How do I find focus in deciding a career?
August 25, 2011 10:18 AM   Subscribe

I cannot concentrate on one single career to follow. Is this a by-product of too much information, or not knowing who I am and what my abilities are?

From as long as I can remember, I've "hopped" between career ideas. When I was in high school, I wanted to be a lawyer, so I went into university for political science. While in university, I liked the idea of pursuing environmental studies more - so I switched out. Then I decided my 'passion' was really in mediation and education, and here I am, still stuck at a crossroads. I seem to be going nowhere (I have dropped out of university meanwhile) because I can't decide on ONE thing to do or follow. It is frustrating to say the least.

Is there something wrong with me? How do I bring more focus in my career choices or decide what is *really* right for me? If there's personal stories or advice that have worked for you in a similar scenario, I'd love to hear them.
posted by raintree to Education (13 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
Become a lawyer, then go into environmental law and then teach that! It combines all three of your interests so far. It's not like you have to pick one thing and be that forever anymore. With online learning opportunities, people are switching career tracks all the time. Try picking one and really focusing on it and seeing it to fruition, then if you don't like it, you can always change career tracks later.

You also don't have to make everything a career, you can do things as hobbies as well.

Whatever you chose to do, make sure it is something you enjoy. That really makes a difference.
posted by NoraCharles at 10:27 AM on August 25, 2011

This didn't happen for me until I was rounding the corner to 30. Up until then I still felt like everything was worth trying, and I secretly believed I could do anything I set my mind to. At 30 I was able to look back at the way I'd spent my 20's and see how finite a period that was, and I realized I had better knuckle down and deal with my life and my prospects as they really were, not as I assumed they'd eventually be. I didn't scale back to the point of focusing on JUST ONE THING, but I did set some parameters that would keep me from chasing after idea-butterflies that were not connected to my main priorities. Two years later, I am much further along in my chosen area, and while I still feel plenty unfocused at times, or feel the urge to ditch it all and go back to school for something specific and obscure, I remember that at my age, the die has already been cast to some extent. I chose this for a reason, I remind myself.

I think one really good way to settle down with yourself is through apprenticeship. Look around and find someone whose life and work you are interested in, someone who you would like to emulate. Then ask that person if you can shadow them for a while, or assist them in any way. You will learn a lot from them -- even (perhaps especially) if they are not receptive to this. On your own you may never figure out much, but older people have been where you are, and they have things you need (wisdom, experience, contacts), and you have things they need (energy, new perspective). Make a match.
posted by hermitosis at 10:28 AM on August 25, 2011 [4 favorites]

This was written for high schoolers, but I read it in graduate school, and it was useful to me. It sort of boils down to, "when in doubt work on the most difficult, interesting, valuable thing you can think of."

Or, rather, when in doubt, do the thing that will open the most doors or keep the most doors open.
posted by zeek321 at 10:29 AM on August 25, 2011 [3 favorites]

In my experience, people who have that One Thing they really love, are good at, and can parlay into a job/career are much, much rarer than those who are good at and like a bunch of different things. You're not a weirdo.

It sounds like you're in your early 20s; please know that what is *really* right for you now might be totally different in five or ten years (or more), and that thing might be *really* right for a while before you find another really right thing. They may all be tied together in some way, or not.
posted by rtha at 10:52 AM on August 25, 2011

There is nothing wrong with you that is not, or has not been, wrong with the rest of us: you're trying to find that thing you were "meant to do." You're worrying about the rat race but have the feeling that, perhaps, you're not a rat. You're not alone.

I often recommend this article about your vocation as a good starting point for thinking about this thorny problem. There are further articles in that series, most of which are derived from a book titled "Self-Culture Through the Vocation." This book is not very long and in any case an easy read.

rtha has it exactly right, but the trick is finding that thing you love so much you'd do it for free. Then find a way to do it for your living as well. For many vocations, school is not an adequate preparation, though certain courses might be necessary for some professions. If you are going to be a physician, physical sciences and biology are very important. For law, almost any course of study is worthwhile if it trains your reasoning ability. (The best lawyers I know have backgrounds in analytical philosophy and mathematics, rather than poli-sci, and most of them are solid writers.)
posted by Hylas at 11:16 AM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

A lot of people make several career changes throughout their life as they discover new passions. I know few people who started in the same career path as they set out for when they hit university. I've worked with people who used to be a police officer, stock broker, attorney, chef, army engineer, bartender, web developer, war correspondent, and more. My coworkers have degrees in English, film, physics, Italian, computer science, music education, economics, fine arts, law, and meteorology.

My point is, if you're getting the impression that you have to decide RIGHT NOW what you want to do for the rest of your life, you should calm down and realize that many people take a meandering path through the world. It's okay not to know what you want to do for the next fifty years. Settle for figuring out what you want to do for the next five and do that.

I recommend you find out what the common denominator between law, environmental studies, and education is. Look at them with an objective eye and ask yourself what elements do all three have in common that you enjoy doing. My common denominator between my interests (art, web design, programming, writing, architecture, music, teaching) is that I enjoy making creative and technical works for other people to enjoy - that is my passion. Perhaps you'll discover that your passion isn't "education" or "law" but rather something more akin to "analyzing the relationships between facts, objects, or people, and communicating this to others in an effort to resolve conflicts".
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 11:48 AM on August 25, 2011

Best answer: I think that rather than jumping from enthusiasm to enthusiasm, it's a good ideas to accurately assess your own skills and abilities and then see where those can be the best fit. I was an English major, I'm a good writer, but my real talent turned out to be a visual one, and so, I work in film. I didn't really pay attention to the things I was good at--most people don't always know what they can really do, especially if it's not glaringly obvious. Looking back, I wish someone had pointed out to me how I liked to arrange my environments, my strong visual memory, and so on. I love what I do, but I could have parlayed this strength in a number of different directions.

Are you good at talking to people? Can you organize large groups of people, information, stuff? Are you a good writer? Can you sum up a complicated situation or complex topics easily?

You can care passionately about the environment or social justice or teaching or whatever, but rather than put on new career identities, like a new jacket or hat--look at your own true self and see where you can flourish.
posted by Ideefixe at 1:25 PM on August 25, 2011

Try reading this book (I found a copy in my library): Refuse to Choose. I found it most helpful when I was in a similar situation. One of my goals now is to have 5 different careers in life and I'm already on number 2....
posted by atlantica at 1:36 PM on August 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

I ended up taking a course through a local university and meeting with a career counselor. It gave me some good ideas about directions to go.
posted by hms71 at 1:51 PM on August 25, 2011

Barbara Sher (author of Refuse to Choose) writes a lot of books on this topic. I recommend reading her. She is all for people switching professions as they so desire, or finding creative ways to rotate them.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:50 PM on August 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

I like Ideefixe response. You should really look back on your years in school, and life in general, and take a good amount of time recalling when you felt the most fulfilled and memorable assignments/classes/projects you enjoyed the most. This should give you a lead (hopefully) into a field or area you might be happy working in.

I remember in highschool the most memorable and fulfilling experience was setting up and running audio/visual equipment during the assemblies. Or when filming and editing videos in my broadcast media class.
posted by Snorlax at 5:38 PM on August 25, 2011

The Study Hacks Blog has lots of useful advice along the lines of figuring out what you're passionate about and reasonable ways to work your interests into your/a career.

Study Hacks

Good luck!
posted by brackish.line at 9:14 AM on August 26, 2011

Just wanted to chime in and let you know you're not alone. I, too, once wanted to be a lawyer, then a veterinarian, then a theoretical college I hopped back and forth among a range of "interests" ranging from political science to physics, to math, to public policy(grad school) and now I want to go into web development. Ended up with degrees in psychology(interesting to me and I needed to figure out how to graduate already) and german(studied abroad). When I was thinking about grad school, I was debating between going back to undergrad for BS in computer science or doing the master of public policy. Now I've oscillated back to web development. I like to think of myself as "well-rounded".
posted by fromageball at 8:09 AM on August 30, 2011

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