It’s a cruel irony that when you’re making the key choices that will feed into your career later in life, you don’t have the experience that will allow you to make those choices well. Teenagers want to become actors and rock stars, or perhaps rain surgeons and rocket scientists. People in their twenties want to a job that pays reasonably and treats them like a human not a cog in a machine. As a rule when people are confronted with the realities of the job market they become a little more pragmatic than romantic. This doesn’t mean abandoning principles, just that the 14 year old heart surgeon sees the benefit of being a rural GP with regular working hours and the time to see her friends and family.

Today we’re taking a look at the key factors you need to keep in mind when you’re making decisions about your career.

Success

There isn’t a single template of success that suits everyone, and if you try to aim for an arbitrary vision of a successful life (partner, house, 2.4 children and a car, and so on) you’ll likely find yourself unhappy. No one perfectly fits this average picture (certainly not the .4th of a child), so you need to decide what constitutes success for you. You might be more motivated by financial rewards so you need to put together a skillset and contacts network that lets you chase high paying jobs.

If you’re more motivated by the notion of making a difference, you need to get a degree that qualifies you for teaching, medicine or social work jobs – and while you’ll unlikely command the highest salaries available you will have the satisfaction of doing actual, quantifiable good in your working day.

Practicalities

You also need to balance your personal vision of success and happiness with the practicalities of life. Look at your outgoings – the cost of rent, of food, of any dependants you have, and any essential luxuries you might need like a couple of short holidays every year. It won’t do you any good setting your sights on a personally fulfilling career as an artist if you have a family relying on you bringing in a wage. In cases like that you’ll have to learn to derive some personal satisfaction from compromising to provide for the people you love instead individual achievement until you’re free to pursue your own goals.

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