7 WRONG Ways to Decide Your Life’s Career
An open letter to graduates.
May 23, 2012 - 7:00 am
It’s that time of year again when a new crop of ambitious young folk will be graduating from high school and heading off into their glorious futures by selecting the exact wrong career for themselves.
We all want nothing more than to have that perfect career that makes us feel like life is the equivalent of skipping through a summer field, with flowers in bloom all around and the golden sunshine on your face (this is a fictional world where there are no bugs in that summer field). Most of us instead end up with a career like that miserable camping trip where it rained the whole time, you were freezing and tired and hungry non-stop, and, oh yes, there were lots and lots of nasty, crawling, dirty bugs.
Reportedly, over half of American workers hate their jobs. Only 45% of Americans report being “satisfied” with their jobs. (Frankly, if being “satisfied” means happy I’ll go shoot myself in the head right now.) Has this dearth of people in happy careers stopped succeeding generations from going through the same completely wrong process leading to the same terribly wrong decision? No. No, it hasn’t. I’m not breaking any sound barriers here – I’m not going to tell you how to pick the right career – but here are 7 common, and completely wrong, ways people make career decisions that may lead to the TWENTY YEAR camping trip from hell.
1. Based on Your High School Aptitude Test
We’ve all taken them. God help the children who actually take those test results seriously and make their career decision because of them. When I took the test I was told I should be a construction worker or a military general. At the time I was a 5 ft. 4, 120 pound, 17-year-old girl who loved reading classic literature and history. Yeah, that seems right.
Most school aptitude tests are a combination personality test and interests and hobbies survey. If you’re lucky they’ll throw in an IQ test so you can find out you are too dumb to follow your dreams or too smart to pick something you enjoy.
The problem with these tests is mankind hasn’t figured out how to crack the code of a human being’s unique complexity with a 50-point questionnaire. The information from these tests may not be a bad place to start, but there are many, many other factors to consider; for example, oh, I don’t know, would you actually enjoy being in the military?
2. Follow the Jobs
This is the one where people tell you: 1) you like math and 2) there are plenty of jobs for accountants right now; therefore, 3) you should be an accountant.
NO! 1 plus 2 does not equal 3! Okay, mathematically it does, but you know what I mean! If you want to make a decision that will affect your entire life span based on an economic trend that might last 5 to 10 years tops, then you are decisive, but you are also an idiot.
If you want a job, go work at Starbucks. If you want a career, keep thinking. How much math would you be doing? Where? For whom? What would your lifestyle be like? What kind of future can you expect? Can you envision spending 40 years doing that? In your first year doing that, will you be passionate about it and have a lot of fun? No? Forget it.
The Follow the Jobs advice is a subset of number 3…
3. Being Risk Averse
If I had earned a nickel every time I was told “you’ll never make a living as a [insert your passion here]” I could have made a lucrative career prompting this statement from idiot loser a**holes (often masquerading as loved ones). It’s easy to do — just express a dream, and you are guaranteed that nickel.
This phrase comes in many forms:
- You need a back-up plan for that
- Major in something you can get a job in
- Try your passion out in your spare time
- All of those people are in the bread lines (yeah right — the leading cause of homelessness is pursuing one’s passion)
- So few people make it in that
Or my personal favorite: when someone just laughs in my face.
I am not suggesting you should go rack up $60,000 in student loans on a college education in puppetry because puppets are your passion. How about don’t go to college if puppets are your passion? If you are picking a career that is difficult to make money in, be prepared for that. Don’t sabotage yourself by going into debt, renting an expensive apartment, etc. But don’t give up before you’ve even begun!
Following your passion is actually not a long shot. What is a long shot is trying to succeed in a career that makes you want to scratch your eyeballs out while you’re doing it. You may pay your bills with that job, but you will also be that poor sap who posts TGIF! every Friday on his Facebook page.
4. Follow Your Parents
Don’t just follow in your parents’ footsteps because going to the office with dad seemed neat and you got to bond with him while doing it. Guess what? When you’re 30 you will be a big boy and bonding with your daddy won’t be as critical as coming home to your wife in some sort of mood north of crabby.
If it helps, picture yourself as Luke Skywalker and your dad just asked you to work with him. What would Luke do? He would fling himself down a bottomless ventilation shaft while screaming “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!”
If you are certain about what you want to do, by all means move quickly. But if you don’t know, don’t just pick something because you feel like you have to. Take your time. Be an explorer. Take random, but interesting (to you) classes that don’t lead to anything as a whole except, WAMMO!, clarity about your passion. Don’t listen to me, listen to Steve Jobs. As Jobs describes, selecting a fulfilling career is a complex act of integrating all the things you value and enjoy combined with your abilities and aptitudes. Write down all the things you enjoy, even the crazy stuff you might not want to admit, and see if you can come up with a career idea or two that combines all of them, no matter how unrelated they might seem at first.
Take your time doesn’t mean work at Wendy’s for 10 years while you “think about it” somewhere in the back of your mind. You have to pursue making the decision as if it is your job. But don’t make it until you know it.
6. Based on what you hate.
A 17 year old of my acquaintance told me the other day she wanted to be an animal lawyer. Here’s how the conversation went:
Have you decided what you want to do in life?
I want to be an animal lawyer?
Because I realized I don’t really like people. And I like animals.
Do you like law?
Uh, I don’t know.
Do you like sitting at a desk all day reading complicated legal papers?
I don’t know.
Who is advising these kids anyway?
7. Based on what you like.
Okay, so you have a hobby. People think this should translate into your “passion career.” And sometimes it does, but more often the solution lies in thinking about the aspects of your hobbies you like, not the hobbies themselves. In high school my hobbies were tennis, reading, and boys, but I didn’t grow up to win the Australian Open, write fiction, or become a prostitute. What I have since discovered is that I like tennis because I like being outside and active and I like competition and winning and I work well under pressure. I liked reading because I enjoy intellectual pursuits. And that thing about boys helped me realize that I was a heterosexual female.
I know it is counterintuitive, but you can enjoy something now, for a few hours a week, that you would not want to do for 40 hours a week FOREVER. Oh wait, that’s not so counterintuitive.
Related at PJ Lifestyle: From Kathy Shaidle, Talent Isn’t Everything: 5 Secrets to Freelance Success
Sunny Lohmann is a regular humor columnist for PJ Media and PJ Lifestyle. Her political satire videos have gotten a lot of attention in the blogosphere. Find out more about Sunny by checking out her blog, House of Sunny, follow her on Facebook here, and enjoy her most recent Youtube videos here.