The thought of doing the same thing day in and day out for the rest of your life gives you night sweats. But how do you find a career that will inspire you?
Forced to choose a profession back in our teenage years, it’s little wonder that many of us find ourselves working in jobs and careers that don’t excite or inspire us.
As a child I always wanted to be a doctor. I imagined myself working in Africa, treating starving children and generally making the world a better place. It didn’t really cross my mind that I could or should do anything else. I always did well at school, and given that neither my parents or teachers doubted my ability to get there, I didn’t really make a plan B. When I failed to get into medical school my neatly laid plans went into a tailspin.
When I failed to get into medical school my neatly laid plans went into a tailspin.
What to do now? I had to go to university, because that’s what the smart kids did. But to study what? Sure I was interested in art and history and writing, but all those things didn’t really seem ‘useful’ enough. So I chose a course based upon my aptitude, rather than interest.
And so I found myself training to become a Biomedical Engineer.
Looking back, it wasn’t an awful choice. It combined my interest in healthcare with my need to be ‘useful’. And being science based, it offered the potential to transfer to medical school if I kept my grades high. But my motivation was sapped and I didn’t keep my grades high.
I moved out of home, to a new city, to study a course that only mildly interested me, and I did what most teenagers will do when lacking motivation… slept, drank and partied.
I’d occasionally make it to the end of my classes, just in time to join my friends as they headed to the Campus Club. I fumbled my way through university and graduated without honours or a plan for the future.
Then came four years in the wilderness as I discovered the joys of working life. From working with robots to designing aortic stent grafts, I found myself involved in work that sounded great on my resume, but didn’t get me bouncing out of bed every morning.
I knew I didn’t want to do the same thing for the rest of my life, but what was it that I was supposed to be doing?
The search for a new career
The financial implications of another four years at university, took a lot of options off the table. And so I searched for careers of a less academic nature. Starting by focusing on things that weren’t so bad about my job.
I really enjoyed the practical side of being an engineer – designing things, building things, fixing things – so I spent almost two years exploring options along these lines…. Hanging out with the Machinists in the workshop at work. Spending Saturday mornings helping out at a friend’s garage. Talking to army recruiters about the possibility of learning a trade with them.
But the search for the ‘perfect’ career left me wracked with indecision. And so I did nothing and devoted all my attention to building a social life that would more than make up for the hours I spent with my brain switched off during the day.
I began playing in a band, and it was so much fun that for a while I thought that music might be my calling. But with little skill, and the unwillingness of radio stations to celebrate enthusiasm in its place, I soon realised I might be dreaming.
I did however find myself spending a lot of time working on posters, cd covers and websites for the band. With promotional material far exceeding the quality of our music, one of my friends jokingly suggested that maybe that’s what I should be doing for a living.
One of my friends jokingly suggested that maybe that’s what I should be doing for a living.
Offended at the suggestion, I dismissed it immediately until several months later I met someone studying Graphic Design. I hadn’t even heard of Graphic Design before, and couldn’t really fathom how people could earn money out of making things look pretty. But as she described the projects she was working on, and what she did all day, it piqued my interest.
Several months later, I found myself in the position where I was looking for a new job. My partner had secured a job in a new city and I had decided to move with him. As I trawled the job sites, I saw an advertisement for a Graphic Design college and faced with the option of getting another job like I had now, or taking a chance and trying something new, I chose to try something new.
Is there any such thing as a ‘perfect’ career?
Ten years on, I’ve come to realise that there is no such thing as a ‘right’ career choice.
I’ve spent the past decade working in various roles related to design, and for the most part I’ve been very happy. It turns out I was pretty good at it, and the act of creation gave me a lot of satisfaction. But there have also been many frustrations.
Regardless of whether you love what you do, a job is a job.
Regardless of whether you love what you do, a job is a job. And you’ll have good days and bad days. I think I am suited to a career in the creative industries, but I honestly think that I would have ended up happy in any number of careers. The reason is that in making the jump I changed my mindset about work.
Something ‘starting again’ does, is make you very determined to succeed. After the time, money and energy invested in retraining and establishing myself in a new career there was no way that I was going to allow myself to end up in a situation where I was less than happy.
So when frustrations arose, I found a way to deal with them. Sometimes it was by changing approach. Sometimes it was by changing job. And eventually it was by going into business for myself. And in the latter I’ve realised that ‘career choice’ doesn’t really matter that much.
What is a ‘career’ anyway?
As an entrepreneur or business owner I don’t really have a career to speak of. I don’t have a job title. I don’t really have an industry. And I definitely don’t have a neat answer to the question ‘What do you do?’.
But I wake up everyday with a clear purpose… and I spend my day doing things that excite me and hopefully make a small difference to some people.
The pay may not always be the greatest, but I would never go back to spending my days working on something that doesn’t fulfil me.