How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life?
February 6, 2005 10:52 PM   Subscribe

How did you decide what you wanted to do with your life? [+]

I'm 25, have a degree in Journalism, and currently work three different jobs. One of my jobs has made me realize that writing non-fiction is not for me. I make music for fun, and I write fiction (mainly comic and movie scripts at the moment), but I don't see them as career choices. If I have a stable career, I wouldn't mind only devoting my free time to them.

I've tried to break into the video production field, but aside from my Educational access job, I haven't had much luck, and I'm not sure I'd enjoy doing it full time. Currently, I'm also considering becoming a Police Officer, in hopes of becoming a detective.

The problem is, I'm not exactly sure what I want to do. I have general goals for my life (own a home, financial security etc., but I'm not certain career wise).

If you could tell me how you came to your decision, maybe it would help me make mine.
posted by drezdn to Work & Money (33 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I looked at people doing things that seemed interesting and compared their personalities to my own. That got me into neurology (and out of surgery) and was it ever the right choice!

There was a point in college where I was seriously debating medicine versus computer science. I eventually decided that medicine would force me into healthy, fulfilling contact with people whereas as a computer scientist I would probably retreat into a dim cubicle and never come out. That also turned out to be good, but in a way it's been a fight. In another way it's afforded me great opportunities for personal growth.

I still wonder if it was the right choice sometimes, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:59 PM on February 6, 2005

I'm 30 and I still don't know what I want to do with my life.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:13 PM on February 6, 2005

best thing i ever did was to run away! i ran (well, not literally) to barcelona, fell in love with a people, a city, & a beautiful catalan girl. i found myself a part-time gig helping teenagers to express themselves in english in the evenings. it shaped my life. perhaps getting away from home & work & hopes & goals & choices will - in a funny way - help you to see clearly. nobody can ever have enough time off before committing to a home & a career. have you ever been to europe?
posted by n o i s e s at 11:29 PM on February 6, 2005

N o i s e s' advice is good. More broadly, a career is in fact a far too narrow thing to focus on. Figure out instead what you want,-- even the most general and non-work specific answer to this question will ultimately serve you far better than any attempt to figure out what career path to follow.
posted by dong_resin at 11:38 PM on February 6, 2005

I'm also 30, and I decided a long time ago that what I "do with my life" doesn't matter as much as having a job that lets me do what I really want to do with my life. I don't assume that I'm going to hate my work, of course, but I always remember that I'm working to earn some money, and the money goes to things that are important to me: the community, music, art, hobbies, etc. Work, for me, is an enabler and not an end in itself.

Life, after all, is bigger than my job. The career is, and always will be, secondary to me being who I want to be. The downside is that sometimes I'm not driven to reach the pinnacle of any job (though I do just fine and care very much about my work); the upside is that if I'm ever unhappy with what I'm doing, I know it's all for a bigger purpose.

I'm not sure if that helps at all, but I'm happy today knowing that I'm doing what I want merely because I am working.

Good luck!
posted by socratic at 11:44 PM on February 6, 2005

PS. "also 30" relates to TeamBilly's comment.
posted by socratic at 11:45 PM on February 6, 2005

Response by poster: I think I'm somewhat similar in thinking to you socratic, I'd like a job that pays me well enough to feel somewhat secure with my position in life, but gives me time to pursue my various interests. I would like a job that's interesting to me, and uses my skills though.

re: traveling... At the moment, traveling outside the US is probably not an option for me. I have a lease through Oct, very little savings, and I make very little extra income.
posted by drezdn at 11:56 PM on February 6, 2005

I am 43 and all I can contribute is to say life just keeps happening to me. It isn't always easy but it has always been good. It's also better than the alternative.

I have been a radio DJ, club DJ, TV camera guy, director, photographer, book seller, and a few other things. I have owned a call center, a book store, and an ISP. I studied politics. I now sell enterprise software. Along the way I have had a number of homes, pets, friends, and two children.

I still have no formula other than avoid the stuff the really sucks. Cultivate the stuff that is good like friends and family.
posted by arse_hat at 12:35 AM on February 7, 2005

I'm 21, I am going to graduate college in 4 months. I have switched what I wanted to do more times then I can count. I came to school as a Computer Science major thinking I could make the big bucks, decided that would be dull. Went to business, because my father made his job seem important, then I realized that I might end up just like him (not a bad thing, but I want to be my own person). Finally I went into film, because it felt right, and I understood what people wanted to see.

Now in a few months time i'll see if my wager paid off, if not... can I get a job with you?
posted by Derek at 2:25 AM on February 7, 2005

I am 43 and all I can contribute is to say life just keeps happening to me. I now sell enterprise software.

Hey, I'm 43 and I teach people how to use enterprise software. But yes, stuff just sort of happens to me, too. I was a Mass Communications major but I have never exactly worked in my field. I'm almost always having fun, though.
posted by fixedgear at 3:19 AM on February 7, 2005

drezdn, regarding money and living abroad. You can save some decent cash teaching ESL in some places in Asia (Korea, Taiwan, Japan; China, Vietnam, Thailand less so). If you're able to stash away a couple of thousand dollars, that'll get you enough to get set up and after that if you're a decent teacher, you can put away at least $1000/month.
posted by alidarbac at 4:02 AM on February 7, 2005

continuing a theme - my life, too, has developed from a series of small decisions, none of which seemed particularly important/dramatic at the time. i went to university because it was expected of me; did physics because engineering was somehow looked down on; chose astronomy for a phd because i thought it wouldn't have much quantum mechanics and the building was nice; went abroad for a semi-postdoc because the grant was held by someone i'd worked with; fell in love with the girl next door; got a postdoc in edinburgh becasue i thought it might be a good place to live, and so she could do her phd there; got a job when the money ran out (programming maths because that's what i was doing anyway); got another job while checking adverts to see what my salary should be; moved to leicester because my partner got a postdoc there (telecommuted to work for same company in edinburgh); moved back to chile because she got a permanent position there; got a job writing software for a bank by applying to all the ads in the local paper; later resigned and found another position working at the same institue where i did that first "semi-postdoc".

but reading that, it's not really "what i do with my life". under that heading i'd put more - programming, reading, eating, thinking, spending time with pauli, running - playing around with ideas, making stuff, enjoying things.
posted by andrew cooke at 5:26 AM on February 7, 2005

From 7 to 17 I wanted to be an aerospace engineer. Then I took a quick left-turn and went into journalism. I've owned a bookstore, worked in advertising design, managed a volunteer program at a 12-Step treatment center, civil engineering computer support, and systems administrator for a public library.

But all that was just to make money. What I've done with my life (since I was a teen) was to raise children (mine and others). I'm about to take a year or so off to do that exclusively.

socratic said it best: The best plan is "having a job that lets me do what I really want to do with my life".

I don't believe "lifetime careers" are for the majority of people anymore. Most of us will have a series of careers.

So, to answer your question, I never decided.
posted by ?! at 6:02 AM on February 7, 2005

I did what ikkyu2 did--I'm 25 and a grad student in English, and one of the reasons I chose that over my other option (tech / consulting) was that my 75-year-old English professors are sharp as tacks: outgoing, energetic, literate, and still full of ideas. Every day they get up and talk in front of hundreds of people, and they love their jobs and never want to retire. It seemed like a great way to live as well as work, which is why I chose to give academia a try and give up the relatively safe world of the cubicle.
posted by josh at 6:03 AM on February 7, 2005

As everyone here is saying, figure out what you love, and do that. Most people will have 3-5 different careers in their lives, so don't think you only get one shot at this. The great thing in life is to wake up each morning and look forward to the day.

I teach, and what me decide was trying it. I went to an M.A. program where they let me team-teach a freshman survey class in my discipline, it was the most fun I ever had. That and every day since.
posted by LarryC at 7:07 AM on February 7, 2005

Dong-resin and socrates had some good advice. As for me, I "decided" by default, as I didn't want an all-consuming career and had no overweening dreams of artistic glory. As a liberal arts grad I was trained to do nothing but read and write, so I drifted into publishing, where I am bored most of the time yet relatively comfortable. But enough about me. Drezdn, you seem to be a well-rounded person and I applaud your giving serioius thought to this issue. My advice, I guess, is don't drift like I did. And, since you're a writer and expressed interest in becoming a cop, I highly recommend a recent book called "Blue Blood," by Edward Conlon, an NYC cop who is also a graduate of Harvard. It's excellent writing and he clearly loves being on the job. Good luck.
posted by scratch at 7:19 AM on February 7, 2005

In my experience (and from what I've seen in others), I've seen that if you set very specific goals for yourself (I want X job by the time I'm 25, and X and X by the time I'm 28, etc.), you're going to be let down. I think that if you look to hard for exactly what you want to do, you'll never find it.

Try connecting with people that do what you do (music, comics, movies). I'm not saying anything has to come of it, but if it's what you enjoy, then you should throw yourself 100% into it. And there's no reason why you can't turn your interest there into a career - entertainment is a multi-billion dollar industry, and employs countless people worldwide. Sure, it's not traditional, and probably not a M-F 9-5 type of situation, but if it's what you enjoy, it's what you enjoy.
posted by AlisonM at 7:27 AM on February 7, 2005

One of the things the all-consuming life of graduate school taught me is that I didn't want to be what I did for a living.

One of Armisted Maupin's characters in his Tales of the City series claimed that, in rough paraphrase, you could never have a great job, lover, and apartment at the same time. I've tried to balance those three aspects so that I'm with someone I love, in a city I like, doing something I don't hate. For instance, if I actually finished my dissertation and went on the academic job market, I don't know if my husband would follow me to whatever godforsaken place would give me the job I would so desperately want, throwing my equation out of balance. So I teach community college - professionally much less fulfilling and lucrative, and sometimes a bruise to the ego - but I get to live in a place I enjoy, I get to spend time with my family, and, like other posters have mentioned, I enjoying teaching itself, regardless of the location. Somehow, as I get older, compromise doesn't seem such a dirty word.
posted by bibliowench at 7:38 AM on February 7, 2005

I dropped out of college at 20 and went the civil service route b/c I needed a job. I then spent the next 8 years going to college part-time to complete my degree. I sometimes regret not having had the typical 4 year undergrad experience but at the same time would not do it differently if I had to do it over again. I learned a lot about myself and the world.

There is a lot to be said for civil service jobs. Your personality will determine how much you enjoy it, how much the job affects you, how you relate (and how they relate to you) to the other guys & gals.

I decided I wanted to "help people" so I went to grad school to become a librarian, began working as a librarian, then decided the best way for me to help people is by teaching. I am now pursuing that.

As to how I came to my decision - I had a nontraditional career path and I think that the is the best way to do it if you do not have children, mortgage payments, et cet. Have as many different jobs and life experiences as possible. Becoming a police officer would qualify. Good luck.
posted by mlis at 8:36 AM on February 7, 2005

fixedgear and arse_hat ... along with the life comes and works for me ... do you have a spouse and kids? Sole bread winner?

If so, how have you managed that while waiting for things to unfold?
posted by zymurgy at 8:43 AM on February 7, 2005

I've never been terribly ambitious, and I am of the last generation of women who expected that we would somehow fit into traditional gender-based roles - kind of like a Cinderella/Snow White thing ("some day, my prince will come.") As such, I never made any career plans, I just had this vague longing to be with someone. As I bumbled my way through college I met the person who ended up being my lifemate, we had kids and I found myself looking for work that would allow me to be involved in the lives of my children. I found work in a school-related job that afforded me the same days off as the kids had, and allowed me to know and understand the culture that they were becoming a part of. For me, it's always been more about working to live than to living to work. And now that our children are grown up and have adult lives of their own, I am enjoying my work more than ever, have gone back to school to enhance my skills, and find every day with my spouse to be sweeter than than the one before.
posted by Lynsey at 10:14 AM on February 7, 2005

I love these freeform "tell us about your life" threads. There're always some really interesting responses.

Here's how I got to where I am today:

When I was about 9 years old, my Dad lost a lot of money. We became poor overnight. Also at this time, I discovered computers and plunged headlong into programming.

When I was about 15 I kinda gave up on computers because I had visions of becoming a novelist. With some maturity, and no money, I figured that if my parents couldn't financially support me and my planned dilettante lifestyle I'd have to figure out something better than working retail. So I went back to my strengths to determine what I could offer, that would earn me a decent living and perhaps even afford me the lifestyle I desired. So I went into computers.

I don't hate it, but I'm not in love with my career choice either. However, over the course of building a stable platform from which to launch the rest of my life, I lost focus on why I was building the platform in the first place. Only over the course of the last 6 months have I been re-calling WHY I do what I do.

Things have changed of course, I no longer dream of becoming a novelist, though I do continue to fart around with creative writing. I like the IS/IT sector quite a bit and have figured out that I get a lot of fulfillment when I act in the capacity of an architect rather than a programmer/analyst and I'm determined to get the type of work that I really want to do. I also want to learn Tai Chi and eventually become good enough to teach it.

So, my strategy was to build a stable life: married, own car, own home, no debts. Now that I have this, I have a much clearer idea of what I want to do now, and how to go about getting it. My advice is, slog away with your current "career" in order to obtain stability and security for yourself, then worry about figuring out what you really want to do. (Then again, this could backfire if your life takes an unexpected turn...)
posted by C.Batt at 12:11 PM on February 7, 2005

There was a great thread about this a while back, where the poster was reminded a few times that this is IT so spend your time doing what you actually enjoy and want to do. Money is nice, but not if you don't have time to make use of it.

I know too many people whose projects get brushed aside because work tires them out and they just want to spend their salaries on vacations and cable and nice meals. That is fine if that is fulfilling for you - if a family or community is more important than achieving any of your creative/etc pursuits, for instance - but it is unfortunate when that just happens to people, not because they choose it but because they get caught in the inertia of office life.

It's worth trying to figure out which elements of your life are most important to you, what you hope to be able to look back over in 50 years. I said in that other thread, lists helped me. Make a list of what you love to do, and one of what you know you're pretty good at (or what other people say you're pretty good at), and see if it clarifies or even sparks some ideas.

Don't necessarily reject something just because it seems somehow self-indulgent or irresponsible - if you really love something, it might be worth giving it a go. Maybe you'll shortly realize that you aren't really made for it, but I just want to caution against considering something a 'childish' goal - I didn't pursue some avenues because of this, and now it seems like a pretty dumb reason. You never know what might work, and you'll often regret more what you never bothered to try.
posted by mdn at 12:11 PM on February 7, 2005 [1 favorite]

zymurgy - I married young, had two kids and divorced. The kids lived with me but went to their mom's as they wished. I am friends with my ex. My kids are now grown and friends, not just family. I have been with the same women for 8 years now. During all this I have had years with mid 6 figure earnings and others where I had nothing coming in and owed a ridiculous amount of money. Life goes on anywhere you are and in whatever conditions you happen to be in and it can be great no matter what.

When my ISP business went under I used my experience to teach and then to become a consultant to the suddenly booming internet business. I had lots of value to companies because I had already made the mistakes they needed to avoid. We all have lots of skills that can be used in a myriad of ways. When you need a change or change is thrust upon you, you can adapt.

I hope that's the kind of answer you were looking for.
posted by arse_hat at 1:38 PM on February 7, 2005

Spouse, no kids. I met my wife when I was about 33 and she was 44. So it was sort of late for us to have a family. I didn't go to college until I was in my mid-20's and by then I realized that manual labor sort of sucked and that I'd better get my ticket punched if I wanted to have shiny new bicycles, for example. I answered an ad in the newspaper(!) that said "the Federal Government is now hiring for an accelerated management training program. You'll need a Bachelor's degree in any discipline and a GPA of 3.5 or above." I qualified on both counts so I took the job and fifteen years later I'm still at it though I have had about four different 'careers' in the same organization. If you would have told me when I was in junior high school that I'd be a software trainer for the DoD I would have looked at you like you had two heads. I really do think that the old cliché of 'life is what happens while you are making other plans' is true.
posted by fixedgear at 1:39 PM on February 7, 2005

I have to say that this thread makes me nervous in all of you who have already climbed the mountain. For those of you who say that figuring out what you want from life is the first step: I know what I want to do with my life, I always have, but no one wants to hire me. I have a degree from one of the best academic institutions in the world, have creative and management experience, everyone I've ever worked for has found me indispensable. I have been unemployed now for almost a year. It is starting to really affect me psychologically, that there must be something very wrong with me. Or, the world is not structured around passionate people, it is about those who can provide practical services, or finding a specific resume. I find that knowing what I want or wanting a couple of things and being willing to start with any one of them, as well as knowing what I absolutely don't want, is an obstacle.
posted by scazza at 2:06 PM on February 7, 2005

I'm 21, I am going to graduate college in 4 months. I have switched what I wanted to do more times then I can count. I came to school as a Computer Science major thinking I could make the big bucks, decided that would be dull. Went to business, because my father made his job seem important, then I realized that I might end up just like him (not a bad thing, but I want to be my own person). Finally I went into film, because it felt right, and I understood what people wanted to see.

Wow, that's almost the exact story of a friend of mine, except his dad is a professor. Now he works at kmart.
posted by delmoi at 2:33 PM on February 7, 2005

scazza, other than being reasonably happy and having some people I care about around and not being board I have no idea what I want. Sure people want passionate people. Sometimes they just don't know it and you need to look, talk or act different so you can get in front of them and show them how good you are.

Don't let the time off scare you. Un-employment can be devastating. Just realize this may be a turning point. Maybe you will find a new path. I don't want to derail this tread but if you feel stumped then why not start a thread about getting back into the job market? I am sure some folks here could suggest some things. I haven't looked but there also might be some helpful older threads.
posted by arse_hat at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2005

All I'm saying is that is seems like going with the flow is the only way to get through life. From my experience knowing what you want, as some people have advised, does not help. Also, I do not see unemployment as "time off" since I've been applying for jobs for 5 hours a day since June. It also seems like I would have to be taking action in order to encounter what would lead me on a "new path," where I've just been in limbo.

Thanks for trying anyway.
posted by scazza at 4:40 PM on February 7, 2005

scazza: what feild are you in?

I was going to post this earlier, but stopped responding.

I'd been sort of 'stuck' working a dead end job, at callcenter no less. After quitting to visit my dad for thanksgiving break I idly whent to update my resume on Turns out I left out a </h1> tag on the HTML version of my resume. I fixed it, and had about 5 people express intrest, and two job offers in a month!

And to think, If I'd had a cheaper apartment, I may have stayed with the crap jobs. now I'm making $42k/year with three weeks paid vacation :)
posted by delmoi at 5:35 PM on February 7, 2005

i too have a journalism degree, which i guess i apply from time to time in a freelance-kinda-way. i've had plenty of writing jobs, editorial posts, and contributing writer creds over the years. but, despite a steady stream of work, i wouldn't call journalism my career.

somewhere along the freelance road, mostly due to hunger/bills/etc in my younger days, i took a job subbing and, long-story-short, stumbled backwards into public education. i now find myself a dozen years into an elementary teaching job; which, on days when george bush is looking the other direction, isn't such a bad gig, really.
posted by RockyChrysler at 9:45 PM on February 7, 2005

I worked at a job that bored me to tears. The experience actually taught me the opposite of what a lot of people here are saying -- I found that I am emphatically not the kind of person whose career could just be the means to support the rest of my life. When I got out of undergrad, I really thought that that was the way to go -- find a job I didn't hate, then use it to finance my "real life." The problem with that was I still had to be there for 8+ hours every day, which was too damn long for me to spend doing something I wasn't passionate about. Just to be clear, I know a lot of people for whom that philosophy does work; I just needed to figure out that I wasn't one of them.

Anyway, as part of my very boring job, I had to write a motivational orientation program for our employees. Our HR head was in love with Who Moved My Cheese? and made me read it. I thought the whole thing was bollocks, but there was one page that just said, "What would you do if you weren't afraid?" For whatever reason, that hit me the right way, and the answer to that question gave me a lot of insight into what I actually wanted to be doing with my life.
posted by LittleMissCranky at 6:54 AM on February 8, 2005

Drezdn: Well as a drifting 26-year-old I thought I'd put in my two cents. I read a quote from someone recently that said "The people most psychologically and materially satisfied are ones who refused to compromise to a reasonable extent and went after what they wanted".

The key is figuring out what you want, figuring out how to get it, and then persevering. A lot of people have problems with one of those things. Personally I'm having a problem with all of them. Best advice I have is to talk to people. Talk to people doing what you might like and see what it's like and what kind of work you'd have to do to get into it. You'll learn more in one conversation with someone doing the job you think you might like than in 100 internet chat rooms and google searches. Talk to at least 10 people in any profession you're considering. Sounds like more work that it is, but it will be well worth it and may even be enjoyable. If something sounds good, try it, the worst that could happen is you're back where you started with a little more self-awareness. Now we'll see if I take my own advice.....
posted by Idiot Mittens at 7:40 AM on February 8, 2005

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