This something we all agonize over in those last couple of years of high school, and as teenagers with no experience of the real world, we are ill equipped – both mentally and from a knowledge standpoint, to make such a decision. It’s really quite absurd that parents put the pressure on their children to make such momentous decisions, but it’s probably not something that’s going to change anytime soon. This is why I’m going to help make things as simple as possible so you can gain some kind of sanity and certainty of what the next step should be for you after you graduate from high school. It really begins with two simple questions:
1. What am I good at, or willing to get good at? And
2. Is someone going to pay me to do it?
The second is perhaps the most important to answer, because it doesn’t matter how great you are at something, if it isn’t a skill that’s in demand then you won’t earn a dollar doing it. Notice I also said “what are you willing to get good at”. There are many valuable skills in the real world that you won’t learn in high school, which you may not know you are good at yet. This is why you shouldn’t limit yourself to what you’re good at right now, because school is an environment that focuses on a very limited set of skills.
The next part of course, is finding someone willing to pay you. Here is where the problems start, because a big part of the Western career narrative has been “follow your passion and the money will follow”. No, it won’t. I don’t care how great you are at English literature, history, or sociology, you are going to find it very hard to make a career out of them. Let’s take two examples, mathematics and English literature, and what someone who is very good at either of them can hope for career wise.
English literature: English teacher, academic, writer.
Mathematics: Accountant, actuary, economist, financial analyst, academic, engineering, applied mathematics (I’m not going to continue, there’s too many).
We can already see how many more mathematics related jobs are out there. The other side of the equation is who is actually going to employ you. English literature is limited to schools and universities. Taking a single job from maths – accounting, has more opportunities on it’s own than all of the English related jobs combined. This is why older generations generally ridicule arts/humanities degrees at university – they have no real application outside academia and will not put you ahead of anyone in the job market.
I haven’t mentioned trades yet. If you’re willing to get your hands “dirty”, aren’t keen on an office job and are up for some more physical work, trades are almost always in demand. Too many people shun trades thinking they are “beneath” them. They offer excellent job security and if you’re willing to put in the work to get really good and be considered a master craftsman, you will be earning very good money.
What you really need to look at though, is the very first step you want to take out of high school or university. Think less about an ultimate goal that is years into your future, and think about entry level positions, because they are all you’re going to get at this point in time. Look at what entry level positions are out there and get a feeling for where they might take you, and be aware that you may not (most likely will not) end up exactly where you planned, and that is completely ok and to be expected.
A final point I’d like to make is that there is no one “right career” for you, just like there is no one “Mr/Mrs Right” for you. You will find there are plenty of different jobs out there that can make use of your skills and abilities – some you will enjoy and some you won’t. Don’t stress about trying to find the perfect career straight away, the start of any career is more trial and error than starting off perfectly.
I’ve kept this post is deliberately short and simple, because the last thing you need when being given career advice is to be overwhelmed with options. I’ve given you a few simple things to think about, now it’s your turn to do some research and contemplate your options. Good luck. If you want any further advice, the comments space is below.