After finishing my undergrad in the health sciences, I felt really confused as to what to do next. I was completely lost in regards to my career trajectory, and societal pressure gave me this intense need to find my “calling”. I know a lot of my friends were experiencing the same general feelings. When I decided on an area of focus for my Master’s degree (after taking a few years off from school), I felt a sense of clarity. I felt relief when people close to me would say, “Wow, it seems like you really found your calling.” But I couldn’t help but wonder, what does that even mean?
“What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?”
Throughout every stage of our early lives, we hear the classic question: “What do you want to be when you’re older?” Common answers to this specific question that adults always ask us include being a: doctor, lawyer, teacher, pilot, astronaut… the list goes on. You don’t often hear a 12-year-old kid saying, “I am going to start my own business,” or “I am going to make a positive change in the world.” As early as nursery school, we are role-playing as veterinarians and teachers, and drawing pictures of ourselves in these professions. In our early years of elementary school, we fill out printed sheets that ask us what job we want to have in the future, and our teachers help us spell out the words doctor, firefighter, and maybe even lawyer. We bring these home to show our parents, who stick them up on the fridge, beaming at the idea of their little one growing up to be a scientist or an astronaut. From a young age, it is ingrained into us that there is one true calling out there for everyone, and that the purpose of school is essentially to search for this career, with each new lesson, class, and year building on the next to get to this end result.
1- Flickr via lighthack
2- Flickr via Bill Loytty
Success as a Measure of Worth
One key problem with asking kids what they want to be when they grow up is that it can drive them to determine their worth by means of how successful they are. When asked the question “who are you?” most people will respond by identifying their vocation. For example, they might say, “Oh, I’m a student,” or “I’m a physician.” This is what sociologists call our master status — the central position that one holds, which forms our identities. For many generations, society has taught children to measure their worth based on their work, which socializes them in a way that often puts personal success as their primary value, rather than more genuine attributes and positive traits, like caring for others.
3- Flickr via Carolyn Lagattuta
Passions Often Don’t Pay Bills
I have often heard the saying, “If you do what you love, you’ll love what you do.” I think this idea is great in theory because it tells us to follow our passions. In practice, however, I think it is extremely rare to find a job where you LOVE every single aspect. For instance, if you are a doctor, maybe you enjoy the process of diagnosing a patient and helping them work towards achieving better health. But perhaps you absolutely dread the administrative aspect, like dealing with insurance forms (go figure). When it comes to sports, unless you’re a gifted athlete, its hard to make a living from your career passions. This is especially the case for women athletes, who are noticeably underpaid in comparison to men at the professional level.
4- Flickr via Rahmani925
Entrepreneurship as a Career
Being an entrepreneur is the ultimate career that demonstrates following your passion, making your dreams a reality, and (hopefully) paying the bills while doing so. It’s also a lot more accessible than ever before, with platforms like Shopify and Wix that help you build a website and sell your products to consumers everywhere. The power of social media also cannot be undersold when it comes to starting your own business. However, this career requires a big investment in time, energy, and money – all in hopes of profit down the road. An entrepreneur faces many risks when deciding to embark on a new business, including financial struggles, and possible fellow competitors. In other words, it is important to consider whether the benefits of your new venture outweigh the risks you will face.
Life is Not a Straightforward Path
It’s important to note that sometimes people end up changing their careers multiple times. While this was uncommon for earlier generations, nowadays, it’s seen as a strength. It can provide people with diverse experiences that can help them to excel at their next job and become more enriched individuals. Some companies have realized these advantages and have implemented initiatives that allow their employees to change careers internally, allowing them to work in different departments and learn new skills. There are also companies with rotational starting positions, which gives a new employee the opportunity to explore multiple departments of a company before deciding which one is a good fit for them. These types of initiatives are very encouraging for career changes, and certainly for normalizing shifting career paths.