Thursday, July 2, 2009

The World's Shortest Course in Finding a Career

A reader emailed me this question and I hope that my answer will be of value not just to him but to anyone who's still not sure what they want to be when they grow up---even if they already are 20, 40, or even 80.

Dear Marty,
I love your posts. For years, I've taken the advice you've given and tried to apply them directly to my life. I feel like I've grown immensely from it.
I was hoping that you could spare a minute to help me with one more step? It isn't explicitly covered in your posts, which is why I thought I'd contact you directly. My problem is that I live with an overbearing father who won't accept the possibility that his son wants to become something other than a doctor, lawyer, or banker. My options in life were simple: Become a doctor, lawyer, banker, or a failure. When I graduate next year, I want to go as far away from him as possible in order to build my own life. Problem is, I don't know what I want to do with my life because I was so busy studying towards going to law school because I thought it would make my dad proud. I thought about the military. It would give me what I want most: independence from my parents. But I don't want to make that kind of decision just so I can escape living at home. How do I find my purpose in life so that I can finally move forward with my life instead of being pressured into doing what my dad tells me? Thank you for any advice you can share on the topic. I would be deeply gratified for any advice you can give.


Jim (James Kalder)

Dear Jim,

Play around in the campus career center. Also, identify candidate careers by perusing the annotated lists of careers in the Occupational Outlook Handbook, (bias alert here), my Best Careers lists on, and the 500+ careers in my book, Cool Careers for Dummies. Each of those offers a profile of lots of careers followed by a suggested website or book for additional information. If that proves insufficient, email me ( what you've learned from that in narrowing down your career choices, and I'll either offer some free advice or suggest that you and I do a session or three by phone, Skype, or in-person.



Anonymous said...

Sorry, a little off topic here, but did you see the story of the hispanic man who has endured discrimination in the recent case before the Supreme Court. His dream was to succeed as a firefighter on his own merit:

Anonymous said...

as for nemko's recommendation above, I have to disagree. Nemko has written some interesting things and truthful things in the past (e.g., his essay that college degrees are overrated), but here he refers you to a book of occupations. I don't think that is the most effective approach to finding a career.

"occupations", per se, are overcrowded. Once an occupation become a known and described quantity, it becomes overcrowded. Instead, find a field, an industry, and get any job in that field that will allow you to talk to other people in the field. Learn from them and find a niche in that field/area of commerce. That is the real sweet deal, where you are in a position that few know about.


Stephen said...

Your reader's question does contain some compelling thoughts about his own situation. In fact, after I read your eye grabbing title and then began to read the message that he sent to you, I felt that you set the stage for a pretty substantial and thought provoking reply from you. I think that's why both Anonymous and myself were a bit surprised that your reply consisted essentially of repeating your recommendation for specific books about finding a career.

I got the distinct impression that your reader was making a "cry for help". Perhaps beyond suggesting tools for narrowing down potential options, this reader might really be looking for a "call to action". Some advice that would prompt him to take a more active, assertive role in exploring new paths. Not all of those steps that he might need to take will be necessarily directly related to the career search. Yet, they might still be essential to allowing him move on, and establish his sense of independence.

I'm putting the emphasis on "assertiveness", because I strongly believe that if someone makes a major decision in silence, that decision quite often will lead them down an unfortunate path. Consider the "all kids to college" trend as being a good example of this.

Your reader might also be reacting against the ideas presented by his father: "Doctor, Lawyer or Banker". without even considering exactly what might be valuable about those careers. That is, imagining for a second that he could look at those careers from a fresh perspective, without giving a single thought about his Dad. In either of those careers, there are qualities and skills that would need to be developed in order to go the distance. With either of those three options there are in fact many of the exact same qualities he would want to be able to bring to the table in order to be sucessful in all kinds of other different career paths. This obviously includes first making a decision, and then proving that you made the right decision.

I am pointing out that there is a silver lining in his father's suggested career options, even though he may not like them. By considering exactly what might be good about either of those careers. What common thread runs through them, and then from there, any other career/job that he is actually are interested in pursuing? This way he start to approach this from a more focused and resourceful position, instead of one that's specifically geared at trying to rid himself of his father's overbearing influence.

Marty Nemko said...

Very thoughtful comment, Anonymous. But beneath the apparent simplicity of my encouraging this college student to play around his career center and read the descriptions of careers I've written in US News' Best Careers 2009 and Cool Careers for Dummies, embeds much of what you say--and much more. Consciously or unconsciously, the act of screening through large numbers of careers incorporates so many factors that are important to the person. I've found that this organic approach, leaving great trust to the job seeker to find what is his gold among his dross, is wiser than, in a letter, being more directive. But thank you for your fine thoughts. I do hope he reads them.

Anonymous said...

May I suggest a temporary cop out? Try teaching English overseas for a year or so. Look into the JET program for Japan, or any other equivalents.

Yes, the military isn't for everyone. There is much more to life than anyone who went from High School to College to Career will ever know.

Former Marine, taught English in Japan before there was a JET program, and I can only say it was wonderful.