Career Choice: What Really Captures Your Interest?

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Reader’s Question

I’m an 18-year-old male. I struggle to learn, not because I’m lazy, but because I can’t follow a study plan. I love doing things according to how I feel, because then I do things right, but that also wastes a lot of time.

I feel compelled to do something meaningful, but I don’t have the courage to explore. School activities really don’t interest me and, where I live, school consists of extravert-oriented cultural activities and physical contact sports (which I hate).

I feel immensely trapped, because I have nothing to do in society, and the school subjects I took are also not in my sphere of interests. I’m good at my languages and Information Technology (IT), but I am really lagging behind with Physical Science and Mathematics.

For a course of study, I decided to go with IT, because I’m not too bad at it, and I can get a job in that area (which gives me a bit of hope). I like creating things, and I think video editing, web designing and networking could be good choices. Still, I’m doubting IT a bit, because it requires a lot of logical thinking and I’m worried that I could be struggling with algorithms in the future.

Psychologist’s Reply

Most of us have to face the question “What am I going to do for a living?” When we live in a culture in which we have options, including higher education options, we often take this luxury for granted. Still, options require decisions, and with such an important one, it’s natural to feel anxiety and self-doubt.

When it comes to the world of work, experience teaches a few things that it seems were not taught in school. First, no career or job is perfect, even for a particular individual. Should we be fortunate enough to make a living doing something we love, the fact that it’s a job makes it less enjoyable, at least some of the time. Plus, even with an ideal career, there are simply some aspects that we aren’t too excited about.

Second, it’s extremely rare that one career, or one job, will be the ideal over someone’s lifetime. We change, our interests vary, and our circumstances shift. It’s fairly common for people to be doing something in middle age that they could never have foreseen when they were in early adulthood. Ask people you meet whether they thought or knew they would be in their current career when they first launched into adulthood. You’ll be surprised by the answers.

Third, just because we can do something well as a career doesn’t mean we should. Research on work satisfaction reveals that pay and markers of success are less important than feeling challenged, engaged in meaningful work, and appreciated. Discovering what work options offer these qualities requires self-knowledge and self-honesty, and probably some trial-and-error experience.

Tucked inside your description of your situation is another important truth to recognize: we humans are motivated to learn, and to do a pretty good job of it, when the topic interests us. Conversely, making ourselves learn something that’s not of interest can be very difficult, and rates of success are very much lower. Because an important feature of a satisfying career is to be continually challenged, hopefully you’ll be doing a lot of learning over the next four decades. So, it’s a good idea to keep coming back to one question: What really captures my interests?

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