You probably know of someone who spent years studying and working in a field that they ultimately abandoned. It’s a sad fact that a poorly chosen career will leave you dissatisfied and wishing you could start all over again. South African schools are unfortunately notorious for not encouraging learners to think carefully about the direction they’ll take once they graduate. But no matter where you are in life, it’s always possible to re-appraise and make smart career decisions. Here’s how to start.
Look to your childhood
It might sound cliche, but often the best indicator of innate interests and abilities lies in childhood. Think back to what you loved the most as a kid, what fascinated you and what you were really good at. Though your childhood self may have had a naive vision of becoming a magician one day, you may discover that your yearning to entertain and be in the public eye has remained into adulthood. Lecturing, teaching, sales or even stand up comedy could fulfil this same need.
Consult a professional
There are dozens of sophisticated tests that give you insight into your personality and aptitude. Book an appointment with a careers counsellor or psychologist and ask them to suggest careers that fit your abilities and interests. A round of psychometric tests can be taken for around R500 – R1000 and will give you invaluable information about how you work – and what work you should do.
Be realistic about your dreams
The common advice is to pursue your dreams – but you need to be realistic, too. For many people, getting paid to do what they love actually has the effect of making them love it less. It might seem smart to pursue something you really enjoy, but consider whether doing it for hours each day is better than just having it as a hobby.
What’s more, sometimes skills and interests don’t align. While you may be interested in pursuing a career in graphic design, if you are terrible with technology and completely uncreative, it’s the wrong career for you. The trick is to find the sweet spot where interests and ability overlap.
Don’t only consider the end point
When people imagine themselves doing particular work, they often only think about the end result: they see themselves with the white lab coat, or with their own office or company. But in reality almost every career has a path, and along the way you’ll have to work hard, train, sacrifice time and money. It might seem easy to sign up for what a career looks like after 5 or 10 years, but do you want to sign up for everything it takes to get there? Think about the hours you’ll need to put in, the trials you’ll have to go through and your realistic chances of reaching that end point.
Be open to change
None of us knows what the future holds. In today’s complex and rapidly changing world, sometimes the best you can do is identify a skill set and a general field of application and then be willing to adapt as needed. People are reinventing their professional selves more than ever, and it’s no longer enough to pick the best career and be finished with it. Instead, pick a cluster of jobs/skills that you can do.
Be flexible and open to using those skills in different ways. Your anthropology degree may seem useless, but what if you used those skills in a marketing context instead? Your love for children, for example, could be used in child care, teaching or even becoming an entrepreneur and creating your own daycare centre or a baby products line.
Unfortunately, the harsh South African economy means that for many people, finding a job they actually enjoy seems a bit like a luxury. But the fact is that if you spend a little time planning your career, you’re much more likely to succeed in the long term – and you’re an asset to whoever employs you. With a realistic understanding of your value as an employee, you’re in the best position to take full advantage of your skills and interests.