Choosing A Career? How Exactly Does That Work?

Cover of "What Should I Do with My Life?&...
Cover of What Should I Do with My Life?

I knew from the age of 12 or so I wanted to be a writer, especially a foreign correspondent. I grew up in a family of journalists and film-makers and writers and actresses and it all looked like a lot of fun.

Some people, as this recent Wall Street Journal piece points out, don’t have a clear direction and seek one. Or their job, career or industry (hello, print journalism!) has buckled beneath them like a horse shot through its heart.

For some, it’s clear what our vocation — from the Latin word “to call” — will be, and nothing will deter us in our efforts. But job markets have a nasty habit of drying up and disappearing (mortgage lending), sometimes overnight.

In 1989, burned out and utterly fed up with journalism and desperate for some idea what other paths might even fit my skills and behavior patterns, I took three days’ worth of career and psychological testing. It cost a fortune and suggested I become a…journalist. Or lawyer or florist.

I’m still here, writing for a living. The tests did help me much better understand some of my other aptitudes and how I might use them in other fields. Turns out not everyone loves being decisive all the time or talking to strangers every day for a living. My retail job taught me a lot more about what I love and hate about certain kinds of work — love meeting tons of new people, loathe being emotionally abused by them. Loved selling a great product, hated the mindless tedium of cleaning shelves and folding T-shirts month after month.

Po Bronson wrote a best-selling book called “What Should I Do With My Life?”, a plaintive wail if there ever was one.

When and where and how did you choose your job or career? Have you changed it along the way? How did you know where to go next?

3 thoughts on “Choosing A Career? How Exactly Does That Work?

  1. ebizjoey

    You know from previous comments I am 49 and job retraining, let me tell a quick story. E-business has 100% job placement at the community college, but oh there are all kinds of hoops,I don’t want to go into it all, it revolves around it really being a 3 year program due to pre-requisites but 2 years of financial aid, I have to appeal to finish, wish me a broke leg!). The school, of which I am proud of, has a whopping 4% graduation rate, and this is the second largest college in Ohio, Cuyahoga Community College, in Cleveland Ohio. We had to do a group project, (it went the whole semester) in a business class, it was you have $5 million dollars for a non-profit, what can you do? You had to apply everything you learned in the course. From day one I went right after the school and their slogans, oh they are good at those- big posters of movie cameras and things like that- I mostly lost, the 19 year old appreciated the facts, he really did, but just could not go along with my idea of aiding people toward employment in the new economy, he didn’t get that part- he knows no other economy and to him there is no problem with everyone wanting to be either the next Spike Lee or Hallie Berrie (Hallie actually did graduate from here). Well guess what kiddies, there is something called a new economy, and these schools are shamelessly promoting anything but that, come here and have fun!
    Well, end of story, I backed off, got about 20% of my concern in there, they did their heard it all before attacking poverty thing- but it worked all around- and I think that 20% got a lot of attention judging from the astonishing looks I got as we left the room end of class, something was different so some got to thinking about it- but the point is this- we need a lot of job retraining. There should be schools all over open day and night to bridge this digital divide, the economy just changed too fast-, ther are still millions of people that never did an email! Anyone (like me) that hit on a bad year or two qualifies for Pell grants and what not, but those grants should go with aptitude testing and a curriculum that will get a job when completed, we are in a new economy, and no-one is guiding these kids, it is like they are still in the 70’s, those days are gone. You can do everything right now and still end up in a gas station, its just crazy, or maybe I am. Whew, guess that’s some venting, thanks!

  2. leonkelly

    I had 3 choices in 1974: my narcissist father’s hardware store, the steel mill, or find a 4-year degree program that guaranteed reliable pay upon graduation in 1978. Thus I became an engineer and still ended up working at the local steel mill. My real love is people and science. I have the distinct privilege to lead over 100 wonderful people in the operation of a printing factory. Like so many True Slant members, I am a wanna-be writer. I really admire people that wanted to write and acted on it. But i have no big regrets. My son is on my case to start a blog. I will do so when he returns from college in May.

  3. Caitlin Kelly

    ebizjoey, thanks for the vent. I agree with you, millions are well and truly screwed as they/we try to adjust — at warp speed — to an economy where millions of jobs are simply gone for good. I highly doubt I’ll ever again get to work for a daily newspaper, and that makes me sad. I loved that work and am good at it. Too bad.

    Leon, sounds like you found a good fit…Interesting you wanted to be a writer. It’s a wonderful thing to do and get paid for but it’s an insane and difficult life unless you write in the niches that are (and some are) very lucrative. I sat at dinner tonight with four colleagues from ASJA and the one wearing cashmere (a tech guy) admitted he’s pulling in six figures. I never have and doubt I ever will; I just don’t do the right sort of writing or for the most generous of payers. I think you’ll really enjoy blogging.

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