Earlier this summer, I gave some words of encouragement to a student who voiced concerns about pursuing a career. Below is the slightly edited exchange:
Me: Nice introduction. Have you thought about yet what you would like to do career-wise with your sociology degree?
Student: I have been considering social work for the longest time now, but lately, I have been thinking of looking at other possibilities/careers. A few careers I have looked at are human resources professional, a counselor or criminologist. It honestly feels like there is so much more out there that I need to explore, but the thing that worries me is time. It can feel like I do not have enough time to do so, and I could potentially have to make a choice of what career I wish to pursue. But what if it turns out to be something I am not good at or don’t want to do?
Me: You bring up several common concerns when it comes to career planning: not enough time, don’t know if you’re good at it, and don’t know if you want to do it.
I think that – as in the case with decision making in general – it can be difficult to guarantee an excellent outcome. There are often just too many variables to control. But the one thing we can control perhaps more than anything else is the amount of work – often hard work – that we put into ultimately making a decision, and that might very well be the best thing that a lot of us can decide to do.
One thing to consider if you haven’t done so is to give yourself a timeline as to when you want to commit to a particular major. Then, you can embark on career-related research – like conducting informational interviews with folks in the career fields you’re interested in – to come up with your top career choices. Then you can analyze and reflect on your options to come up with your selection that best matches up with your values, interests, personality style, talents, and goals. Hopefully the choice turns out to be a great one – at the least, you’ll know that you did the best you could with your decision making at the time.
Hope this helps a bit for now.
Student: I will definitely consider this. Thank you!
I do my best to share my thoughts clearly and simply when students ask for career advice. I’m always happy when I can do my little part in helping students.
That said, I’ve always been impressed with how TV personality Mike Rowe engages his fans via his Facebook page. He skillfully combines intelligence, common sense, wit and outside-the-box thinking when he answers various questions. An excellent example is when he shared career advice to one of his fans in April earlier this year. I like it so much that I’m posting it below in its entirety:
I’ve spent this last year trying to figure out the right career for myself and I still can’t figure out what to do. I have always been a hands on kind of guy and a go-getter. I could never be an office worker. I need change, excitement, and adventure in my life, but where the pay is steady. I grew up in construction and my first job was a restoration project. I love everything outdoors. I play music for extra money. I like trying pretty much everything, but get bored very easily. I want a career that will always keep me happy, but can allow me to have a family and get some time to travel. I figure if anyone knows jobs its you so I was wondering your thoughts on this if you ever get the time! Thank you!
My first thought is that you should learn to weld and move to North Dakota. The opportunities are enormous, and as a “hands-on go-getter,” you’re qualified for the work. But after reading your post a second time, it occurs to me that your qualifications are not the reason you can’t find the career you want.
I had drinks last night with a woman I know. Let’s call her Claire. Claire just turned 42. She’s cute, smart, and successful. She’s frustrated though, because she can’t find a man. I listened all evening about how difficult her search has been. About how all the “good ones” were taken. About how her other friends had found their soul-mates, and how it wasn’t fair that she had not.
“Look at me,” she said. “I take care of myself. I’ve put myself out there. Why is this so hard?”
“How about that guy at the end of the bar,” I said. “He keeps looking at you.”
“Not my type.”
“Really? How do you know?”
“I just know.”
“Have you tried a dating site?” I asked.”
“Are you kidding? I would never date someone I met online!”
“Alright. How about a change of scene? Your company has offices all over – maybe try living in another city?”
“What? Leave San Francisco? Never!”
“How about the other side of town? You know, mix it up a little. Visit different places. New museums, new bars, new theaters…?”
She looked at me like I had two heads. “Why the hell would I do that?”
Here’s the thing, Parker. Claire doesn’t really want a man. She wants the “right” man. She wants a soul-mate. Specifically, a soul-mate from her zip code. She assembled this guy in her mind years ago, and now, dammit, she’s tired of waiting!!
I didn’t tell her this, because Claire has the capacity for sudden violence. But it’s true. She complains about being alone, even though her rules have more or less guaranteed she’ll stay that way. She has built a wall between herself and her goal. A wall made of conditions and expectations. Is it possible that you’ve built a similar wall?
Consider your own words. You don’t want a career – you want the “right” career. You need “excitement” and “adventure,” but not at the expense of stability. You want lots of “change” and the “freedom to travel,” but you need the certainty of “steady pay.” You talk about being “easily bored” as though boredom is out of your control. It isn’t. Boredom is a choice. Like tardiness. Or interrupting. It’s one thing to “love the outdoors,” but you take it a step further. You vow to “never” take an office job. You talk about the needs of your family, even though that family doesn’t exist. And finally, you say the career you describe must “always” make you “happy.”
These are my thoughts. You may choose to ignore them and I wouldn’t blame you – especially after being compared to a 42 year old woman who can’t find love. But since you asked…
Stop looking for the “right” career, and start looking for a job. Any job. Forget about what you like. Focus on what’s available. Get yourself hired. Show up early. Stay late. Volunteer for the scut work. Become indispensable. You can always quit later, and be no worse off than you are today. But don’t waste another year looking for a career that doesn’t exist. And most of all, stop worrying about your happiness. Happiness does not come from a job. It comes from knowing what you truly value, and behaving in a way that’s consistent with those beliefs.
Many people today resent the suggestion that they’re in charge of the way the feel. But trust me, Parker. Those people are mistaken. That was a big lesson from Dirty Jobs, and I learned it several hundred times before it stuck. What you do, who you’re with, and how you feel about the world around you, is completely up to you.
Good luck –
PS. I’m serious about welding and North Dakota. Those guys are writing their own ticket.
PPS Think I should forward this to Claire?