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Archive for Monday, October 24, 2011

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Double Take: When choosing a career, consider what you love as well as economic factors

October 24, 2011

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Miranda: Remember those kids who said they wanted to be doctors since they were 5? Well, they have it easy on the path to a career. The rest of us are left to wonder if we’ll every find a calling and if we can provide for ourselves by following our dreams. Picking a career or college major is one of the biggest decisions we will make as young adults because it defines what jobs we will be eligible for later on. If you leave high school without any idea of what you want to do, I suggest going to a community college or trade school first.

Now on to the matter of choosing. Think about your average day of high school. Which classes do you look forward to? That’s where you should focus. Try to avoid the pressure to go into engineering or medicine if you hate math and science. Those aren’t the only jobs available, so try to find something that interests you that is still a lucrative career.

If you have a couple areas of interest or you’re totally lost on a choice of majors, people can help. Get to know your school’s guidance counselor. He or she can help you narrow choices for majors and relieve general stress about college. Once you’ve been admitted and chosen a college, you will be given an adviser to guide you through class choices and answer questions.

The most important thing about choosing a career is making sure it’s something you love. Don’t ever pursue something just because you think it will be “easy.” Where you end up may not be your first choice, but we live in a world that is constantly changing, and jobs that used to be sure-fire are now disappearing. Making money to be self-sufficient is crucial, but don’t be pressured into a career or a major just to pay the bills. Many different careers and areas of study have jobs available right now. It seems daunting, but with a little research and flexibility it is possible.

Dr. Wes: Ah, the generational differences in how we see the world of work at 49 and 17. Miranda wants you to be happy and fulfilled, and all I do is grumble about paychecks. Ideally, you do need to find that balance she’s suggesting between loving your career and supporting your future family. The problem is that many jobs aren’t all that lovable. For example, you might adore being a doctor, but the day-to-day grind of seeing patients while trying to run an office may get to you. Driving a truck actually sounds pretty fun to me (and the industry desperately needs drivers right now), but being away from home for many long over-the-road hours doesn’t. I see a lot of people who went into careers with great faith in their choice, finding out later that the job isn’t what they expected.

At the other end of the spectrum I see a lot of kids who, just as Miranda proposes, are kind of floating freely from high school into college, trade school, or, worst of all, nothing, without aim or purpose. Then they pick something that’s unlikely to land a paycheck. I won’t pick on any specific majors, but there are a bunch of them. That’s OK if you’re independently wealthy, as most Americans who attended college 100 years ago were. Today, college is incredibly expensive, so it has to lead to employment to be practical.

I recently told a high school careers class that the best thing they could do that very day to advance their careers was get on Google and type in “U.S. Department of Labor,” then add whatever job they were interested in. It takes you straight to a very accurate database of careers, along with highly detailed information about salary, required education, and, best of all, projected employment. Hint: You’ll find engineering, medical fields like nursing, and trades like heating and air conditioning are high-growth industries. Also, if you’re going into an area in which you may eventually need to run your own business (like psychology, law, hair styling or medicine), consider at least a minor in business.

Jobs are scarce, but working hard at a well-thought-out career plan is your best hedge against unemployment.

Next week: A reader tries to avoid becoming a make-out buddy.

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