The path to finding yourself

When work-life feels like it’s going nowhere, how do you get back on track?

Our elder shares his own career journey to help lead the way.

Dear EWC:

I’m 19 years old. I’ve graduated high school and have just been working a casual job as a cashier. I want to study and learn but have no motivation or the knowledge as to where I should start.
I’m thinking of doing psychology because I find it really interesting, but I don’t know where to begin or what course to do. Every time I try to research about universities and courses, I get so confused. I feel so hopeless and lost within myself. I feel like I should have already achieved something by now. I want to do something. How can one achieve confidence just to do daily tasks?
I don’t even know what to write or to ask. It’s almost as though I’m asking for a miracle.

Gabriel-A replies:

I give you credit for wanting to spend your working life doing something that you love. Most people are not that fortunate and of course many don’t risk the chance to find it. Although it’s easier to do it when you’re young, I’m reminded of “Colonel Sanders’ who created ‘Kentucky Fried Chicken’ here in the US when he was in his sixties; hence, it’s never too late. I would recommend the following:

Make a list of potential careers you might want to explore. Think through the pros and cons of each and list them on a spreadsheet. In my experience, writing this kind of analysis down helped to give me clarity on which way to move forward.

One thing I would recommend is to try the career that you think you will be happiest in first. Within reason, I’ve found that being happy in your work is much more important than how much money you make. I’ve known many people over the years that were prosperous and miserable. Make sure that you at least reasonably enjoy your work. We all spend much of our life there.

As for being lost, I was too. I started out in college training to be a teacher of grade school children and found out quickly that it wasn’t for me. Then I switched to Psychology and although I enjoyed it reasonably, I found out that I couldn’t make a very good living in social services and I didn’t have the interest or money for a Masters or Doctorate degree to pursue other avenues. I completed my Bachelor’s degree but felt extremely lost and that I had let my family down. Jobs weren’t plentiful when I graduated and for a while, I had to work in the same factory where I had worked to help support the cost of my education. I really felt like a failure. What I didn’t realize in college was that many people had degrees in something other than what they were currently doing. The good news is that a college education opens many doors. Ultimately I devoted my career to Purchasing Management where I could still use my psychology training to manage staff and negotiate significant contracts with suppliers. I enjoyed the challenges of this profession and made a good life for myself.

Also, don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people don’t know what they want to do and have to find out by trial and error. If necessary, there’s nothing wrong with that. Most importantly, taking positive action makes all the difference. The worst thing you can do is sit around and rehash negative thoughts. Remember that although bad things may happen to us, we still have a choice as to how we react to them.

If you haven’t done so already, you can make an appointment with a university counselor. In my experience, they are very good at understanding the marketplace and providing guidance. If you’re not sure of your interests or other special skills, they may have an aptitude test available which could also prove insightful. Join an organization based on your career interest. Nowadays there are professional groups for most professions. They have a number of resources and most importantly, you can develop a network within your field.

Remember that nothing replaces hard work. And it’s much more rewarding when you achieve something that you’ve worked hard for vs. something handed to you or something easily attained. Dedicate yourself to good study habits to achieve great grades. Maintain your focus and persevere through difficult times. The latter is often what makes the difference between success and failure.


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