I am an entrepreneur. I founded my company, Stasher, 5 years ago, and at the time, I was torn between a few career paths. I had options in the city (which would have been higher paying in the short-term for sure!), but I also had the dream of being my own boss and an idea we were getting excited about turning into a real product.
For me, the way to approach the question of picking the right career comes down to a fundamental question of values. Work will take up a meaningful proportion of your life. What do you value? What do you want to put into your career, and what do you want to get out of it?
Crude economics suggests that a job is just a transaction whereby you sell your time for money. You determine how you wish to split your time between work and leisure. I think this view misses a lot of what goes into human decision-making. Money and leisure-time are two important factors worth considering, but they provide quite a one-dimensional way of deciding what career path to pursue. There are many other aspects: fun is a big one; the experiences you want to have; the kind of people you want to meet and work with; the skills you wish to learn and master; autonomy; the opportunity to create something; and the impact or purpose you want to be a part of.
For me, all those factors were what pushed me to go full-time on the startup. Money is certainly an important factor, but I’m happy to risk a bigger long-term payoff for a lower short-term one, even in the knowledge that the big one may not happen. Feeling like you’re creating something, constantly learning, and enjoying the experience alongside a fun, talented group of people… that’s everything I could want in a career.
Ask yourself what you want to get out of work in the next few years. Don’t worry about looking too far ahead, but look far enough ahead that if skills/qualifications are required, you factor them in now. For example, if you want to be an architect or a doctor, you’re going to need to undergo some serious training. Not every job needs 5-7 years of study, but for any skilled role, you’ll need to undergo some amount of training, and it’s worth getting that done early.
I can empathise with the feeling that the more options you have, the harder it becomes to pick the right one. That is the essence of the paradox of choice. You worry that by picking something, you’re missing out on something else. If it helps, this is the case with every choice you make in life. There is probably no such thing as the “right” career! The good thing about picking a career is that you will always have an opportunity to change.
Another consolation is that human psychology is geared to minimize regret (generally). Especially if you’re an optimist, but even if not, whatever career you pick, at some point, you will most likely look back and reflect that it was a good choice. Because even if it wasn’t the best experience in and of itself, it would lead you to learnings and experiences that ultimately benefit you.
If you are undecided because of a lack of options, the same process of questioning what you value still works. Ask yourself what matters to you and what you are good at? Careers advice has long focused on the question of “passion,” but I think that can be dangerous. I’m passionate about a lot of things that aren’t my job. What helps if you’re stuck in this line of thinking is to reframe the question. Stop trying to figure out what your burning passion is and think instead of what skills you have that you can bring to the table. What impact do you want to have on the world, based on what you are good at? You’ll get to the same answer in a less stressful way.
In summary, there is no perfect career, and you don’t need to figure out your passion for having a good career. Whatever you choose will enrich your life with new experiences, even if sometimes they seem negative at the time. However, you can get to a more enjoyable career faster by reflecting on what matters to you. Answer what you want to put in and get out of your work. Life is short, and work can be an area of your life that brings you joy if you make your choices wisely.