Land Your Dream Job
Careers that help you move from intention to action

How To Talk About Your Non-Traditional Career Goals

Lauren Graham profile image

Lauren Graham

A group of three young people talking.

If there's one thing we have all learned through the last couple of years, it's that the future of work is changing (and more rapidly than ever). Whether you are job hunting, freelancing, starting your own nonprofit, or happily employed at an established organization, there are more ways than ever to design your own professional path, transition between fields, and create an impact.

And while the range of opportunities can at times be tricky to navigate, especially in 2023, they can be even more challenging to articulate to others. Once you’ve figured out the right path, how do you share your hopes and dreams with friends and family?

Here’s how to describe, design, and pursue your non-traditional goals with clarity and confidence, even if you still feel like a work in progress.

Explain why “non-traditional” is the new traditional

With more people pursuing short-term contract and freelance work, the typical 9-to-5 arrangement is no longer quite so…typical. Independent workers make up 36% of the working age population in the United States, with some seeing it as an opportunity to pursue non-traditional careers, be a pioneer in an emerging field, avoid the stresses and bureaucracy of an office environment, or achieve a better work-life balance.

To monetize your experience, try looking into shorter-term opportunities on platforms like Fiverr and Guru. On Idealist, it’s possible to search for freelance and part-time roles in the social-impact sector that match your background and interests. These opportunities run the gamut and can offer you the chance to hone your skills in a certain field, while still pursuing your passion.

Learning how to create your own professional opportunities and keep yourself financially stable through a variety of professional and personal transitions has become a critical professional skill. If you’re concerned about the effects a freelance or contract gig may have on your finances, check out our budgeting tips for more advice and resources.

3 ways to build a strong narrative around your career goals

  1. Test your pitch. The first step to making your non-traditional career a reality is to speak about it as if it were already real. Talk about the career path that you are forging with anyone who will listen, especially those who don’t know you. When a new contact or acquaintance inevitably asks “What do you do?” this is your chance to get comfortable with describing your talents and aspirations.
  2. Prioritize lifelong learning. Forging your own career path requires you to be especially proactive about learning, maintaining, and advancing your professional skill set. One way to do this is through MOOCs or massive open online courses. You can take classes year-round for free (or for a nominal fee) with some of the best instructors at universities around the world. Some popular platforms to find useful career resources and courses include Idealist Career Advice, Coursera, Stanford Social Innovation Review, TED-Ed, Skillshare, and Master Class. Also keep in mind that valuable learning experiences are not limited to the academic space. Consider experiential and hands-on learning opportunities as well, like those offered by Yestermorrow Design/Build School.
  3. Create your own board of directors. A personal board of directors is a group that can include your mentors, personal cheerleaders, brainstorming partners, and people who are comfortable providing constructive criticism even when you aren’t asking for it. Your board should include at least one person with a background in the area you are pursuing, but having a diversity of professions adds perspectives.

It’s your life to live

It takes courage and determination to do something unconventional in search of your true purpose. Some people in your life may not understand your choices, but you owe it to yourself to pursue the work that you find challenging and fulfilling.


Did you enjoy this post? There's plenty more where this came from! Subscribe here for updates.

Lauren Graham profile image

Lauren Graham

Lauren Graham is a contributing writer to Idealist Career Advice.

Explore Jobs on Idealist