Thursday, May 10, 2007

How can you tell what work you love when you're just starting out?

There are some really good discussions going on at Get Rich Slowly and The Simple Dollar regarding money, career and meaning.

Here's the question, as framed by J.D. at Get Rich Slowly:
What sort of advice would you offer to a young person just entering the work force? What’s the most important thing to look for in a job? Is money the top priority? Job satisfaction? Is it better to be in a job you love that barely pays the rent, or to be making a fortune in a job that sucks your soul out and spits it on the floor? How can you tell what you love when you’re just starting out?
Many of the commenters at The Simple Dollar advocate taking time off after high school to figure out what you really want to do. While I'm sure that's a great solution for some people, when your problem is overthinking the decision on what to do 'next' because of feeling overwhelmed by choice, putting off taking the plunge won't necessarily help you figure it all out.

The fact is that there's a lot more variety in the job market than you're aware of at 17, and when your main work experience to date has been baby-sitting, slinging burgers and maybe some volunteer work, you really have no idea if a career that sounds good is actually something you'll love to do.

As I said in the comment thread on TSD, if I could tell my younger self one thing it would be to be less afraid to act. While the choices you make early in your career do shape what comes later, the path is much more plastic than I had assumed in high school. If you have a calling, great. If you don’t, pick something you like now and get started on that, whether it’s working, volunteering, travel or some combination of things.

I'm apparently not the only one who felt despair at the number of interests I had to choose from. A TSD reader left a comment on another post here to commiserate.
I am also that kid who had so many interests that I didn't know which one to follow. (I changed majors twice in college and lived abroad learning another language for a year.) Now I have a BA and don't know what to do for a living. I have such a hard time deciding what to do, simply because I'm afraid of it not being the 'right' choice or that I'll be sacrificing something else to my future detriment. I can't tell you how many hours I've spent pondering the issue. And now, of course, the irony is that I'm treading water and getting nowhere quickly due to this indecision.
I think that it can be problematic to set yourself up with high expectations that you'll find the 'perfect' career right out of the gate. If you're an adaptable person with varied interests, and your problem is that you can't decide what to do first or which path is best, my advice is to focus on transferable skills rather than trying to force yourself to choose a specialty right away. If you like what you do, you can always change where you do it, and then you'll never be stuck in a job you hate.

I wouldn't say I've found my calling, but I do enjoy what I do, and I do feel happy and fulfilled in my life. I still hope that one day I will find work that is a calling, but for now I'm content with interesting work that helps me further other goals, teaches me new skills, establishes connections with decent people who I enjoy working with, and has good potential for future growth and new opportunities.

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