The 3 Ways We Choose a Career

Ok, so you can probably tell I’m something less than enthusiastic about my career in accounting, and I wouldn’t exactly say my courses in college were overly stimulating. This sometimes causes me to wonder, why did I go down this path at all? That’s an easy one, because no other path presented itself to me, which is sort of how things work for a lot of people. I think there are three ways most people choose a career: 1) follow a passion, 2) go into a vocation they’re familiar with, or 3) fall into something. I need to expand 3 a little: 3a) floaters and 3b) opportunists.

1) Passion Pursuers.

These are the annoying people who’ve always known what they want. Remember that kid in your elementary school who always talked about being a cop, was a cop for Halloween, and brought his cop uncle in for career day? Well now he’s a cop and he freaking loves it. These are the people who have email signature lines that read “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. This works great, so long as you have a passion. I have hobbies I really enjoy? Not enough you say? Didn’t think so.

2) Familiarists.

You know how your best friend became a teacher because both her parents were teachers and so was her grandmother? Oh and also her sister is a teacher and 3 of her cousins and her brother, well, he’s going to be a professor, Mr. Dr. Fancy Pants. Familiarity is a major factor in what you view as a career option. When I was growing up I was never exposed to anyone who was an ambassador to the U.N., hot air balloon pilot, or deep sea crab fisherman. It just never occurred to me that I could actually do those things for a living. Growing up your exposure to possible careers doesn’t extend much beyond what your parents do for a living and what pops up in children’s books.

I think most high school graduates who don’t already know what they want to be when they grow up think they’ll figure it out when they get to college. But college isn’t really set up to marry you to the best fitting of a myriad of majors. Firstly, you’re 17 years old and in college. Secondly, your influencers are still a very small group. You’ll take career cues from casual conversations you have with people you just met, something a professor says in a class, or based on which of your freshman core required courses you enjoy the most. None of these seem substantial enough to base a 40 year career on, but people do it, I do it, or rather, I did it.

3a) Floaters.

You know who you are. You have a college degree and sell used cars- for now. You change jobs often and you expect some day something will fall in your lap. Or maybe you don’t have a degree and you live at home, waitressing because it’s not a bad job and you like the people you work with and freaking get off my back already mom.

3b) Opportunists.

Except for that falling in the lap bit we are floaters. We fit in neither of the first two categories and we freaking despise those people, well the passion pursuers anyway, the familiarists – they’re cool. Basically nothing enthralls us so much that we can’t imagine doing anything else, quite the opposite, we can probably imagine ourselves doing any number of things, which only makes it worse. I call us opportunists because it makes me feel good and also because we choose careers based on aptitude and with some understanding of the market. A floater who likes everything in general but nothing in particular might end up an English major because the professors were cool and their friends were doing it. An opportunist might become an accountant because the classes were easy to them but hard to everyone else, and google says the field is growing and starting salaries are strong. Or at least that’s how I’ll retrospectively justify it.

I’m not trying to say one is better than the others- ok that’s not true passion pursuers are the best, those jackholes have it made. I think the only way to have sustaining satisfaction from a job is to derive that satisfaction from the work itself. If you take a job you hate to pay the bills, you’ll be happy for the first few billing cycles, but eventually the drudgery will overtake you. So if I wasn’t zapped as a child, how do I figure out what my passion is? Do I have one? Are some people just incapable of caring about a career? These are the questions I struggle with, and the struggle is real.

How did you end up in the career you’re in? Was it a conscious choice? Do you fit into one of the extremely well thought out categories above?

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