How to Tell if Your Career is Right for You

When someone asks you what you do for a living, how do you respond?

I’m not asking for your job title. I’m asking how do you act when you tell someone your job title? Do you respond with eagerness and pride, or with reluctance and shame?

The way you act in response to this common inquiry makes it easy to tell if your career is right for you.

I recently remembered a bit of advice I received from someone years ago, during one of my routine stops as a computer professional. My boss, intent on making friends with his new neighbor, sent me to this gentleman’s house to resolve a personal computer problem.

Though don’t remember his name or what I did for him, I vividly remember how I left this man’s home that day having learned an important life lesson. I say this because during my visit, we talked about my life. After exhausting the subjects of school, work, and religion, he asked me if I had a girlfriend.

Apparently I shot him a huge smile before saying “Yes.” The next thing he said was unforgettable: “I think you must be in love, ’cause that’s the first time you smiled since you walked through my door.”

It’s true. My girlfriend made me so happy that even the slightest thought about her caused me to start grinning uncontrollably. I was clearly in love with her.

Why is this relevant? Because my job never made me smile. I was in that line of work for the wrong reasons and it wasn’t until recently that I understood the significance of what he told me: I wasn’t in love with my job.

It was a job I was working so I’d have something impressive to say when someone asked me what I did for a living. It was a job I was working to make my parents proud. It was a job I was working to pay the bills.

That was over three years ago. Since then, I’ve left the computer industry to pursue my dream career as a writer. Though there are times when it’s hard to tell if my new career is “right” for me, there are other times when the answer is crystal clear:

A few minutes into my trim at the local barber shop, the barber asked “So what do you do for a living?” Consequently, the most overwhelming deja vu of my life came over me as I began to grin uncontrollably.

“I’m a writer,” I explained through my expression.

“Oh really? Do you like it?”

With an abundance of certainty, I said — “I love it.”

And at that moment, I understood my career is right for me because I am in love with my career. Shouldn’t everyone be?

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30 Responses to “How to Tell if Your Career is Right for You”

#1 Kate on 13, Aug, 2007 at 12:21 am

lol I think I have the opposite of your problem. I love my career but my love life is x_x. Well go on holding out for the perfect job and I’ll keep battling my mom’s attempts to marry me to a harvard educated doctor.

#2 Aaron Griffin on 13, Aug, 2007 at 5:58 pm

This post struck a bit of a chord with me. I am in the same boat, and it’s not the skill set of the job, of course, but the logistics. As a “programmer”, it is always grunt work, and rarely something fun. The more and more I think about it, the more I feel like this should be a hobby, and not a job.

The problem, as always, are these blasted things we call “bills”. The sneak in when I’m not looking and BAM they eat some of my valuable money!

So I ask you, Mr Boyd, how you would go about things? I read in one of your previous articles that you basically quit doing what you were doing, BUT had enough money saved to pay your own way for a year or so. Well, I don’t have that much saved. In fact, with rent in the picture, I would last 2 months tops.

So if you assume that a person was in the same situation as you, yet didn’t have the deep pockets, what path would you take?

#3 Patrick Allmond on 14, Aug, 2007 at 2:20 am

Well stated sir. It is a realization that hopefully everybody will come to someday. What do I truly love – and what makes me smile. For me it is realizing that a life of coding is not how I want to live out my days.

#4 Gerhi Janse van Vuuren on 14, Aug, 2007 at 5:19 am

This question always make me cringe. One of the reasons is that my current job title sucks, and it does not in any way describe what I really do in my job.
The title is understandable in terms of the organizational organogram but not in terms of the reality of the job. But then again, I do not want to ‘be’ my job title. Thank heavens I am more than my a descriptive phrase.
I think the reason it is a difficult question for most people is because the question “what do you do?” really means “what are you?” I normally try to worm myself out of it by saying “I work for… as a …” But it is never a satisfying compromise and no, it does not make me smile.

Gerhi Janse van Vuuren

#5 Shaun Boyd on 14, Aug, 2007 at 9:20 am

@Aaron Griffin
You’re asking me if I would have made the same choices of leaving my job, moving out of state, and starting a new career from scratch if I had no savings. I’d like to imagine that yes, I would still make the decision to leave my job — but I admit that doing so would have been much more terrifying without an emergency funds safety net. It would add to the fear that I needed to overcome before taking the risk. If you haven’t done so already, I suggest you read Define and Conquer Your Fears, an article that encourages you to imagine the very worst that can happen as a result of taking a risk. Once you’ve defined where you might end up when everything goes wrong, it’s easier to figure out what could be done to get yourself back on your feet.

#6 David on 14, Aug, 2007 at 12:23 pm

I came across your blog on digg one lazy afternoon, and I really enjoy your occasional dose of inspiration. I also took the frightening step of leaving the IT industry for a career that I am passionate about. I returned to school, and now I am beginning work on a doctorate in clinical psychology. So please keep up the great work! It is wonderful to read about others who are searching for satisfaction in life instead of compromising their happiness for a paycheck.

#7 umar on 15, Aug, 2007 at 9:27 am

it’s sad to see so many IT professionls leaving this field to persue their “dream” careers. So IT is not a dream career for many, apparently they came in for money, and when the money didn’t come, they are leaving for that “really” wanted to do.

So I would like to extend the advise and say this. When deciding a career, do what you really want to do, don’t do whatever eeveryone else is doing, don’t go where the most monet is because 4 years later money might be somewhere else. If you are good at what you do, you will automatically get a job that will pay you well.

#8 Gerhi Janse van Vuuren on 15, Aug, 2007 at 10:40 am

Umar,

“If you are good at what you do, you will automatically get a job that will pay you well.”

I am sorry but I can’t agree with that. Some types of jobs pay better than others. You might be the best widget herder there is but if the widget herder industry pays minimum wage you won’t be paid well.
You might not also get a job automatically because the widget herding industry might be oversubscribed by lots of really average herders that would gladly do the job for half the pay.

But then if you are the best widget herder there is, why can’t you get a job in training or consulting? Except that you are not a good widget herder consultant or trainer, or you don’t have enough industry related experience to be trusted so that you can demand good pay.

A job is not something that magically appear because you put in three parts of ‘being good at it’ into a pot of ‘really like doing this’ and stir it together with ‘a good dose of sweat’ and a ‘cheerful attitude’. Or maybe it is? Except for the magic part.

I’m with Shaun. A good job is what puts a smile on your face. If it pays well, great. If it does not, figure out a way to live on what it does pay. Money is not everything.

Gerhi

#9 Jenny on 05, May, 2008 at 10:39 pm

I am facing a career crisis myself and don’t even know were to start. I just finished getting my BA. I am teaching at a public high school right about now, but I don’t feel that the reward is good enough for me. There are a couple of options but nothing set in stone because I am so overwhelmed with so many choices. I always say do what you love, but I don’t even know what is it that I actually do love. I could go back to school for a master’s or professional degree but I need to make sure I know first. Any advice?

#10 Shaun Boyd on 06, May, 2008 at 10:09 am

@Jenny
Being overwhelmed by choices is common, because choice creates confusion. Consequently, when you have an opportunity to choose between many options, you get confused about which option would be the best choice. I’ve known many people who — when faced with what you’re currently facing — have chosen to go back to school for their master’s degree. Personally, I believe they’re making a mistake by going back to school to “solve” the problem of not knowing what else to do. I believe this because I got a degree in a field that I was able to do well in, but I wasn’t all that passionate about. In hindsight, I feel that I made some bad choices. Of course, going back to school could be the right choice for some people, since education is never a bad thing.

What it boils down to is that everyone is unique, and everyone has their own take on things. Just remember that when you do nothing, nothing changes. With this in mind, I recommend that you assess your options, and then determine which path you’d be most happy with. Good luck.

#11 steve b on 17, May, 2008 at 7:04 pm

I must be in the wrong career, because the end of that post almost made me cry.

#12 Audrey on 31, Jan, 2009 at 2:21 am

I am 20 years old, I have been with Family Dollar for three years, and am very good at my job. There are a lot of career choices within family dollar, but you have to climb up the ladder, its a lot of grunt work, but when i see the my district manager, the RVP, they make tons of money, got company cars, blackberries ( all from family dollar). but they definately had to work their way up. How do I know if this is my career…I kinda feel as if this is my only choice, I have not went back to school yet, but I’m very smart and love to learn….I went to my churches home school when i was 16 (I made straight A’s in public school) but they were not accredited and after I graduated I had to get my GED, I aced it, no problem , but it really brought me down and I feel like I’m limited now about going to college, I searched my problem and found this website, maybe someone has something to say to help me out, educate me as to what options and careers I can pursue. I’m good with retail, but its a very life consuming job, and I’m a newlywed, and the next ring of the ladder for me is Store Manager, and it takes major devotion, your on salary, and have to put in atleast 52 hours a week,but you have to go thru it to go higher up. I ‘ve considered going to a tech school and getting a business management degree, but in ten years, I dont wanna regret anything. anyones input would be very much appreciated. thanks Audrey

#13 lkh on 01, Apr, 2009 at 8:11 am

You know all of your articles are resonating for me right now. I initially got to your site by googling ‘how to move out of state.’ I’ve been at this site for the past 2 hours. I just want to say thanks for some inspiring writing. I also find it very odd that your career dream was to become a writer because it is also mine. I am trying to get out of the non-profit human services industry which is a drain on my energy. I’m having a hard time reconciling whether I’m selfish for wanting to leave a stable job and do something risky or continue to be in human services working for the greater good. The greater good is feeling more like being jacked into the matrix. I also have to say that all your tech articles I totally relate to because I am also the resident tech at my workplace which adds to that overall draining feeling. Thanks for the enormous advice.

#14 maia on 02, Jun, 2009 at 11:57 pm

you just made me think… i’m in my fist year in Med. school and I’m having a hard time adjusting to it. During high school and my entire life I’ve been a good student, actually my grades are good but there is something I hate… getting up and going to college every morning. When I’m already on campus I end up having a good time but wehn the classes end I feel like giving up, I really don’t think its just being lazy I feel sad and dissaponted the whole day. The thing is that I don’t see myself in another career and being a doctor has being the dream of my life. The thing is tha this year has been full of infortunated issues I’ve lost family members and I’ve grown appart from my best friend whom I love like a sister, I know it sounds like an excuse but I’m on the edge of going insane

#15 Shanta on 04, Jun, 2009 at 12:54 pm

I am lost. I have the desire to go back to school asap but I need a career that will satisfy me. Money isn’t important nor is the corporate ladder, but the need to help other people is and the need to express myself freely or a least be creative. I’m currently a 24 yr old homemaker with two kids who watches two other kids in the daytime and needs direction. Anyone please help!!!

#16 Greg on 26, Aug, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Hi Audrey,

If you would like to email about your situation, send me a message to

gbuk@hotmail.com, with the subject

“Subscription”

Regards,

Greg

#17 GBUK on 26, Aug, 2009 at 1:15 pm

Hi Audrey,

If you would like to email about your situation, send me a message to

gbuk@hotmail.com, with the subject

“Subscription”

Regards,

GBUK

#18 Glynnis on 03, Jan, 2010 at 6:17 pm

I’ve been working as a nursing tech since I was in high school (I went to a technical high school) and went on to pursue a nursing degree, because I was raised by nurses, and I was really good at what I did.

But I realized- as I was working in a hospital while simultaneously getting my degree- that I loved working with the patients, but I didn’t like the hospital’s infrastructure, the management was terrible and it was run more as a business than patient-care focused.

So I switched my major to biology with a focus in ecological zoology, worked for the summer for the state Dept of Natural Resources doing outdoor education with youth who had come from a really rough part of the city. It was the most emotionally and physically demanding job I’ve ever had, but it made me SO INCREDIBLY HAPPY. I can’t wait to finish my bio degree so I can really focus my interests in a wonderful job and grad school.

DO WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY! It is SO worth it.

#19 Clint Cora on 02, May, 2010 at 11:28 am

Don’t forget that many people these days will go through a few career changes throughout their working lives. I’ve been through a few myself.

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#24 conor on 08, Nov, 2010 at 4:43 pm

hey your story is interesting and makes me optimistic. i need some advice! i am 24 and i have been in and out of college courses for the last six years with any degree or or cert because I usually leave cause of lack of interest! I am artistic naturally but always stayed away from art because I felt there was no money in it! i have done courses like architecture and computers but ended up hating them after the first years and left ! i am now in college doing animation and i really like it for the first time but in some ways i feel guilty after wasting so many years and i feel i should be in a job and saving for the future or something like that! i just dont know what do stay in college and try and get a qualification or get a job! im just really confused at the moment its really weird i used to never care about this stuff but i guess i feel like im getting on with age but not financially and it worries me for the future!do you have any words of wisdom to set me straight!

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#26 pooh on 23, Dec, 2010 at 2:34 pm

hey frnds..
u know i feel so much at a common place while reading ever1’s experiences coz i m very much one of dem m sooo fed up..!!
i am 19yrs old and m doing BBA in 2nd yr nd from childhood i hav been good in studies everybody in my family expects a lot out of me in terms of acdemics and i wantd to pursue law(LLB) after my +2 however my family wanted me to do something from the commerce background and i joined it ..the thing is bba interests me but my dad also wants me to do CA and i have already cleared part 1 nicely in the first attempt nd m almost half way with my second part preps but dont find it my interest though m easily managing with the studies
nd every new thing excites me..i really wanna talk with a really nice person who will understand and guide me pls pls pls………

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#28 Vanessa on 13, Jun, 2012 at 4:28 am

Wow. I’m struggling with this at the moment & decided to put the question to the cyberverse to see what I got back – what the heck! right? Google brought me here. I suppose the greatest insight I got out of this post is that if you compromise & put on a brave face, no one will ever know about it & you’ll suffer with the greatest secret all alone. You can fulfil whatever expectations you think others place on you, but it won’t always lead to personal fulfillment… just a lump in the pit of your stomach that presents itself as a niggle/incling every now & then, telling you something isn’t quite right & that you have something more to do/achieve/become before it’s all in the bag (so to speak).

All that to say, thank you. What you say about how you answer the question of “what do you do?” is one of the great truths in knowing ourselves. It struck a chord with me :)

#29 Jel Training Insurance School on 12, Dec, 2012 at 10:00 pm

What an absolutely great article and I just shared it over on our Facebook page. Unfortunately, most people tend to think that their job has to be a lifelong commitment regardless of whether they like it or not. Unfortunately, this way of thinking is what often holds people back from their dreams.

Thanks again for the putting this topic into perspective.

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