Why choosing the right career path early saves years of worry

We all know someone who’s not happy in their job – likely more than one. Sadly, this seems to have become the norm: the idea of trudging miserably through Monday to Friday, only to escape to the weekend for two days of freedom and joy. When you consider that the average person spends close to a fifth of their total waking hours over the course of their life working, it becomes clear how unsustainable this way of life is. Work should be more than a means to financial ends. It provides the opportunity for challenge, learning, growth, innovation, bonding and fulfilment. Finding all this is much easier, however, if you’re in the right career.

The problem is, finding the right career path isn’t always easy. Some people are lucky enough to have an excellent idea of what they want to do early on. Others stumble their way through various positions, while others never quite find their groove and instead toil away hoping things will get better. There’s no secret to how to choose the right career; it simply involves some planning and research.

Do some research – on yourself

If you’re one of those rare, fortunate people who just stumble upon their ideal career path, congratulations. If you’re like the rest of us, you need to make a plan, and that means going beyond mere perceptions and pre-existing ideas, and doing some real self-reflection and research. It’s important to consider your own unique interests and abilities. When you ask others for advice, make sure they fully understand this. 

Try to formulate your own idea of success. We’re more bombarded with constructed and curated images and messages around the supposed successes of others that even the most self-actualised among us begin to doubt themselves or feel influenced. Still, ultimately you’re the one who has to find happiness in your career in the coming decades, so focus on what’s really important to you personally.

Active self-reflection on your interests, aptitudes, hard and soft skills, and values, coupled with careful, thorough research of the sorts of occupations that align with those, can help with choosing a career path that will satisfy you for the 40-plus years you are likely to work. And while making such a life-defining decision may seem like an overwhelming task, it pays to make the right career choice the first time for a host of reasons.

Let’s look at why you need to consider your career choice carefully. 

Rising tuition fees

Although the skill profiles of many occupations are changing, a university education is still the key to a better-earning future. Bachelor’s degree holders earn a median salary over their lifetimes, almost 75% higher than those with only a high school diploma. 

When you consider that college tuition fees in most Western countries have steadily increased, in most cases faster than inflation, making the right decision about what to study is crucial. You also need to consider the time investment too – if you need a master’s degree to be competitive in your chosen field, you’re looking at six years at least to complete your full studies.

Financial security

Financial security has a different meaning for different people. But basically, it’s about having the peace of mind that you can comfortably cover your expenses and any emergencies while saving for future goals. It’s linked with overall well-being and happiness. Unless you were born into a wealthy family or achieved great success at a young age, you will likely worry about money at some point. It’s one of the most common causes of stress in the world, sadly. 

Choosing the right career can help you achieve financial security, which in turn helps alleviate one of the most common stressors and allows you to focus on other things that are important to you. 

An evolving job market

The world is changing and with it, the kinds of jobs that are in demand. A recent McKinsey report found that the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated trends towards automation, remote work and e-commerce, with 25% more workers than previously thought potentially needing to change their jobs. Those working in food service, sales and customer service are likely to be hardest hit, but other low-wage occupations are also expected to stagnate. 

This makes choosing a career even more complicated, because you need to assess not only what skills will be in demand in the coming years, but also whether the jobs where those skills are most likely to be needed will be affected by those trends. 

Other influences are also increasingly coming to the fore, such as the global shift toward a greener economy, which is driving some occupations towards obsolescence and requiring retraining in others, while at the same time creating a host of new jobs. 

The World Economic Forum has identified seven professional clusters that have shown and are expected to record the greatest growth:

  • Data and artificial intelligence
  • Engineering and cloud computing
  • People and culture
  • Product development
  • Sales, marketing and content
  • Care economy
  • Green economy

It pays to do your due diligence on your desired field and the changes to be expected in it. Look at historical data, consider what level of proximity your occupation might require (i.e., how close you have to get to other people), and how likely it is that the work might be automated. Hiring managers and recruiters can offer some further insight into these trends too.

Changing careers can be costly

We’re not just talking about money here; changing careers carries with it a time and opportunity cost too. If your new occupation requires training or education, that means a capital outlay while earning no money. And while almost no work experience is ever wasted time, your opportunities for advancement and promotion are greater in an established career than if you start all over again. 

It’s not to say that a career change is impossible – you’re never tied to a job if you manage your finances carefully – but it’s important to be aware of the potential impact it may have on your time and your lifestyle.

Need help choosing a career path? 

For a comprehensive, scientifically supported appraisal, try a personalised report from Career Fit, which matches the results from an occupational interests inventory and three aptitude tests with more than 1,200 potential careers, giving you a list of 16 that represent a good fit.