What's the biggest obstacle in your way?

I feel utterly two-dimensional and trapped.

Until I know what I want to do, I can't go after it with any sense of purpose or direction, but I can't stand the idea of waiting any longer.

And the hardest part is trying to make any headway with other people. My friends ask me what I want to do next with my career, and I really want to have an answer, so I stumble over my words and get embarrassed and defensive.

I come off as tongue-tied and vague when I meet people whose work interests me.

Last week at a party I met a woman who advises government policy on well-being at work, and when she asked me what I was moving into, all I could say was: "I don't really know yet… but what you do sounds really good…"

That vagueness and fluffiness is so drastically unlike me: I was so embarrassed. I felt like I had nothing of my own to say, and I sounded like I was just trying to piggyback on her career.

I want to feel confident in telling people what I'm doing and where I'm going, so that I can network powerfully and actually make some progress.

But when I don't know what I want, how can I ask people to help me?

Can you help Sophia?
  • Have you been in a similar situation, or are you in the same boat right now?
  • How could Sophia start articulating herself more clearly to move her shift forwards?
  • Do you know anyone she could talk to?

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