The Challenge of Choosing the Right Career

November 26th, 2007 by Steve Pavlina

Choosing a career is a huge responsibility, both for men and women.  I think this is especially true for men though, since we’re socially conditioned to value our careers very highly and to mix our egos into our work.  It’s tough for many men to feel fulfilled and happy when their careers aren’t going well, even if everything else is working OK.  But if a man’s career is thriving while the rest of his life is only so-so, he may still be generally happy and content.  Obviously there are exceptions, but this is a common pattern I see, both within myself and in others.

Your career is a very important part of your life, and I’m not going to downplay its significance.  A good career is one of the greatest blessings you’ll ever experience, and a bad career is one of life’s greatest curses.

Some people really feel the weight of this choice, and it scares them.  I see this a lot with students.  What if I choose the wrong major in college?  What if I get a job I don’t really like?  What if I start a business and end up hating it?  Those are all good questions.  It’s great to be asking them ahead of time.

It’s OK to be a little anxious about this choice, but don’t let the fear stop you from exercising your ability to choose consciously.  You don’t have to be perfect.  You don’t even have to be right at first.  In fact, you’ll get much better results in the long run if you’re willing to fail.

Making the wrong career choice

I’m going to be totally straight with you.  If you make a mistake in your career choice, you’ll probably suffer for it.  A bad decision here will sting a bit.  It may even hurt a lot.  A bad career choice can bring down other parts of your life too.  It can negatively affect your health, your relationships, and your home life.  You can’t simply compartmentalize it.  In most cases it’s an ugly sight to behold.

But here’s the worst of it.  Your first career choice — and most likely your first few choices — will probably be wrong for you.

If I had to guess, I’d say that about 50-80% of the time people make a career choice, they choose wrong.  And here I’m referring to the people who make this choice consciously and deliberately.  If social conditioning substitutes for conscious choice, and people just fall into a career path, then I’d estimate we’re somewhere in the 95-99.9% range.  Good choices rarely happen by accident.

You never know until after you commit

Even with a lot of conscious thought, the right career choice is very difficult to make.  The reason is that you never really understand these kinds of decisions until after you’ve made them.

Recently Erin and I had a professional chef at our house preparing some food.  She’s a very experienced chef who used to work at a popular casino restaurant.  One of the items she made was a vegan banana cake, using a recipe we gave her.  The cake looked great, but it was like trying to chew a mattress.  It reminded me of when the Three Stooges accidentally baked a potholder into a cake.  Even with all her experience and skill, this chef didn’t know how the recipe would turn out until she made it.

So what did we do?  We just said, “OK, that recipe wasn’t so good.  Let’s not use it again.”

What do most people do when they make the wrong career choice?  They pretend they like the cake, trying not to grimace too much while eating it.  Mmmm… it’s so deliciously rubbery!

Cut your losses

If you make a bad cake, dump it and move on.  Don’t stare at the cake lamenting the time and money you’ve invested in it.  If the cake is bad, the cake is bad.

The same goes for bad career choices.  Once you recognize your mistake, cut your losses and get out as soon as possible.  A wrong decision doesn’t become a right decision by pretending.  Forgive yourself and move on.

It’s very challenging to hit upon the right career choice even with deliberate, conscious intent.  That’s OK.  You have the right to make mistakes.  That’s how you learn and grow.  As you make mistakes, you’ll refine your thought processes, and your decisions will improve.

Years ago I was reading about a group of people who became self-made millionaires at a young age.  I don’t recall the source.  But I remember that it was mentioned that the average person in that group had gone through about 17 different careers before finding the one that lead to financial success.  That may seem like an insane amount of switching, but sometimes you have to try a lot of different recipes just to find one you really love.


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