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47. Did You Choose The Right Career?

An issue that has arisen in a number of contexts in these tips is the way we often choose to do things on the one hand, but resent doing them on the other. It's a perverse occupation, but we do it nevertheless! One of the most common arenas of life where this happens is work - it may be doing certain things at work that we resent, or it may be the job as a whole. This week's tip is about how and why we choose the work we do. A few months ago a woman came to see me. Carla is a lawyer with a large city firm and, being able and ambitious, she'd worked through the ranks and was now a partner and earning good money. But she was fed up with it. 'I hate it most of the time,' she said. 'I had my doubts about doing law right from the start, way back in university, and I've had doubts ever since.' It turned out, like many people in the top professions, that she had a treasure trove of talents that she rarely got to use. 'I was always good at drawing,' she said, 'I won art competitions at school and my art teacher told me I should go to art school. I loved writing too. In fact I liked doing all kinds of things when I was a teenager, I was never the kind of person to settle down to one path. I look at my life now and I wonder how I ever came to focus on one career and do it for year after year. It's not me at all.' But the fact was that she had done it, so at some level it clearly was her. When my children were small I had such high hopes for them. Not necessarily high hopes in terms of specific career paths, but high hopes that they would be able to do anything they wanted, and not be shoe-horned into careers simply because they looked secure and well paid. Not that there is anything wrong with security and a good income, more that doing something for that reason alone can seriously sap your spirits over the years. Now my children are getting to the ages when they are choosing career paths, I suddenly feel different. I am facing the reality of what certain career choices mean in practice, and I notice that the dreams of excitement and personal fulfilment that I had when they were tiny little things, safe in the care of their parents, are beginning to take second place to more mundane priorities such as career structure, job security and income. What I also notice is that it doesn't really matter what my aspirations are for them, they are perfectly capable of taking a long hard look at the world and working out for themselves what their priorities are. And the priorities that they, and all of us, have to weigh up are very often the same ones. Should I go to university and study my favourite subject? Should I, especially at a time of economic recession, go for a tried and tested vocational path where I will not have to expend my energies on worrying about where my next income or job is going to come from? Or should I do something completely different and exciting? This is a long-winded way of saying that career choice is complex and difficult and, however badly you think you've chosen, you undoubtedly had very good reasons for your selection. And although, like Carla, you may forget those reasons if you become accustomed to the benefits they provide in your life, and instead focus on the limitations, those rewards are still there if you care to shine a light on them. When Carla did just that she discovered that there were in fact aspects of the work that she really enjoyed, such as seeing clients and developing junior staff. Also, the income enabled her to send her children to a good school, and funded her other love, travel. She realised that whatever she did next, she was not willing to compromise those two things. In the medium term that meant putting together a strategy for modifying her career so that she could do more of the things she enjoyed at work, and less of the ones she didn't. In the short term it meant going into work with a lighter heart, in the knowledge that it was providing her with some things of great value to her. Whether you love your work or wish you were doing something else, it helps to remind yourself why you're doing it. Then you're in a much better position to decide what you want to do about it. Try this: � If you could change your career now, what would you do, and what do you believe that career would bring to your life that the current one does not? � Whether you would change your career or not, ask yourself: what benefits and enjoyment does your current work provide in your life, and what benefits does it provide to others? Are there any of these you would be willing to forgo in order to do something else? � Finally, what attitude to your work would bring you greatest happiness and peace of mind? If you were happy and at peace, how would that affect the way you work and the people you work with? Have a good working week...

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