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For Twenty Somethings, Life Is Like the Cheesecake Factory
By Christine Hassler
Author of The 20 Something Manifesto

Their resumes are crammed and coiffed and they’ve read a million books about finding their passion, but the twenty somethings who come to me for career coaching are still asking the ultimate question: “How do I figure out what I want to do with my life?” They are confused, anxious, overwhelmed by expectations, and doubting their decisions. Why? How can a generation that is so technologically and socially savvy be at such a loss when it comes to deciding who will sign their paychecks?

My answer? For twenty somethings, when it comes to choosing a career path, life is like the Cheesecake Factory. Most people go to the Cheesecake Factory for its cheesecake, but what I remember most about my first dining experience there was not the cheesecake, but the menu. This is no ordinary menu. It is spiral bound. There are 167 food items to choose from and that’s not including cheesecake. When they handed me the menu, I felt like I needed an hour just to read through my options.

How was I supposed to pick just one? Should I have what everyone else was having? Even if I questioned the waiter incessantly before deciding, how would I know I was choosing the right thing? When the food arrived, everyone else’s decisions looked better than mine. What was in front of me, now that it was mine, didn’t seem that appetizing. Who knew dinner could be this challenging just because of so many options!

Do you get the analogy? The twenty-something experience is full of limitless choices with no guarantees and constant opportunities for comparison to everyone else. Today’s young adults have been exposed to an expansive life: the experience of other cultures, endless entertainment, and new forms of technology have made possibilities seem limitless. New businesses, new career paths, and new entrepreneurs keep multiplying. Yet as options have expanded, so have anxiety and indecision. TOO much possibility has become paralyzing. “You can do and be anything you want” has become more of a pressure-cooker expectation than motivational advice. So what’s a twenty something to do?

You don’t have to read the entire menu

Young people often want to know everything about everything before they make a decision. This approach often keeps you spinning around in options, haphazardly sending resumes everywhere and to all types of businesses, from film studios to pharmaceutical companies. To better focus your search, ask yourself three questions, in this order:

•Where do I want to live?
•Who do I know whose job sounds interesting and appealing?
•What industry am I interested in reading about in my spare time?

Question one will narrow your search to a single city or region. Question two will give you ideas for informational interviews and potential entry-level jobs. And question three will help you identify an area of work you could be passionate about. Then research, network, and job search. Focusing your efforts on a particular area of interest will make your job search more organized and efficient . . . and will get you to “dessert” — landing the first or next job — faster.

Decide on your order and go with it

You know what you want, you know what’s best for you — I promise, you do. Resist the temptation to discuss your decisions with everyone you know. It’s great to talk to your peers about their jobs or their job hunt, but don’t get stuck on someone else’s career path. I had a client who dreamed of teaching abroad. However, all her peers were already making serious dough, and her parents were pushing her to buckle down and get benefits. She had an offer to work at a consulting firm but ultimately decided to go to Japan and pursue what she really wanted. A year later, she came back and was offered a job by the same consulting company, but for more money and a better title because they were so impressed by her work in Asia. You are the one who has to live your life, so pick what fits YOU.

Don’t compare your dish to others

Everyone is on their own unique path. Allow yours to evolve. Stop comparing yourself to your peers and measuring your worth by societal expectations. If you do find yourself envious of someone else’s job, use that as a source of motivation and information. Ask them specific questions that may spark insight into your own career, such as, “What significant event or decision in your life brought you to where you are today?” “What qualities have made you successful?” “What have you had to sacrifice?” “What has surprised you about your job?” “What do you really enjoy?” “What challenges do you face?” As you talk to people who have found their niche, remember it’s okay if you have not (yet!) found yours. Some people really know what they want during their twenties; others have to sample a few things before acquiring a taste for what they like.

Enjoy Your Meal

Every job is an opportunity to learn and meet people — and no job is perfect. Make the most of your current situation. Ask to take on more responsibility and befriend your more senior coworkers over lunch or coffee. No matter how unfulfilling your job seems, there is always more to learn. Trust that every experience will nourish you in some way.
Now when I go to the Cheesecake Factory, I don’t take a menu. That’s right — I refuse it. I have found one particular dish (Herbed Salmon Salad) in their encyclopedia of a menu and I always order that. Why stress myself out with all the choices? I order what I know I like and don’t fret over what I’m missing. And when that is no longer fulfilling, I may entertain the idea of investigating the menu — but I will never try to sample everything. Besides, I want to have room left for cheesecake!
Based on the book 20 Something Manifesto. Copyright 2008 by Christine Hassler. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA.

Christine Hassler left her successful job as a Hollywood agent at twenty-five to pursue a life she could be passionate about. In 2005, she wrote the first guide book exclusively for young women, entitled Twenty-Something, Twenty-Everything: A Quarter-life Woman’s Guide to Balance and Direction. As a life coach, she specializes in relationships, career, and self-identity with a counseling emphasis. As a professional speaker, Christine leads seminars and workshops for audiences around the country. She has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, and PBS. She lives in Los Angeles. Her website is


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