“Stay true to yourself.” No, I am not quoting a cheesy Hallmark movie. Nor am I quoting a cheesy coffee mug. Cheese aside: this phrase is important for pretty much everything you decide to pursue in life, and your career is no exception. As you dive into your career planning, you may have to start with removing the clutter in your brain… in other words: all the voices from ghosts of past and present that tell you what you should be doing with your career. The ghosts can come in the form of teachers, parents, spouses, friends, your tennis partner, and many others. When you say something like, “Everyone is going to think I am crazy if I decide to become a Creative Director because I’m supposed to be a lawyer,” then think about who your “everyone” really is. It’s usually anywhere between 1-5 people whose opinions you hold dear and whose expectations you want to live up to. Be careful. Don’t drown in these voices. This is your life to live. In your quest to stay true to yourself and set yourself up for success in your career, keep the following in mind: "I’m not just saying this for my health… or am I?" When you stay true to yourself – your needs, your desires, and what makes you tick – you are just happier. Happier people do better work. And they will progress in their career. Plain and simple. If you are force-fitting anything in your life, you’ll just end up with heartburn and disappointment. If you have the luxury to pursue what you want, then do it. “Ok, ok, I get it… so now what I do?” If you have confusion or unanswered questions about what kind of career to pursue that would make you happy, it’s important to take a step back and get that sorted out. You may be wondering, “What industry? What function? What company? What geography?” Basically, “Where do I go and what do I do?” You want to be able to answer these questions as purely as possible – in other words, minus the ghosts of career past and present. Here are some elements to help you in your discovery process, as you figure out your dream job / location / colleagues: Engage with a career (or life) coach. Read self-help books. Start journaling. If you need someone to shepherd you through this process, and/or are so stuck that you have nowhere else to turn, a career / life coach can be a good unbiased solution for you. If you want to figure things out on your own, check out some books from your local library, such as Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck and Career Anchors by Edgar Schein. Journaling is always a good idea because it helps you process your thoughts, and as you go back to read previous posts, you may notice certain themes emerge. It’s cathartic and also helps you learn and develop. Many books (including the ones listed above) offer exercises that you can journal about. And I mean the old-fashioned kind of journaling, with pen and paper. We process things differently – and in some ways, more deeply – when we use our hands to actually write things out on paper. “Great, I know what I want to do… so how do I go do it now?” Once you have identified your goals, the next thing to do is to start networking. You have to be proactive about pursuing your dreams. And other people will help get you there – so make sure you solicit them, and in the right way. Try to add a mix of people to your networking endeavors, so that you learn about your target company and/or function from more than one angle. If you are able to speak to current employees, former employees, as well as clients / customers, you’ll get a fuller view of the working style, culture, expectations, and product (if applicable). Happy Career Planning! Amanda Gharghour received her MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB), BA in Economics and French from Dartmouth College (Cum Laude), and Certificate in Graphic and Digital Design from Parsons – The New School. Amanda enjoys helping people reach their goals. In addition to her role as a media/tech/digital consultant, Amanda helps MBA applicants as an admissions expert at Admit Advantage and on their admissions social community, Admit.me. She also volunteers as an interviewer for Dartmouth College, a Stanford GSB Chapter Leader for alumni activities in her area, and a Co-Leader of a GSB alumni Women’s Circle.