Mistakes to Avoid When Choosing a Career

By Lorena Roberts on November 22, 2018

Choosing a career is one of the tougher decisions you have to make as a young adult aged 18-22. Settling on a career seems like you’re pigeon-holing yourself into something you’re 51% sure you’ll like for the rest of your life. There will be people in your life who will reassure you that choosing a major doesn’t mean you’re choosing a career and that just because you choose a specific career for now doesn’t mean that’ll be the career you have to stick with for the rest of your life. However, there will also be people in your life who will tell you to “think long and hard about the decision you’re making,” because “the debt you’re about to take on to get a college degree should be well-worth whatever career path it sets you on.”

So there’s a decent chance that you’re feeling overwhelmed by the number of choices you feel you have to make in such a short amount of time. Applying for college typically happens in the fall of your senior year of high school. Oftentimes, during the application process, they make you “declare” a major — because if you’re engineering they need to ensure they have enough space for you. But applying in a specific major doesn’t mean that’s the major you have to actually complete — there’s lots of switching around. And if you’re already a college student, chances are, you’ve considered changing your major a few times and you know plenty of people who have hopped to a different major every semester.

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Sure, changing majors might put you a bit behind on your “academic plan,” but getting a degree in the field you want is so much more important than having to stay in school a little longer. Of course, there’s always going to be the recommendation that you don’t change your major after your sophomore year.

Really, the first two years of college are dedicated to earning your General Education credits — so this is the time for you to explore different areas of your education (math, science, humanities, and language). So by the time you enter your junior year, you should’ve found your little “niche” and settled on a major you enjoy. But if you’re settling on engineering, there are tons of pre-requisites in math and physics that you’ll need – so it’s best to start on those early.

What’s important to remember in this season of life is that the major you choose in college doesn’t pigeon-hole you into the career you have to have for the rest of your life. Just because you have a psychology degree doesn’t mean you have to be a psychologist (trust me, I would know).

A degree in art history probably isn’t going to get you anywhere, but if that’s what you love, have at it.

What it is important to think about while you’re choosing a career is what degree is going to give you the most options in the field that you love. A degree in math will open up your options infinitely as opposed to a library sciences degree. Think about the money you’re paying and the options you’ll have once you’ve graduated.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself when it comes to thinking about a career you’ll enjoy and what you should major in during your college years:

photo via Pexels.com

1. What types of activities and topics interest me?

If you don’t have an interest in medicine and blood, don’t decide on a career as a doctor because they “make a lot of money.” Your first mistake in choosing a career will come when you decide on something because of the financial payoffs that you think it will entail. Reflect on the kinds of things you actually enjoy doing and go from there. If you’re not into nursing people back to health, don’t get a CNA certification.

If you’re having trouble finding things that interest you, take some classes in some departments you’ve never considered before.

2. What kind of lifestyle do I need in order to be happy?

When it comes to choosing a career, people often think about the financial benefits first and foremost. This can turn your life into a total disaster. Before you know it – you’ll be thirty and depressed because you hate getting up and going to work every day.

Think about what kind of lifestyle you need in order to be happy. Do you need to make six figures? If you do, then I’d suggest factoring income into your career decision. But if you can make it work on a tight budget (notice I didn’t say starving or homeless), then investigate the things you might have overlooked because you’re afraid you’ll be poor for the rest of your life.

There’s a happy medium between making the income you need to be happy and making the income you’re greedy for. Sure, everyone wants to have more money than they know what to do with. But it’s a lot worse to feel locked into a job because of the financial benefits than it is to skimp on going out to dinner and getting to wake up and do something you love every day.

Choosing a career is no easy task. Please listen when I tell you that the career you choose at 20 probably won’t be your career at 60. You have time to change jobs and career paths. But giving yourself more options up front will pay off later on. I promise. 

Lorena graduated from The University of Tennessee in Knoxville last December with a BA in Honors Psychology. After some serious soul-searching, she's decided to pursue a Master's in teaching in order to teach middle school math! In her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her Whippet mix, Gio, at the dog park and binge watching Netflix with endless cups of Hot Cocoa.

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