Advice on Choosing a Career Path

Of all the topics about which I’ve written so far, none has been as dreaded as this. Students in middle and high school receive countless opinions on how they should decide what they want to do “when they grow up.” The stress of choosing a career path is substantial and many times overwhelming. I, too, have an opinion, and so I will share it with you today.

There is both a long and a short version of my advice for you going into such a crucial decision. The short version isn’t what you’ll hear most often: that would be to “follow your dreams." That’s a great saying (and pretty good advice), but I think it’s too broad to be of practical use here. Dreams change (and thus so do majors). My advice, on the other hand, should apply to nearly every situation. I recommend only that you…

Take your time.

That’s the short version. I think it’s pretty self-explanatory, but you’ve read this far, so let’s go ahead and unpack it into the long version. There are three main categories of student that I met during my time in HOSA. My advice for each of the three categories will remain the same. Select which one fits you best!

A.       You know exactly what you want to do.
B.      You know you want to go into health (or another general field), but don’t know exactly what you want to do.
C.       You have no idea what you want to do.

My advice if you selected option A is to…

Take your time. You may have known since you were 5 years old that you want to be a phlebotomist, but in doing so you have likely neglected considering any other profession in the 10 years since. Have you changed in those 10 years? Do you think you’ll change in the next 10? 30? 50? I don’t mean to scare you or change your mind regarding what you want to do, but as with any decision of such magnitude, I urge you to place your goal under scrutiny. Play devil’s advocate with yourself and make sure you can defend the decision you’ve made (all the best decisions can be well-defended!) Don’t fall into the trap of continuing down a path that’s wrong for you just because everyone now expects it of you. Take your time, enjoy the road toward where you want to end up and don’t be afraid to change course if the road ahead starts to look less appealing.

My advice is you selected option B is to…

Take your time. By entering the world of health or any other growing field, you can rest assured that no matter what you do, you will always be able to find a job – medicine, for example, will always be in demand! Many career paths allow you to experience different positions that require the same degrees or certifications. For example, I know that I want to be a physician, and medical school will allow me to rotate throughout required and elective internships before I am asked to choose a residency and thus a specialty. Another great perk of working in health is that many skills translate between positions. You can work as a nurse in one capacity for 10 years or more and then decide you want to do something else. My point is that health and medicine are flexible career paths that you will have time to explore. For now, research educational programs to apply to after high school or college and look deeper into ones that require your unique set of skills and that you think will provide the working environment and lifestyle that you want. You’ll find that there’s a place for every personality in health.

My advice if you selected option C is to…

Take your time. So you’re a HOSA member who may not want to go into health (gasp!). If you are in high school, think about the classes that you enjoy most and perform best in and explore careers related to those subjects. Many, many college students enter a school not knowing if they selected the correct major. The good news is that college is very good at telling you what you do and don’t like – because you are doing more independent learning, you are exposed to more of the professional world of a subject and so get a better feel for it than you would in high school. Professional courses like those that prepare you for (more) specific careers are even better at this. You may spend money on extra semesters or additional certifications, but these are a small price to pay for a lifetime spent in a fulfilling career.

I hope you can see that you have the luxury of time when it comes to this decision. I don’t recommend that you ignore others in your life that guide you in certain directions or give you their own advice – they are probably older and wiser than either you or me. But I do think that there is too much pressure placed on students today to select a career in high school. Slow down. Take a deep breath. It will all work out. Think of it as not one big decision, but a series of smaller decisions over years or even decades – this is a much more accurate picture. Explore your interests until you find yourself getting paid to do so – they say you won’t feel as if you’re working at all.