What You Need to Know About Choosing a Career


What You Need to Know About Choosing a Career

This post is the second in our How to Find a Job You Love series. Check out the first post here!

Everyone says having a “great career” is the key to wealth, happiness, and the meaning of life. That’s great, but how come those same people can’t offer decent advice about how to find such a great career?

In fact, you’ve been working for years now—during college and maybe even after—and wealth, happiness, and the meaning of life still haven’t shown up. You’ve got a job, but not a career. You’re starting to think only incredibly lucky people get careers they love. The rest of us get weekends, two weeks of vacation, and retirement at 65.

Friend, things are indeed grim, but not for the reasons you think. You have developed a severe case of Red Bullification disease.

The Only Cool Careers are Ones That Can Kill Me

It’s a pretty serious diagnosis. Acute Red Bullification, often caused by heavy social media use, is what happens when you become convinced that the only careers you can actually be happy in are careers sponsored by Red Bull.

Flying wingsuits, racing mountain bikes, rocking on stage, you get the picture. High excitement = big fun = cool career. But that’s bad career thinking that may have you dying young by jumping out of a helicopter.

Even if you avoid the helicopter death thing, acute Red Bullification still results in choosing a career based on what looks cool on TV. That’s why so many people want to go to college for medical degrees (to work in a glamorous ER), criminal forensics (CSI, baby!), interior design (the next Chip and Joanna Gaines), and, my personal favorite, marine biology (so they can get paid to swim with dolphins!)

Most often, Acute Red Bullification disease causes depression and cynicism and results in people getting trapped in boring jobs instead of finding meaningful careers.

Bad Advice (Which Only Makes Your Symptoms Worse)

There are two common pieces of advice that will make your Red Bullification symptoms worse.

The first sounds reasonable, intelligent, and responsible. Guidance counselors, teachers, and parents use it a lot. It goes like this: “Before you graduate, do some thinking and studying. Really ask yourself ‘what career is right for me?’”

The second piece of advice sounds inspirational and lovely. Ironically it’s most often given by older workers (who are in jobs that they hate) to students who haven’t yet started a career. “Follow your passion, do what you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.”

Both pieces of advice are well-meaning but… they’re also garbage.

First of all, we live in a world of incredible and unprecedented change. That means it’s likely you’ll have a career in something that didn’t even exist when you’re in (or even after you graduate from) college. Nowadays it’s pretty much guaranteed that over your working life you’ll have multiple careers in different fields. The idea that you can figure out on paper what future career you will love and then build a master plan to get it is trash.

And the belief that following your passion means never working another day in your life isn’t just garbage. It’s gagging, retching, maggot-breeding, stinking garbage.

Currently, you’re on the very short side of experience—which is a fancy way to say you’re not very old yet. You haven’t had the time or the experience to have the foggiest idea of what you could or should be passionate about. How do you know what you love? You haven’t even experienced enough of the world to know what’s lovable!

Most people think if they just walk around and breathe long enough, one day WAM! Passion lightning will strike them and that will be it! They’ll know what they’re passionate about and will skip merrily along, never working another day in their life. Garbage!

You have to work to find your passion. Even after you find your passion, there will still be days when work feels like… well, work.

Here’s Some Better Advice (and the Cure for Red Bullification)

In truth, it only takes two things to love your career:

  1. Autonomy: having control over what you do, when you do it, and how you do it.

  2. Meaning: work you think is important and makes a real difference in the world.

Once you’re earning enough money to pay your bills and you get to decide when and how to do what you know will make a difference in the world, you’re working in a career you love.

So how do you get there?

First, Have an Attitude of Mastery

Nobody is going to let you decide what, how, and when to work on something until you’ve proven you have the skill to do so. How do you gain this skill?

By having an attitude of mastery. That means looking for some part of your job to master and getting better than everyone else, no matter what job you currently have. And once you master that skill, look for the next thing and the next.

This strategy will help you in three ways:

First, it will help you gain skill you can trade for autonomy.

Second, it’s the surest way to figure out what you’re good at and how that overlaps with the world’s needs. (Forget career aptitude tests. Pick three things to master, master them, and then look back on what you learned. I bet that those three things are connected in some way.)

Third, having an attitude of mastery will help you decide when it’s time to push for a promotion or look for a new job. When your current position is no longer offering things you’re interested in mastering, you’ll know it’s time for a change.

Then Just Work Hard and Be Patient

It takes time to build skills and gain experience.

How much time? Usually about 10-15 years. Understanding this time commitment makes all the difference. Without this perspective, you’ll give up and succumb to living-for-the-weekend thinking when you realize that the job you have isn’t perfectly awesome.

But if you understand this time commitment, everything changes. Instead of despair, you have a plan and a vision. This isn’t your dream career yet, but there are still skills to master and experience to gain. So you dig in, mastering everything you can for 10+ years.

Only then you can trade skill for autonomy. Only then you can trade experience for meaningful work.

A great career is possible, and Red Bullification is easily curable.

Finding a great career means understanding that autonomy and meaning are the essential foundation for work you love. But you must be willing to build the skill and put in the time required to lay that foundation.

When you do, you will have found work you love. Passion comes with it. And dolphins and Red Bull are optional.

Jonathan is a homeschool graduate, homeschool dad, and Former Executive Director of Student Life with Accelerated Pathways. Jonathan lives in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley with his wife Kara, and their six children.