Tips for Choosing a Career

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Reader’s Question

I am a girl heading to college soon. Since I was 12 years old, I have dreamed of being a psychologist. I love psychology and I read about it frequently. I have even bought some college books and started reading them. But the problem is, in my country, being a psychologist is somehow not acceptable. It is not a good career from many points of view, especially socially and financially. I know that if I joined the faculty of psychology, I might not be able to work or maintain a stable life; I may not have enough money or be able to marry a good man.

My parents would never make me join a faculty that I do not want but, at the same time, they are not encouraging me to be a psychologist. They want me to find some other faculty that I am interested in. I like studying business and economics. Also, I love studying foreign languages. But psychology is my passion, and I know I could be successful in it. Even if I did not become a very good psychologist, it would be enough for me to help others, especially since my country does not have good psychologists — they all rely on medication, and sometimes they do not even listen to your problem till the end!

Should I do as my parents say and join some other faculty, just for ‘prestige’ and a ‘high standard of life’? Or should I fight for what I want? And if I were to do what I want, how could I convince my parents, and how could I be confident enough to face society?

Psychologist’s Reply

When choosing any career path it is important to evaluate not just your passion for your job, but the reality that your career must enable you to make ends meet and face your world at the end of the day. For some people, it is enough to live their dream; family approval, financial stability and social status are not as rewarding as their personal fulfillment in their chosen path. Many of us, however, are not quite as ready to burn our bridges for the sake of our dreams.

Given that you are about to begin your adult life by starting college and preparing for a career, it is important that you conduct an honest self-evaluation regarding what you need in order to be happy. Some things you need to consider are:

  • How important is the approval of your family?
  • What standard of living do you want to have?
  • Where would you practice, and from where would you derive your client base?
  • Is Psychology the only field in which you can see yourself helping others?
  • Are you willing to endure social stigma for the sake of your career?

You mentioned that in your country mental health professionals are not highly regarded, and you seem concerned that this would put a lot of pressure on you. If you are not confident in your career path, it will certainly be harder to face the doubts of your community. It also likely means that you would not be well-paid, which makes it important for you to both identify what precisely your job would be and how much you could realistically earn in that position. While you may wish to be married at some point, it would be unfortunate if you found yourself in a position where your career could not support you unless you had your spouse’s income to augment it. Once you have an idea of your future salary, crunch the numbers: could you happily live on this amount? Remember, there is no shame in wanting to earn a comfortable living, and certainly none in not wanting to constantly worry about making ends meet.

If after all of this you still feel confident that you can realistically pursue your dream career, this would be the time to talk with your parents. Discuss with them all of the topics listed above (as well as any others you have worked through) as a way of explaining how you’ve come to a reasoned, mature decision to pursue your dream. While it may be hard for them to accept that you will never be wealthy or well-regarded, they can take comfort in the knowledge that dedicated psychologists are a valuable resource to their communities. However, if you are having any doubts (or even if you aren’t) you would be well served by taking classes in other areas as well, such as foreign languages or economics. There are plenty of ways that you could be of service to others in your community in those fields as well. You might speak with your professors to find out ways to pursue your desire to be of service to others in these fields. At the very least you could do volunteer work, perhaps mentoring other young girls so that they feel confident pursuing their own dreams.

Remember, you are beginning your adult life. This does not mean that you have to firmly commit to being a psychologist the first day you enter school. Give yourself the opportunity to evaluate realistically what your future would look like in this field, and be honest about whether it is a vision you can live with. No matter which field you select, your future clients will be better served by you if you are not regretful of the path you have chosen.

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