What career should I choose?

Apr 15th, 2012 | By | Category: Career advice

Actively choosing a career is a difficult task. There are a lot of careers that most of us don’t even know exist. When I was in high school my view of the professional world was what I saw on TV. Then it really wasn’t clear what people did for a living. They all seemed to work on an office, made a good living, lived in a nice house, and most had domestic help. The only thing my family home and the TV shows had in common was the TV. So while I got a glimpse of how the other half lived, it was mostly make believe. Not a real good basis to make career choices.

My schoolteachers were the only college graduates I knew, and it dawn on me for sometime they all went to college. Most were married women, who did not seem all that well off or excited about their jobs. The idea of being a teacher never crossed my mind when considering a career. Most of the adults that I knew worked in the local mills or the railroad. I didn’t know anyone who owned a business or worked in an office. There was very little chance to learn about what careers were available.

Most of the adults I knew were talented hard working people, but they were not college educated. Most of the men were in military during World War II, and had come home and found jobs, got married and were raising families. They seemed grateful just to have a job. What they were doing didn’t really seem to matter all that much. In retrospect they grew up during the Great Depression.

In contrast I did go college and worked as engineer. My wife and I both realized the advantages of a college education, and coached our two daughters from their earliest years on the advantages of attending college. Although we felt they should pick their own careers, we did everything we could to expose them different professionals. In addition, my wife put a lot of effort into exposing them to gymnastics, dancing, and baton twirling. They both tried their hand at acting and modeling. – A much different environment.

My oldest daughter developed a passion for film and TV, and the youngest took an early interest in business and marketing. They both went to college and are pursing careers. The oldest in New York working as a freelance film director/producer, and the youngest is working in Internet Marketing. I am proud of both of them, but take little credit for their success other than being able to provide them with the opportunity to attend college.

The other advantage my children had was they met people in various professions, many with much higher incomes. One of my favorite anecdotes about choosing careers comes from my younger daughter. When she was around seven or eight years old, the two of us were driving in the car talking about nothing in particular. When out of the blue she said very diplomatically “ Dad I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but everyone I know who has money and a nice house has their own business.” “I think I want to start my own business.” She went on to study business in college.
So what if you don’t have the advantage of getting first hand information about available careers? Where do you get the input to help you decide what careers to pursue? How do you pick a college? Most of the available advice is too general to be helpful. Pick something you like. Pick something you’re good at? Go to a good school. Pick something that is not overcrowded, and so on and on. – All valid suggestions, but not very helpful.

I am not sure that I picked the right career for me. My inclination was toward business and business administration. I am not sure where I even got those leanings. Perhaps like my younger daughter it seemed like those in business enjoyed a better standard of living. The more successful seemed to better off than even the doctors and lawyers. None-the-less my decision to attend college was made when I was in the military. Towards the end of my enlistment, I was considering reenlisting, but was not happy with the income and living standards of enlisted personal. It required a college degree to become an officer. So if for no other reason than to become an officer it was worth getting a college degree. My plan evolved along the following path. I had just been promoted to E-5 which the middle grade for enlisted personnel, if I reenlisted I would receive a good bonus, and could apply for an officer candidate program that would pay for my college and a chance to become an officer, in return for an eight year commitment. In other words the military would be my career. My other option was to get out of military and attend college on the GI Bill. One day I was discussing my plans with a technical representative who was an electronics engineer. When I told him I wanted to study business, he advised me to study engineering instead. For some reason I took his advice and studied engineering. I struggled through college, only to graduate during a recession when there were no engineering jobs. I finally got a job with the government. It turned out fine, but not even close to my expectations. I had steady employment, an ok wage, and a good retirement. All the same things that were important to my parents generation. I did get an MBA while working as an engineer. I will never know how it would have worked out if I had studied business instead, and really doesn’t matter. The important thing is to realize the value of education, and the opportunities that it go with it.

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