Are you one of those people who’s always known what you want to do when you grow up – like become a doctor, policeman or vet? Whose childhood passion for writing stories or playing with Lego naturally and inevitably led to a career in journalism or industrial engineering? Well if that’s you, count yourself amongst the lucky few.
For the rest of us, figuring out what to do with our lives can be a confusing business. There are so many options and so many considerations – do you follow your heart and choose a career based on your passions and interests, or do you follow your head and choose a ‘practical’ job that offers great career and salary prospects?
Passion and pragmatism are not mutually exclusive, of course, but sometimes it does come down to a difficult choice. Choosing the path of creative fulfilment and pursuing your dream of becoming the next Cate Blanchett or great Australian novelist can involve risk and sacrifice – just ask the waiter at your local café.
Or just ask comedian Wil Anderson, who understands these sacrifices well. ‘The first year I did stand-up I made $4000, and the second year I made $6000. I was making less than the dole so it wasn't a glorious existence at that point. I never saw a movie that wasn't on a Tuesday, ate a lot of two-minute noodles and drank a lot of cheap wine, but I don't think I've ever had more fun.’
Some people are happy to indulge their passions in their leisure time, while maintaining a day job to keep the income rolling in.
Michael has worked in the banking industry for many years while indulging his passion for writing during his leisure time. Now, however, he is at the point where he is ready to give up his day job entirely so he can write full time – but that is a luxury afforded by his years of hard work in the financial sector.
‘I now feel I want to devote solid time to my writing if I’m going to be serious about it as more than just a hobby. My thinking now is that you have to follow your passion when it comes to careers, and now I have the means to be able to give more attention and focus to it,’ says Michael.
Let’s face it – if you decide to pursue a career you don’t enjoy simply because of practical considerations or parental expectations, you’re setting yourself up for future unhappiness or a mid-career crisis.
Wil Anderson knows this well too. ‘I ended up doing journalism at university because it seemed like a good way to still be involved with writing and, unlike comedy, it also seemed like something you could actually do as a job. I did that for three years and absolutely hated every minute of it. I was very successful at it, but none of that success brought me any happiness so I thought maybe I should do something that made me happy, whether I was successful at it or not.’
Passion usually breeds success, but following your bliss involves weighing up risks and overcoming your fears, as well as creating contingency plans.
This is a process actor and comedian Glenn Robbins, aka Kel Knight from Kath and Kim, had to work through as well: ‘I was working at an insurance company when I realised I seriously wanted to pursue acting as a career. I remember being in the office and looking around at all the people who had been there for about 10 years and they didn't look very happy. It's good that I worked in that industry for a while because it made me realise what I really wanted to do, which was to act.’
‘So being the conservative person that I am, I enrolled in a drama teaching course at Melbourne State College. This meant that I could pursue acting but would also have a career in teaching to fall back on in case it didn't work out,’ says Robbins.
If you’re trying to figure out what career path to take, you have a few things to consider. First of all, think about what activities you really enjoy. What are your interests, strengths and values, and what are you really good at? Knowing your personal brand will help you evaluate what would be most important to you in a job – would it be having creativity or autonomy, or opportunities to travel?
Now brainstorm jobs that could be related to the things on your list and enlist the aid of family and friends to help you come up with ideas.
Try to find out as much as you can about the jobs and industries that interest you – research online and at libraries, read related news and trade magazines, talk to your family, contacts and industry professionals, attend career and trade fairs, and keep an eye on job advertisements for job descriptions. Consider working part-time, or as an intern or volunteer to get a better idea of what’s involved and whether you’d like to pursue this as a career.
In addition to your own level of interest, the factors you will need to weigh up will include what the job market is like, salary, potential career progression, stability, hours, work-life balance, location, and whether you will need to move or travel. You also need to find out if you will need specific qualifications to nab the job of your dreams. You could also consider talking to a career counsellor or coach for extra guidance.
Think large, and think laterally. You don't have to stick to the tried-and-true paths of accounting, business or law. If your true passion is health or you've always really wanted to be a teacher or web developer, then figure out what qualifications you need, and go for it!
Sometimes the only way to find out if you like a job is simply to give it a go – but be prepared to move on if you find it’s not the right one for you. After all, most people change career paths three to five times during their lifetime, so changing your professional direction is not unusual and can make for an interesting and stimulating journey.
Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar was working as a successful photographer before deciding to return to study and practise as a counsellor. Gabrielle’s advice to anyone considering career paths is to ask yourself: ‘What is it that you’re seeking? Get really clear on your vision and just be really brave in looking at all the possible alternatives that might enable you to achieve your vision. Courage is key – just try something out and you’ll see that it can really work.’