How To Choose A Career (And Not Screw It Up)

By Jeff Gillis

There are a shocking number of possible careers, which makes choosing a career a monumental task.

The little boy who dreams of becoming an actor will find countless opportunities in entertainment that he never dreamed of as a child. It isn’t until you are on the set of a major motion picture or television show that the scale of the production becomes evident.

Different experts are trained for and assigned to very specific tasks. Someone physically records the audio, another person handles recording levels, and still another will edit, adding sound effects and music that are selected by yet another person. Someone’s only job is to make sure that props and gestures are consistent between shots.

The directors and actors are only a very small proportion of a film making crew.

Other industries operate in much the same way.

If your heart is set on being a construction worker, fireman, or lawyer, you can make this happen, but most people will not end up in one of the careers children learn about in school.

Along the way, people fall into careers they never knew existed, find they like them, and carry on. Let’s call these people the Happy Accident People. This is a fine way to find a career.

There are, unfortunately, another class of people. Let’s call them the Stuck in Mud People. These people fall into careers they don’t like, and never claw their way out.

Often, the difference between being a Happy Accident Person and a Stuck in Mud Person is intention.

The Happy Accident Person is usually working towards a career goal, when they are sidetracked into a related profession. This can happen for any number of reasons.

Perhaps an exciting opportunity arises or maybe the job market it rough and they just need that paycheck. If the sidetrack job is a good fit, the person becomes a Happy Accident Person.

Crucially, if it is not a good fit this person is much more likely to continue to search for jobs and follow their career goals than a person who was not walking on any particular path when they landed in a less-than-ideal profession.

People without career goals are much more likely to become Stuck in Mud People.

Without a goal in mind, these people have no option other than falling into an accidental career. They are on no particular path, so they are less likely to be pulled into a position they find interesting than their Happy Accident People counterparts. They are also less likely to search out other opportunities. After all, they weren’t sidetracked from a dream career.

Choosing a career is an important step in your professional and personal trajectory, even if you don’t end up in that career.

At the very least, it sets you up to be a Happy Accident Person, which is a great place to land. Others achieve their original goals, which is also a wonderful outcome.

What Exactly Is A Career?

A career is a professional, long-term job. The specifics can vary greatly.

    • You can work in an office or outdoors.
    • You can work with people or with computers.
  • You can working forty hours a week, or twenty.

There are as many career options as there are people to fill them.

Traditionally, people chose one career and had relatively few shifts throughout their adults life. The safe route that our baby boomer parents often suggest is to find a company you like, work your way up, and enjoy your pension upon retirement.

Times, however, have changed.

Careers have changed, too. Gallup reports that 60 percent of millennials are open to new employment and refers to new workers as the “job hopping generation”. To be clear, a job is not necessarily a career.

Intent is key.

Working as a waitress to pay your way through college is a job, not a career. Working as a waitress for thirty years, however, is a career.

A career is your chosen profession, while a job is transitional employment. Of course, your job can become your career, and that’s okay. Just make sure it is a happy accident.

How To Choose The Right Career For You

There are many things to consider, including (but not limited to) the characteristics below:


It is all too easy to either over or under value passion. This is your career, so it should certainly be something you are passionate about, but not all passions are built to become careers.

If you can’t work in your all-time-favorite passion because it doesn’t balance well with your other goals, that is okay. Just making sure your work-life balance leaves ample time for hobbies.


Salary is an important component of a career.

    • Do you value travel?
    • Do you want to have children?
  • Do you expect to have two incomes, or only one?

Many young people are surprised by how much life really costs. The little things that seem simple – movies, trips to visit sick relatives, medical bills – add up faster than you know. What seems like a lot of money now, may not be enough when your life is in full-swing.

Take the time to think about how you want to live and research what that lifestyle actually costs.

Work-Life Balance

The time you plan to spend at work in comparison with the time you plan to spend with friends, family, and engaged in your own hobbies is crucial