This is a guide to how to choose a career. More specifically, this guide is about the beginning stages of how I figured out what a “fulfilling” career means to me. This guide is beneficial for people that likely embody the following characteristics. First, you believe that work can be fulfilling and are seeking work of this nature. Second, you do not have any clear idea of what you want to be when you grow up. If you wanted to be a police officer since age 2 ½, this guide is useless. Alternatively, you may have had a clear idea of what you wanted to be when you grew up, but are now disenchanted. You now know that being a vet does not mean you get to hold fluffy puppies all day, but instead involves a lot of sick animals and poop. Third, you are not drowning in debt and are willing to make temporary monetary sacrifices, perhaps with parents there as a safety net. To follow this guide, you will have to work temp jobs and internships that don’t pay the best and don’t have benefits. You will have to put thoughts of retirement and owning a house on hold. You might have to donate a large portion of your stuff to Goodwill so that your belongings can fit in your two-door Toyota Echo.
After graduating, I had no idea what jobs even existed, especially because the college I attended focused on teaching critical thinking instead of how to get a job. I was aimless. First, I had to view this position as an advantage. I have incredible amounts of freedom right now with little responsibilities and that allows me to be mobile and explore, which is a freedom I will have to sacrifice when I do have a more permanent career. I took advantage of that freedom and embraced this opportunity to explore career paths rather than blindly attending graduate school or accepting any job I could get.
Second, I accepted that I truly had no idea what career I was interested in and that that was okay. Ironically, I learned this through reading the book What Color Is Your Parachute. This classic helps reader figure out what his/her ideal job is based on his/her specific skills and preferences. As guided by the book, I created a map that outlined my preferences for all aspects of a job: salary, work environment, location, etc. At the end, what I held in my hands was a map full of vague descriptions that outlined this one fact: I had absolutely no idea what my preferences were. I needed to explore careers more in order to know them.
Third, I changed how I thought about a career. This is the most important step I took. I had always focused on what “job” I wanted, as in what I wanted to do day to day and what career title, such as “biologist” or “botanist, I wanted. However, I was missing the context that this job fits in. A biologist does different tasks day to day depending on the organization s/he works for. I shifted my focus, then, to the context. With some guidance from my father, I concluded that there were largely four different contexts that organizations with paying jobs fit in: for-profit, non-profit, governmental, and academic (note: academic organizations aren’t really its own category, since many are non-profits, but professorship is such a unique experience that I counted it as separate context). I focused on deciding which larger context, rather than the specific job, was the best fit for me.
Fourth, I worked for organizations in each of these different contexts as an intern or temp. I tried to remain unbiased by judging my experience based on the values and structure of the organization. For example, I found that even though non-profits are not pursuing profit, there is still a strong focus on making enough money to stay in business. This influences the culture of the work-place, and I had to decide if this was an aspect I preferred and weigh how important this aspect was in light of others. I focused on weighing the values and traits of the context rather than on more personal reasons, such as how much I liked my fellow co-workers and supervisors. I will focus on the personal aspects more now that I have decided which context I want to work in and as I refine what work I find meaningful.
I feel very satisfied with the process I have taken and the context I have chosen. Perhaps this will help others, too. Best of luck!
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