From the time children are old enough to talk, grown-ups persist in asking the foolish question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Most of the time, a four-year-old will answer something like “a fireman, a policeman, or a dancer”. Little children want to be heroes and fairy tale characters because these are the larger-than-life characters that populate their worlds. It is rare to encounter a preschooler who plans on a career as a nuclear physicist or a sous chef.
As children grow up and mature, they will answer the question more along the lines of their interests. A typical preteen will answer “jet pilot, NFL star, or movie star” as their chosen career field. A high school student will start to consider the career question in a realistic manner but usually from the point of view of what career is popular or what career pays well such as “physical therapist, doctor, or lawyer”. The career choices have changed as they have grown and experienced more of the world but are still idealistic to some degree.
As college students, these recent-high school students are required to decide at the beginning of their college careers what career path they want to pursue. When naming a major course of study, a college student usually is still in the “doctor, lawyer, chief operating officer” mode and decides to select a career path based on career popularity and income potential. Interest starts to play a role at this stage, but many students find it difficult to translate interests into careers or employment. The choice they make will determine the course of the next four years of college study and set their investment toward a specific career path.
Is it possible to successfully make a career choice and plan an education to achieve that goal at the tender age of 19? Obviously, it is because many people go straight through college to become physicians, engineers, and other professions with never a hesitation. It is interesting to note, however, that 80 percent of college graduates never work in a career related to their major field of study. The average American will also change complete career fields at least three times during his lifetime. Such statistics bring into question the value of choosing a career path as a freshman in college.
June Rankin* grew up confident that she was going to have a career as a veterinary surgeon. As soon as she was old enough to legally work, she gained a part-time position as a veterinary assistant for a local veterinarian. She took the ACT in her junior year and scored a composite of 29. Offers of scholarships started to arrive. She was confident of her chosen career path – four years of pre-vet and then acceptance into the very competitive veterinary medicine school of her choice.
What June did not take into consideration was her natural abilities. She had an IQ that put her in the “gifted” range and had worked for five years in a hands-on veterinary practice where she had seen nearly every type of procedure and participated in most of them. What she couldn’t do was balance a chemical equation, work the trigonometric equation for a hyperbole, or understand derivatives in calculus. Her natural abilities were simply not math-oriented.
June ended up failing miserably at the beginning of her college career, finishing up on probation status with the university and very frustrated with her studies. She considered hiring a tutor but realized at best she would achieve a C average, not good enough to be competitive in the race for veterinary school admission. In the end, she changed her major and the following semester made the Dean’s List – she had found her natural abilities. She went on to success in a career field in which she loves to work.
June learned a good lesson early on – do what you do well and career success will come. Unfortunately, many invest large sums of money and time in education only to discover after graduation they hate what their new career. An investment up front in career assessment, ability testing, and research of careers would be an investment that brings huge returns while saving a great deal in wasted time and funds.
All successful people, however they define career success, all say they chose their careers because they love the job and because they are good at doing it. It is impossible to be truly successful in a career and hate it. (If you hate your career, you are not successful.) The key is to find activities you like to perform, find out in what tasks you are naturally skilled, and then find a career that combines the two.
Research, introspection, testing, and investigation into career options can help you achieve career happiness. A career coach or career counselor can lead you through the process of finding your career niche. If you find yourself past college and in a career you do not like, it is time to start planning a career change. A career coach can support you through the process of career transition without career upheaval. Invest in professional coaching or counseling now for your career and bask in job happiness in the future.
Written by Teena Rose, a columnist, public speaker, and certified/published resume writer with Resume to Referral. She’s authored several books, including "20-Minute Cover Letter Fixer" and "Cracking the Code to Pharmaceutical Sales."
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