Monday, May 09, 2011

Career advice for a quarter-life crisis

One of my friends seems to be having a quarter-life crisis. We always seem to talk about career change when we hang out. Here's his main question: Everyone always seems to give you the career advice, do what you love. But how good is that advice, really?

He's thinking about going back to school for speech pathology to get out of a current dead-end position. But he tells me, "It's not like I go to sleep at night dreaming of the day I can become a speech pathologist."

Five years ago I might have told him, dig a little deeper and find what you love. If you want to be a screenwriter or a video game designer or an English professor or a travel writer, go for it. My advice being highly influenced by this book, which is mostly about finding your passion as far as work.

But these days I wouldn't say the same. These days I would probably say speech pathology is a fine choice.

These days I'm all about realism, as the recession hits hard and dreams fall by the wayside. I think you have to be somewhere in the middle of "My dream is to be an artist and paint all day" and majoring in something just because "everyone is hiring for it." At either extreme you will be miserable: the former because you won't be employable and will have to take a job you probably don't like to make a living, the latter because you've studied something you don't really like and will likely find a job but wish you could be doing something else.

The main career question to me is, what can you live with? What kind of lifestyle do you want, and how does a career fit into that? Can you live with making under $30K for the next 10 years? Can you live with working in a cubicle for the next 40 years? If you harbor artistic ambitions, are you OK with teaching or temping on the side to make ends meet? Are you OK with working 50 or 60-hour weeks? Do you like working with kids/adults/elderly/no one? How much stress are you willing to tolerate? What do you want to have accomplished by the time you're 50?

Some might say I have landed a "dream job," that is, a creative job in a "glamour industry" (news media). So it can work out to go for your dreams....right?

First of all, I consider myself extremely lucky to have landed at the job that I have, a job I find intensely interesting and also get paid for, especially since I have a degree in a different discipline. But honestly I don't expect most people to be as lucky as I have been. I think landing a job like mine, the way I did, is like winning the lotto -- the exception, not the rule. Please, people, think before you leap.

Second, it's funny to me how even a "creative" job is so much about being a good organizer, planner, teammate, communicator, and business person. You get into a field because you love _____ (in my case, writing) but you end up doing drudgery work just like everyone else, anyway.

Third, low pay is the price you pay for this "glamour" job. I turn green with envy over a speech pathologist's salary.

Fourth, things change in every industry, so better to find a degree for a career you believe in for the long haul than simply to land a job you can get now. Remember how in demand teachers were five years ago? And opportunities even exist in journalism if you're willing to look for them, believe it or not. Opportunities will follow if you believe in the work.

So that's my career advice, from my experiences thus far. Anyone care to agree/disagree?

No comments: