Careers: What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?
By Laura Hull, MA, LMFT
“What am I going to be when I grow up?” Remember asking that question when we were children? From the time we were old enough to realize that one day we would have jobs and go to work for real, we pondered the possibilities of what we would one day be. Maybe we dreamed about being a doctor or a fireman…maybe a rock star. Maybe we dreamed even bigger. But for a long time, any thoughts we had about what we wanted for a career were just that, thoughts and dreams. However, by the time high school was over, real grown up decisions must be made about how to chart a course for our adult lives. Some choose to further their education in college or a trade school, while others join the working force in some capacity.
By the time I was halfway through my undergrad program, I came to the terrible realization that I had made a horrible mistake in what I had chosen to major in. I also realized that my plan B & C were not stellar, either. What a shame it is that we must try to decide what we want to do as a career for the rest of our lives before the tender age of 20. I remember what an overwhelming, if not depressing feeling it was to realize that I no longer wanted to be what I had spent years prepping for and studying to be. Thank goodness for a chance encounter with a random psychology class at the beginning of my senior year (the only one that fit into my schedule that semester), which changed everything about what my professional life would later become. In my case, thank goodness for graduate school!
Before that exposure to that psychology class, I felt totally stuck. I had invested years in working towards a degree in a totally different field. I could not justify walking away from those plans when I had no idea what I wanted to do. The only thing I knew for sure was that a career in journalism would have made me miserable. I was burned out and I hadn’t even really gotten started yet. So many people find themselves stuck in careers in which they are burned out and no longer happy. But fear of the unknown and the pressure of the time already invested causes many people to stay in careers which are either stagnant or make them miserable. Is it wise to try to make a career change later in life? It depends on individual circumstances. It is certainly easier to make a major life change before mortgages, children, and the other responsibilities/obligations that life inevitably brings as we age. However, it is never too late to make a positive change.
There are many great truths in this life. One great truth is that we ultimately find a way to do the things we want to do in this life. Think about it. If something means enough to us, we USUALLY find a way to make it happen. It sounds so cliché to say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” but it is true. Another great truth is that life is short. Life is too short to spend years grinding away at something that either is not working for us or something that’s making us miserable. If we want to make a change badly enough, we can find a way to make it happen. This may mean returning to school at age 50. This may mean taking a pay cut in order to start an entry-level job in a new field. Change is scary, but it can also be wonderful to be moving in a new direction, when the old direction was not taking us where we wanted to go.
So many of us have our identities wrapped up in our careers. We look at ourselves and define ourselves as successful or not based on how we perform in our careers. I would challenge everyone who falls into this trap to re-evaluate his/her priorities. While careers are important, they are not nearly as important as the strength and health of our relationship with our families and our heavenly father. When we have our priorities in the right order, the pressures that come from our careers and other outside forces do not have the negative impact that it could if our priorities are out of line. We brought nothing into this world, and we will leave with nothing. Jobs/companies will replace us 10 minutes after we are gone. Careers matter but they are not everything or even the most important thing…not by a long shot. It would be better to make $10 per hour working retail and die happy, than to make $100K or more per year, having spent decades in a career that brings stress and misery. Think about it.
Do not be fearful of making a career change. But be realistic. Take an honest evaluation of where you are at and where you want to be. Is the career path you are on making you happy? Is it taking your life in the direction that you ultimately want to go? What are the potential consequences of making a change? What are the most likely consequences if you stay on the path you are already on? What am I willing to do or give up in order to make a major life change at this point in my life? What will my game plan have to include in order to make this dream a reality? When we can answer those questions, it will lead us to the decision that is “most right” for us. We all must answer these questions at some point in our lives, whether as a 20 year old college student or as a middle age parent of teenagers or older. Choose wisely.