“I am awfully greedy; I want everything from life. I want to be a woman and to be a man, to have many friends and to have loneliness, to work much and write good books, to travel and enjoy myself, to be selfish and to be unselfish. … You see, it is difficult to get all which I want. And then when I do not succeed I get mad with anger.” ―Simone de Beauvoir
Since I opened with a quote, I feel greedy for throwing in another one, this time from radio psychiatrist Dr. David Viscott: “You can have anything you want, but you can’t have everything you want.” This is at once pessimistic and optimistic, but it’s a quote that has stuck with me because it hits the right balance. We often dismiss career options as impractical or something we “can’t” do when we actually can do those things but can’t fathom making the changes or sacrifices to get through those transitions.
When it comes to work, it never ceases to amaze me how caught up we get in what other people (who don’t have to go to the job every day) think of what we do or who we work for. Since employment is viewed as a public projection of one’s self into the world, especially in the United States, this makes sense, but many of us limit our career options to the ones we think our families would approve of or that might impress significant others.
This process of how we rule out career choices is referred to as circumscription in Linda Gottfredson’s theory of career circumscription and compromise. Without even realizing it, we evaluate our options based in part on what we see our parents and family members doing. A career seems more accessible if someone we know is doing it. We also look for people “like” us in careers. This is all understandable because it is more comfortable to follow an established path than to carve out a new one. Going with the flow doesn’t trigger the curiosity in family and friends the way that doing something unconventional will. If people get curious about what you do and things don’t go well, anything perceived as a failure happens in a very public way.
While all of this may seem tangential to the idea of something as simple as what it means to have a good job, I encourage you to think about it this way: would a good job for a girl who loves to build things be the same as a good job for a boy who composes music? How could someone who needs tangible results be satisfied with something as abstract as composing music? Also, before anyone jumps on me in the comments about this, of course we see people in technical careers with creative hobbies all the time. The question to ask yourself when it comes to finding satisfying work is: what do you need to do on a daily basis in order to feel satisfied with your job?
Regarding practical considerations such as salary and job growth, on O*NET Online, anyone can easily view lists of the fastest-growing occupations, highest paid, etc., but I encourage job seekers to interpret the data on those lists with caution. If it were easy to find a job with high pay and good prospects, everybody would have a job like that. The reality is that the majority of high-growth occupations right now are low-wage positions requiring a two-year degree (or less).
Another piece of information to consider before students in BA programs decide to drop out and just get an associate’s degree is that while individuals with two-year degrees meet the minimum qualifications for most of the rapidly growing occupations, employers often don’t settle for the minimum qualifications, and even if they usually did, lifetime earnings and unemployment rates suggest that, in the end, you are less likely to be unemployed and more likely to earn more money with a higher level of education.
While this may seem overwhelming to career changers or anyone starting a career planning journey, keep in mind that whatever job you choose now probably won’t be the one you retire in. According to a recent survey, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that younger baby boomers reported holding more than 11 different jobs.
Consider what you know about yourself now and make the best decision for you. That’s how you find a good job.
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