Q:Dear Marcus, Where do I start? I'm 28 and I have hit a wall. Like a million other people in this economy, I don't know what to do with my career. I lost a good job in 2008, which I am not ashamed of. I took a job at a local behavior disorder school to make ends meet, since I'm not afraid to work and believe you have to keep moving forward. I have my Bachelors in Computer Science/Graphic Design, but I can't find any relevant jobs. If I have to go back to school I don't even know what to go back for. I know I don't want a job where I sit on my butt all day. I can't go back to that. But with debt from my school loans, I'm kind of scared to go back. I need a career. I was on a plane ride from Denver just after Thanksgiving, sitting next to an older lady and she said you have to find your passion. And I've known that, I just get need to get there. I would love to work from my home. I have done graphic design on the side for years and I have tried to go further with it but nothing worked. I feel that I'm not a happy person most of the time because of that. My job right now is mentally draining and I'm very blessed I have a job and good work ethic, but I'm burned out. 

Lauren, age 28

A: Lauren, your confusion about where to turn is palpable. You seem more certain about what you don't want to do—sit at a desk all day, go back to school, stay at your current job longer than necessary—than about what you love to do. Reading more closely, though, I wonder if the answer to finding your passion isn't right in front of you. You describe your previous job (I'm assuming it was related to your degree) as a "good job." You don’t know what else you would study if you went back to school. You have pursued work in your field by doing graphic design on the side. Is it possible that the reason you can’t find your passion is that you already have found your passion? The sure way to find out if that’s true is to examine how you felt about what you studied in college, and the work you did before losing your job. Did you often lose yourself in your work? Spend more time than you might have needed to on a project, to take it to that next level of perfection, just for your own satisfaction? If you can recall a lot of such moments, then what you have already done is the clue to what you should do in the future.

Without a doubt, it can be discouraging to have to take a job you don’t love in order to make ends meet, but don't let temporary economic realities distract you from your truth. If, on the other hand, my inference is wrong and you don't really feel any connection to what you did in the past, then you have to consider other clues to find your strengths. Were there subjects in college or even earlier that intrigued you but didn't seem practical? What tasks or hobbies make you most focused and absorbed in what you're doing? Pay attention to the little details of your week, both at work and at home, and try to notice even the smallest activity that intrigues, motivates or inspires you. Those activities are what you need to build on to find what you will love to do.