In a world of seemingly limitless opportunities, bright young people can be frustrated trying to narrow down what career to pursue. Most don’t have enough work experience to know the great variety of jobs available. Others have aspirations but don’t know how they can make a living pursuing their passion or interests. They search the Internet, talk with parents and guidance counselors, and perhaps talk with friends but cannot discern the path they should take to a fulfilling career.
I wrote an article previously with general advice for young people on choosing a career that is satisfactory and allows them to glorify God in that vocation. In it I provide advice on handling adult criticism or worry about non-traditional career paths (social media manager, artist, trades) and how to use the career to support godly service. However, they may feel like they are trapped in a room full of doors wondering which one to choose. If this is you, I hope the advice below provides some important considerations and ideas for selecting a door to open.
You will probably have several careers
In contrast to my parent’s generation who generally stayed with one company for most of their career, you will probably work for several companies throughout your career. On the job you will likely start in detail-oriented production work until you become an expert who manages, jobs, projects, and/or people. As your skills develop you may discover new ways to maximize your joy and increase your income by pivoting from your initial career path to something you find more challenging or fulfilling. This may happen within one company but will more likely be a couple of moves within one company and moves within other companies as well. You may even be freelancing, that is, doing several projects or jobs (possibly quite diverse) for multiple companies while working for yourself.
Many pursue a course of work for a decade or two then change to something quite different that uses their knowledge and experience in different ways. The marketer becomes an inventor. The accountant becomes a consultant helping other businesses with financial decisions instead of detail money tracking. The successful businessman becomes a preacher. The stay-at-home mom becomes a nurse or teacher when the kids leave home. What you choose today may suit you for a period of your life until you choose something else to pursue.
Start with the tasks not with the title
Much of the frustration I had, and shared by some of my children, is not knowing what job “title” to pursue. We are accustomed to a person with a job title doing a particular job and our challenge is to uncover the one that is suited for us. I want to suggest a better path that will produce less anxiety: focus on what you want to do instead of what the job is called.
Think about what you want to do in a job, not its title, who hires for that work, or will it pay enough to support you. Think about what kind of tasks you want to do every day (understanding that every job has some tasks that are unpleasant but necessary) or accomplishments you want to achieve. List those tasks and/or accomplishments and think about what skills you will need to do that work. You can search the Internet for the tasks or objectives (i.e., writing, computer programming, welding, building houses, helping people recover from illness…) to determine what skills are needed and perhaps read about individuals who are successful in this work. I would suggest being broad in your thinking and have similar overlapping options of the things you want to do. For example, if you are interested in gardening, consider skills in landscaping, food cultivating, and hydroponics as they are distinct but related.
Next, search to see how you can develop those skills today. There are many things you can study online, watch YouTube videos, read books, or learn how to use specific tools, whether the tool is a complex machine or computer software. You can also discover what trade schools, colleges, or apprenticeship programs teach those skills. An important boost to your career is finding hobbies that use the skills for personal enjoyment. Use this knowledge to determine how you can start learning the skills now, even if it just learning the fundamental principles until you can go to a college or trade school. Think of ways you can use the skills now as a volunteer (help in a hospital or nursing home) or experiment on personal projects (i.e., building web sites, apps, animations, furniture, rebuilding an engine…) to gain practical experience you can demonstrate to employers. Following this path, some jobs and employers may find you!
As your knowledge grows and your skills improve the career options and perhaps people or companies that will help you pursue your passion will start to appear. In fact, I don’t think some job titles or career paths will become evident until after you have started the journey following your interests and have accumulated knowledge and skills. So explore what interests you, what brings you joy or excites you, the things you can get lost in and truly enjoy doing, or the things you have enjoyed doing since you were a kid. Chances are, if you take a broad interest approach as described above, you will eventually discover what you cannot see by anxious seeking.