Conundrum: Life can only be fully understood by viewing backwards, but it must be lived forwards.
Career choices are akin to menu selections, and when there are too many choices, confusion is often the unintended result. Once again, the lifetime consequences are not small, and what’s even harsher is that the impact may not become manifest for many, many years… after great damage has been wrought.
The central point is a life worth living, and living fully. And the litmus test is very simple: how do you truly feel every morning, upon awakening, about what you must do during the day?
There’s no way to completely turn off your true feelings, because the human mind cannot be totally suppressed. So picking a career option based on greed, need for approval, need for status, or any other artificial priority, will in the long run lead to unhappiness. You must find something that you truly like doing. Be honest with yourself!
Even if you need to spend a few afternoons alone, in a dark quiet room (free of all distractions) to reflect on what you really like, then please DO SO. Think about the activities that have made you feel happiest, and you’ll have some pretty clear indicators about where your real strengths exist. Pay heed to your dreams; they’ll reveal bare truths about your real preferences… and concerns.
But if you bow to pressure (self-imposed, or from those around you) to follow a career path based primarily on trying to satisfy others… you’ll eventually be consumed by thoughts of what you could have done with your life.
Even those close to you, whom you trust, may not necessarily be the most objective judges of what you should do with your major life decisions… so do trust them, but trust yourself more.
While being careful not to chase unrealistic 100% career satisfaction, be mindful that much of the regret that people accumulate in a lifetime will catch up in the form of poor mental health. After all, most people spend lots of their waking hours at work, so if it’s a bad fit… well… the outcome to your emotional health is predictable!
There are literally millions of people who live with undiagnosed low-level depression or anxiety that emerges through their 20s, and becomes increasingly severe and debilitating in their 30s and beyond. Many try to mask the dark toll with “self-medication” such as illicit drugs and alcohol initially. Much (but not all!) of this unnecessary misery can often be traced to following ill-fitting career choices (…or remaining in a career that is no longer fulfilling).
Over time, negativity can come to dominate the internal monologue, and you then begin to despise and short-change yourself. This can lead to many of the inactions that we later regret. Self-doubt (which we talked about – click here) is a spiral of inertia and paralysis.
Some never recover, but fortunately, many can and do. Recovery can only begin with the honest realization that something is seriously wrong. But the mere mention of mental illness carries a stigma that keeps us from being honest with ourselves about what’s really occurring. So seeking professional help is certainly important, but you must do much of the work on your own. And it really cannot begin until you yourself admit that you’re unwell, and thereby choose to take action.
Don’t listen to that voice that says, “If you quit this job or lose this income you’ll never find another.” You will.
Of course, the sad reality is that many people don’t have any choice… or do they? They may, for example, be quagmired in poverty, or stress, or stranded under (perceived) obligations to others, and unable to escape their present reality. Or perhaps they could, and they think it’s just too challenging.
So it must be worth discerning your chosen career path, carefully, early in life – but don’t be afraid to switch later, if need be. Quitting does not equal failure.
In the end, how much are your life and contentment worth to protect? I’ll tell you…
In a word: everything.
Prof Ling 🙂