5 lessons about choosing a career

Posted by

You’ve been asked a million times: “What do you want to do?” I’ve spent the last three years of my life getting answers to that question, and here’s what I’ve learned. 1. Your decision matters Think about the people you know. You can tell who loves their job and who doesn’t. If you enjoy your work, it will be a lot easier to enjoy your life. Here is an equation I did that showed me how important my career choice was. If you were to work from age 23 to age 65, you’d spend 42 years on the job. If you work an average of 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year, you would spend 84,000 hours of your life at work. If you’re going to spend such a colossal amount of time working, it makes sense to be excited about it. 2. Take advantage of who you are We are all unique in what we are good at, what we enjoy and what inspires us. For your career, it makes sense to tap into what and who you already are. When it comes time to apply for a job, choose organizations whose mission, goals and culture fit your own. Knowing our strengths and motivators is not always easy. Here are 10 questions to ask when trying to figure out your path. • What am I good at? • When am I energized? • What classes do I enjoy the most? • What do I like to do outside of school? • What classes are easier to work hard in? • What class work do I constantly put off? • What are my strengths and weaknesses? • What do the people in my inner circle see in me? • What type of mark do I want to leave? • What do I enjoy doing at work? 3. Follow your own road When people are successful at things, we try to copy them. In careers, imitation doesn’t always create a match. When I graduated college, there were no jobs or fields that I was fired up about, so I followed my older brother’s path into sales. I was good at it and made a lot of money, but I woke up each day uninspired. My experience in the sales field showed me two things. First, what worked for my brother did not work for me. Secondly, money is definitely not the number-one factor of job satisfaction. Unfortunately, there is no magic career equation. What motivates each of us is unique. Wherever it leads, be true to yourself and follow your own road. Brad VanAuken, the former head of marketing at Hallmark and current marketing and branding expert, sums it up perfectly: “Society says achieve. Get more. More power. More money. Work harder. Sometimes you’re asked to be obedient to things that make no sense. Rather than being obedient, be authentic. Be the person you were meant to be, and follow the spirit within you.” 4. Get Experience You won’t know if you like a job until you try it. As a student, you have the opportunity to explore and be exposed to many different ideas. Even better, there are people whose job it is to help you research your choices, such as your teachers, professors and career service departments. Mary Cameron Vangraafeiland, a publicist at Warner Brothers Pictures, says career evolution is “kind of like dating. You learn so much about work by being out there and doing and seeing. You see the pros and cons.” There are a lot of ways to get experience. Take a class or listen to a speaker on campus. Internships, work-study, co-ops, alumni networks and volunteer opportunities are available. Or contact a local company in your field of interest and ask to shadow someone. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by tapping into other people’s experiences. 5. Make a difference People who love their jobs feel like they are making differences in other people’s lives. When you feel you are making a difference, it is much easier to pour energy into your career. Not everyone is going to make a difference by finding the cure for cancer or by moving to a developing country. We all make our marks in unique ways. The difference-making people I interviewed cover a wide range of careers: founder of the 401(k) program, maintenance man, astronaut, financial planner, tree doctor, journalist, dress maker, teacher, mayor, artist, secretary, charter boat owner and real estate guru. You will make a difference by being passionate about whatever it is you do. You will make a difference by being happy at work and at home, by being a positive example for others and by being authentic. And when you make a difference, your ripple will be felt well beyond the surface. Andrew Harrison travels the country interviewing passionate people about how they found the job they love. Harrison’s book, 84,000 Hours at Work, will be available soon. To learn more about his book, interview experiences and the talks he gives at high schools and colleges, visit iamontheroad.com or 84000hours.com. "This article is reprinted with permission from Next Step Magazine, nextSTEPmag.com."

Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Melissa Kennedy
    Melissa Kennedy
    Wow! This is such a great discussion. Thanks Andrew for sharing this wonderful information with us. From the comments, it's easy to see that it's really never too late to decide what you want to be when you grow up. Even if you realize what you're doing now isn't what inspires you, you still have time to try something new.
  • Troy
    After working 11 years for the same company I too, am looking for employment. My situation is that while my experience and knowledge were great for my company, I'm actually behind the times when compared to other companies/markets. I've found myself a jack of all trades rather than a master of certain technologies. Working in the IT industry has paid well, however my actual skill set in the open market would cause me to take a pay cut. So, I"m strongly reconsidering my career field. IT is not really my passion per se, but it paid so well that I stayed. This article gives me a lot to think about.
  • Kaleigh
    Glad I've finally found something I agree with!
  • Paul Oldakowski
    Paul Oldakowski
    So very true and I should know, I`m going to be 62.
  • Charles E W.
    Charles E W.
    We are living in very trying and challenging times but this not the time to give or cave in to the pressures of life. Now is the time to explore your options. Take advantage of it and don't be afraid to try new ventures.This is the message I am sending out to people whether they have just recently lost their jobs or have been out of work for an extended period of time.
  • Linda N.
    Linda N.
    Excellent article. Appreciate every one's comments; some are uplifting, insightful, informational.  Knowing that others are experiencing similar setbacks and what they are doing to make themselves more marketable is encouraging.  Retraining and continuing education seem to be key; however when you are almost 60 and trying to get more schooling you wonder if anyone will consider hiring you when you get your degree and are almost of retirement age. You constantly have to hone your computer skills to maintain your proficiency which is hard to do when you are not in an office setting and using them on a daily basis.  I am trying to stay positive and adding to my pray warrior list daily.     
  • Cheri
    Reading all these comments are uplifting because for me I'm 50 and I too do not have much experience,skills or much education to put on my resume. So even with all the extra education courses people have taken and have gone to seminars to help them go farther in the job they were in didn't help them when they got laid off or let go. I've worked in an medical office, vets office, grooming animals and am still lost on what I want to do since I was laid off from my job 6 months ago, but I do know this... at my age I will look for a job that will give me satisfaction and put a smile on someone elses face. To me it's not all about how much money I can make but what my worth is to someone else. Good luck to everyone out there.
  • Dawn Hardiman
    Dawn Hardiman
    Hello all!:  I concur with James.  I am 52, grandmother, and a recent graduate from Remington College, Houston, TX - Medical Billing and Coding - 09/10.  I am experiencing the same issues all of you have and I need to be patient, motivated and passionate, but I am finding that all of that is rapidily dissapearing from day to day!  I DO NOT want to lose everything that I have learned or invested! I am open to any additional comments or insight to help during this very dim passage through life!
  • James
    But knowing others are worse off doesn't make you feel any better, does it?  I'll still have to live my own life.  In the easy times, you can do whatever comes around and survive.  In the hard times, you need to find a motivation.  Passion is even more important in the hard times.
  • Deborah
    Excellent article, and I still don't have a clue. As a kid I wanted to be a Teacher; didn't finish the requirements.  I always go for customer service positions and it was just last week I thought, what makes me think that is my field? Especially with all customer service now being in a call center. I most enjoyed being a workshop trainer for participants receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.  I am trying to get back there now at 57.  I disagree with the 55 year old guy who made the comment saying we have no computer skills at this age. I do. I will always need a spell check. But, I do know how to use a computer.A job with benefits or my own creation where I can help is what I think about now.  Especially when I am told I am over qualified it seems.
  • Sal Escobedo
    Sal Escobedo
    Great article and comments from viewers. I can relate to all of it because I just lost my job that I was in for the past 15 yrs. I'm 45 and only have had 3 jobs. Now reality hits when you have to start all over when your company closes! Well it's kind of fun looking for a new job, challeging and scary at times but it is what it is! So just stay positive and be ready for the challenges and stay focused. I was employed for less than a week before I was let go. Even though I took something for less I could not be too picky.  Just happy to be employed.
  • Jill Price
    Jill Price
    I am 3 mnths away from my 50th birthday.  I just received my Associates in December 2009 with a GPA of 3.9.  And I am registered for the fall to take obtaining a B.A.  I have been looking for a full-time position for months and it is just not happening YET!  I KNOW I must remain positive and enthusiastic or NOTHING will happen.  I am in the process of reading articles on improving my resume, cover letter and interviewing skills.  I noticed that a lot of jobs I qualify for require proficiency with Excel, which I only possess basic knowledge of, so I am practicing at home with a guide to Excel.  The job market is not like it was 20yrs ago or even 10yrs ago.  We have to be open to change or we are going to stay stuck.  I wish everyone out there the best, especially those 50 and older.  Believe in yourself.
  • Tigre
    To all the "old" people complaining that their skills are useless and they can't find a job. I'm 27, have plenty of computer skills with 5 years experience in the graphic design field...and work is still a difficult thing to find. I'm taking a few adult edu classes and looking into creative alternatives such as teaching...GET CREATIVE, LEARN SOMETHING NEW, AND STOP WHINING!!!!
  • donna ojeda
    donna ojeda
    I am a 50 year old female, The company I worked for for 10 years, (all the experience I've had is with that company), doesn't seem to apply with any other manufacturing company,  Every time I've applied for another job I've alway been told we don't do the same thing, in the same manner as they do. The end result, you guessed it nothing. I'm not sure what I want to do next. it is very frustrating.  Any ideas?
  • Mary Adams
    Mary Adams
    Great information. I like the way the info was setup!
  • John Gibson
    John Gibson
    Great article.  One should always strive to be the best they can be.  
  • Dave Gunter
    Dave Gunter
    Hi All,I too was running into all the same stuff, tons of interviews with no job after, for 2 years I tried that. So I gave up and went back to my very first career at 46, as a farrier (horseshoer) It has always been a very hard way to make a living but now, it pays quite well. I had all my Computer certificates and other careers to fall back on but no one will hire me. So I thought outside the box, and went a direction, I thought 3 years ago I would never go again. I am actually having fun too. Stop thinking 40 hr a week JOB, and think of what you like and roll your own job! Half the fun is figuring it all out!
  • Cheryl Cantley
    Cheryl Cantley
    I read the article and believe the contents to hold very valid advice.  However, I also read Michael's response and agree with him.  People who are searching for work at this moment are not 20's, 30's, 40's or 50's something.  They are people such as myself, a soon to be 60's something, who loved working as an Administrative Assistant.  I have struggled to keep a full-time position in this field over the past ten recessionary years by attending college, and advanced computer courses.  During this time I sought financial aide many times, but was denied assistance because I earned too much money; therefore, I paid for what I could afford out-of-pocket.  I was also denied tuition reimbursement from my employers because they believed it would not be a value added benefit to the company. I continued to take as many classes as I could afford, grooming and improving myself professionally through self-study, college level coursework, seminars, etc.  However, I wasn't able to retain my positions for a year or more.  I am an ethical professional with a high degree of integrity and believe much of what has happened to me was beyond my control.  In the past, I have worked two or more jobs, to make ends meet, have followed all the suggested and  techniques for finding full-time employment, but have been rejected more times in the past 12 months than I ever was in my younger years.  I have applied for full/part-time work.  I have tried to put two part-time positions together and it has definitely been a loosing situation in this economy.  If I returned to college even for 2 years or 4 years at the end of that time I would be eligible for retirement.  I planned to work until I was 72, but this dream has been colored by the fact that if I am unable to obtain and full or part-time position that pays higher than minimum wage to pay into Social Security I don't think I will be able to retire.  My work experience includes a background in business administration, sales and marketing with approximately 1,700 hours of college level and technical training to perform the duties of an administrative assistant at or beyond the expected level.  Currently, I am re-evaluating my situation with a "critical eye" to determine what my best options are before unemployment expires this coming year and I run through all the cash I was able to obtain by selling all my "worldly possessions" this past year.  Thankfully, I  family/friends have housed and fed me through this very tough period and I have been able to contribute back in small ways, i.e. cleaning house, washing clothes, watching children, etc., but these situations aren't a forever thing and I must find full-time employment to support myself, pay for food, shelter, clothing and most importantly my creditors.  Not to mention health care, dental and vision care which I have not had access to in over a year.  Your articles are encouraging and inspiring; however, they are steps towards our goals, but don't  necessarily produce the end results of those steps and goals.  Thank you for allowing me to have this opportunity to speak up.       
  • Robert Szczechura
    Robert Szczechura
    Great article.  The many points made me think of how they apply to me as I look for a job.
  • Joe Borghi
    Joe Borghi
    Great article, thanks!
  • Rodney Gonzalez
    Rodney Gonzalez
    I've been looking for a job for over three months, without success.  I think being 43 and not as talented as others on the computer, along with its software has been the reason. I'm not sure what to do about it.
  • Michael
    I am 55 year old and I have been layoff for a year. Tell me what to do at my age with no college degree and can't retired until I turn 75. Now every job you have to be cerificate. Who is going to hire at my age. Think about it before you answer my statement. People my age don't have computer skills or knowledge. Tell what I supposed to do.
  • Cary Hendricks
    Cary Hendricks
    This is a good article and checklist to help you pinpoint who you are, what you enjoy and give you a better direction of how you can get there to really be inspired at what you do.
  • Philip Calabrese
    Philip Calabrese
    Great article gives good insight makes you think about what and who you want to be.

Jobs to Watch