Someone on Hubski came to me asking for some career advice. For the sake of their privacy, I’m gonna keep them anonymous, which will be easy to do because I don’t have any good answers for the specific scenarios they laid out for me. However, I wanted to put my response in the open (with their permission) because there are many people on Hubski who are much smarter and wiser than I am. Hopefully their knowledge and insight will keep any bad advice of mine in check. The gist of the letter breaks down “Do I try to do pursue something I love, or do I try to pursue something that will pay the bills? Be brutally honest.”
My response follows . . .
I’m probably the worse person to come looking to for advice on this kind of thing. I’m a college drop out. If you knew my career, you’d laugh. For all my enthusiasm, for all of my tenacity, for all of my willingness to be open minded, I am not what you would consider a successful person.
I could be a dick and say “find a job that fulfills both,” and leave it at that. Thought we both know if it was that easy you wouldn’t be asking the kinds of questions you’re asking. If you want the brutal truth, it’s this. You’re an adult now. Life is hard. Big decisions will always be hard and there will be challenges that come with every choice you make, even if the choice is an easy one. To make things worse, every time you look back it’ll be with nostalgia, doubt, and curiousity as to how things would have turned out if you had chose differently. Ten years from now, you’ll look back and ask yourself “What if I had chosen a different major? What if I went with that other job? What if I moved to that other city?” Even though you know who you are as a person, where you stand in the world, those questions will always be there, because even if you made the best possible decision every time, you’ll never know. So first and foremost, learn to be at peace with who you are today. When you’re not at peace with who you are, know why and strive to find that peace again. When you are at peace, strive to become something more, because if you stand too still for too long, that sense of peace will slowly erode.
Building your life, believe it or not, is a lot like building a house. It’ll take your whole life to build, often you’ll be building it alone and often you’ll be building it with others, and you’’’ remodel it from time to time as you go along. What’s important to do though is understanding how you’re building it and why, so you can use it to the best of your ability and know how your house can benefit you and how your house can hold you back. Some of my friends, their houses are like tents. They’re not very stable, they’re not very safe, but they’re enough to keep the rain out. If need be, they can pack up and move on at a moments notice and find someplace new to pitch their tent. I envy their mobility greatly. I don’t envy their lack of stability. I have other friends who have houses like fortresses. They’re beyond sturdy, they’re beyond safe. Mobile, they’re not. If the rivers of their lives ever dry up, they’re fucked. Me? My house was like a tent, until I met my wife and we moved in together. Now we’re kind of like a prairie cabin together. We’re pretty secure in place even though it’s not fancy, but if the need ever arises, we can pack up and move on without sacrificing too much.
Know that your career is just one part of your house and you can add and remove other parts as you need be. If you want to do good in the world and your career path is something mundane, find ways to be charitable outside of work. If you want to be creative and your work is all about thinking inside the box, pursue your creative passions outside of work. Your career will only have the amount of meaning you chose to give it. It can be your basement, your living room, or your master bedroom. The question you have to ask yourself is, what room you think is appropriate and why.
So think about your life. Think about that house. Think about how you might want to build it and what you want to fill it with. Know that it’s not the worse thing in the world to tear it down and start again, but know that the older you get, the bigger your house becomes, and the harder it will be to remodel let alone tear down and start anew. Unless there’s a fire. Crisis often seems to be one hell of a reset button.
Lord Mercy. I suck at advice. Here. Know what’s awesome about philosophy? It’s helpful if you take it lightly. Know what sucks about it? If you need concrete answers, it’s good for fuck all. I can’t give you advice about your situation, but I’ll give you some real advice you can take with you. Headers and all.
Words cannot stress enough how important a good work ethic is. The surface benefits are numerous. When you’re a hard worker, willing to be flexible to the needs of the job, your chances for better hours, better pay, career advancement, peer acceptance, etc., all go through the roof. People will know you’re dependable and reliable and you’ll likely be treated positively because of it. Just know the difference between being helpful and letting people walk all over you. If you feel like you’re being taken advantage of, don’t assume that’s the case, but examine your situation to see if it might be. If you’re busting your ass of and getting treated like shit, chances are, you’re getting taken advantage of. However, if you get the feeling that you’re being treated very well and it’s all because of how hard you work, then your work is paying off. Just don’t let yourself get burned out and if you’ve taken on too much, don’t be afraid to approach your boss and say “Boss, I’m overwhelmed. Can we talk about the workload?” See where things go from there. Use your best judgment.
If you’re able to take pride in your work and you see your job in a preferable light, whether you see it as a privilege of a challenge or just plain fun, it really does become easier to do. Seeing your job in a preferable light is a key part to your work ethic and actually makes your job easier to do. Some days it’s gonna be hard to get out of the house, go to work, and do the shit that needs doing, but it’s important to keep on doing it. If you let yourself slow down, you’ll quickly lose momentum, and often that momentum can be hard to build back up.
Honesty Really is the Best Policy
You’d be amazed at how much being honest can really make things easier. It makes people more receptive to what you have to say, creates an air of reliability about you, and when you openly acknowledge problems, you and the people they affect are much more likely to tackle them effectively. Just know, trust is hard to gain but so easy to lose.
Whenever possible, avoid getting into debt. The more money you owe and the more people you owe it to, the less flexibility you in life. This lack of flexibility can affect everything from your purchasing power to your job prospects to your ability to pursue leisure opportunities. Even more, the further you are in debt, the easier it is to fall further into debt, and the harder it is to get out. This applies more to just owing someone for a car. If you have tickets, pay them off. If you owe back taxes, give the government their due. If you have a warrant out for you, get it taken care of. You would not believe the way things can come back to bite you in the ass, especially years later when you least expect it. The sooner and cleaner you can get things taken care of, the better.
This also applies to social debts. If someone loans you money, pay them back. If someone buys your lunch, gives you a ride, helps you out with a work assignment, anything, pay them back. It is very easy to earn the reputation of a mooch. It’s very hard to get rid of it. The best way to handle social debt is by getting ahead of it. Be charitable. Offer to pick up the bar tab, give people rides, pay for their ticket at a movie, etc. People will know you’re generous and repay your generosity in kind. Keep two things in mind. First, sometimes people genuinely can’t repay you back for your favors. That’s fine. That’s why I used the word “charitable.” If you’re doing nice things out of the goodness of your heart and not because you expect things in return, you’ll be seen as a warm, welcome element in peoples’ lives. If you do nice things because you expect something in return, people will see you as manipulative and any act of giving you do will have a negative taint to it. Second, figure out what is socially acceptable as generous. There’s a huge difference between buying someone’s movie ticket and buying someone’s plane ticket. There’s a difference between buying lunch for someone now and again and buying lunch for someone every time you hang out. Knowing the difference helps avoid awkward situations and also protects you from being taken advantage of.
Know Your Rights
Know your rights as a consumer, as a tenant, as a citizen, etc. This will protect you in so many ways. Everyone from banks to landlords to the government has the power to take advantage of you, if you let them. By knowing your rights, you can help mitigate this. I’ve literally had an old landlord make changes to my rental contract before signing it and accepting the keys because there were clauses in the rental agreement that ran counter to state law. I’ve had friends that have settled debts, disputes with the banks, and arguments taken to small claims court because they know what’s what. By knowing what’s what, you can also help protect yourself from getting in trouble down the road, just by seeing warning signs and deciding not to pursue something. At the very least, always read what your signing. More often than not, written in the contracts and plain as day, are statements by the company, other person, etc. saying how they can and might screw you over.
Which brings me into the segue of bureaucracies. They’re seemingly massive and imposing and they seem to be run by heartless people who don’t care about you. Here’s the secret to dealing with bureaucracies, whether they’re the government, hospitals, your work’s HR, or what have you. A lot of the time, if you can convince them that their job will be easier if they help you, they’ll end up being a lot more flexible in getting you taken care of. Knowing your rights also comes in handy when it comes to dealing with these machines because that knowledge is like a sledgehammer you can use to break down some of those walls that get put up.
So, I dunno. That’s what I got. I wish I had some concrete answers, but I don’t. In thinking about it again, I think the best advice I can give is that the sooner you accept that your life is in your hands and that things are gonna be hard, the easier it will be for you to start taking control of your life. Empower yourself whenever and where ever possible, be flexible to options, and know that while your career will be a huge part of your life, it’s not the be all and end all of your life. You can have the shittiest job in the world and still find fulfillment outside of it.
There's some good solid advice in there. And I think I can add something valuable to what you said: Perspective.
You don't hear people 30-plus years old asking this question. Because they realize it isn't the right question to ask. By the time you are in your 30's, pretty much nobody you know will be working in the field/job that is written on their college degree.
Life is a river. You start off trying to build a dam, and make the river conform to your view of what it should look like. But water is consistent, persistent, strong, and devious. Your every effort to make life conform to your view will fail, and eventually you will get swept downstream.
Some people try to stop. They bash into rocks. They grasp at low-hanging branches and try to stop the water from dragging them further downstream.
Other people go "woohoo! whitewater rafting!!" and look downstream and try to pick a line that looks like the most fun.
These are the people who inspire you. They are the people enjoying life, and who seem to have amazing opportunities drop in their lap.
Schooling, clubs, hobbies, and interests are what you build your boat out of.
Then you get thrown into the water and head downstream.
What skills do you have? Do you communicate well with other people? Do you like to learn? Do you keep your word? Are you an enjoyable person to be around?
Then your boat will float, and you will find the journey enjoyable. The more flexible and amenable you are to life and it's ever-changing dynamics, the more opportunities that will be presented to you, and the more chances you will have to find something that you truly enjoy.
The less flexible, personable, pleasant you are, the less opportunities will come up. Because you are narrowly skilled, and unpleasant to be around, and therefore fit into only a small portion of the available roles out there in the world.
From where I'm sitting, just short of 50 years old, I can tell you that the river widens, slows, and empties into a big placid lake, where you can kinda paddle wherever you want. If you built a good boat.
I don't even recall all the jobs I have had, the places I have worked, the people I have fallen in and out of love with... all that is back there, up the hill, in the rapids on that river somewhere.
Looking back up that river, I can see the path I took now, but it was not apparent to me at the time. I was simply presented with interesting opportunities because I had a wide range of skills, I was funny, and people liked talking to me. They liked having me around, so they would overlook any technical/skills limitations, and just said, "Eh. You'll learn it on the job. It isn't hard."
This is, of course, my advice based on my experience.
Like RD95 says, life isn't lived in a house you built in college; it is a long series of building projects that you live within while building. Some rooms you may never visit again. Some you may crack the door open 30 years later and find a new passion for, and others you may visit every single day.
The only constant is change. Either find a way to embrace that, or live frustrated for the rest of your life.