Choosing The Career Of Your Life

Katie Young
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Wednesday - November 01, 2006

Let me see a show of hands: How many of you are currently working in the field of your college degree? My guess is there are more people who aren’t than are.

This is because when we go to school, many students aren’t equipped to decide what they want to pursue. A “career” seems like a far-off notion, an ambiguity of the future filled with far too much purpose for our teenage minds to handle.

So when required to pick a major, we go with the most accessible field, the one we feel we know the most about. But it may not be what’s best for us. And as the years go by, we decide that we might love doing something completely different.

I know there are those people who’ve known who and what they wanted to be since they were 7. I suppose I was close to that.

When I was in the fifth grade, I wanted to be a lawyer. I think it was because my mother once told me I was great at arguing. Not that I could dispute that fact, but a year later I changed my mind and decided I wanted to be a writer.

I’d spend days writing poems about frogs and trees and butterflies - none of which were very good, but my mom liked them, and it was a lot more peaceful than practicing my debating skills on her. Creative writing led to journalism - and I still can’t imagine loving anything as much.

But my best friend, who also came to college with me, wanted to be a veterinarian. So she got a degree in biology. But after school she changed her mind. Biology degree in hand, she went back to school and got a second degree and is now a successful accountant. My friend Matt got a degree in marine biology, hoping to become a fish farmer (resource manager), but opted instead to become a real estate appraiser.

“The average student changes majors about six times, and I believe the average person changes careers about seven times before they retire,” says Dr. Donald Kopf, former director of counseling at Chaminade University, and current associate professor at Argosy University.

Kopf, who is also in private practice as a psychologist, says sometimes there’s a mismatch between what people study, what schools offer and what jobs actually exist.

Sarah Hodell, a career counselor at Windward Community College, says, “In the baby boomer generation, the purpose of getting a degree was to become a better person, and after you got your bachelor’s degree, then you kind of scratched your head and said, ‘OK, now what?’”

Hodell was a teacher for more than 10 years, but it was her dream to become an architect. “But I had no idea what an architect did. It was just my dream and my fantasy. But I just didn’t know enough about it.”

She ended up going through her life savings to put herself through architecture school. She spent three years in school before deciding a career in architecture wasn’t for her.

“Sometimes what I see is the people who were so determined, but without knowing enough about the specific career - either because it’s family expectation or something else. So they have this script in life that they’re going to be this thing or that thing, but then they get closer and decide they don’t want to do it,” says Hodell.

The best thing for students to do, say both Hodell and Kopf, is to get their feet wet.

“Get to know the reality of the world of work,” says Kopf. “What kind of jobs there are, the skills they require and find one that meets your needs and your desires.”

Hodell agrees, saying, “Create opportunities to allow people to make choices so they are more aware of the step-by-step direction they’re going in. They’re less likely to go along a path and switch in the end if their choices are more educated.”

This includes not only talking with a high school or college counselor, but also choosing part-time jobs or volunteer work in the field you’re interested in early on.

“That way you’re not caught off guard and it’s more likely it’ll be a good match,” says Hodell. “You never know. Sometimes people just run into opportunities in their lives that weren’t what they had planned to do. When all is said and done, exposure, experiences and information along the way should at least help people make those decisions.”

Kopf also warns that in a place like Hawaii, where the cost of living is high, sometimes there is a tug-of-war between what you want to do and the reality of what job will pay the bills. “A career choice is a lifestyle choice,” he says. “So really get to know yourself. And don’t wait until your senior year in college.”

But whether you’re 18 or 80, it’s not uncommon to feel like you still don’t know what you want to be “when you grow up.”

“We all change, we all learn,” says Kopf. “Get to know the world of work, prioritize the top 10 things you want out of work and out of life, find a match and be willing to compromise. It’s a journey to learn who we are and what we want to do. “

Embrace the journey. Create opportunities for yourself to learn. Take advantage of the resources at your school. After all, this is your life we’re talking about.

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