Published On: Wed, Dec 6th, 2017

The Career Advice that Nobody Tells 18-Year-olds

Why are guidance counselors and career advisers always so hopeful? Not to ring the pessimism bell unnecessarily, but while certain jobs come with salaries that would have seemed absurdly high 20 years ago, the number of such openings is actually pretty small. Technological advances such as machine learning and 3D printing are likely to send some professions the same way as that of the farrier and scribbler, and which roles these turn out to be is likely to surprise us all. Meanwhile, many of those lucky enough to go to college don’t make it all the way, while those that do can expect to spend years afterwards servicing their debt.

photo/ Gerd Altmann

All things considered, the future is not necessarily rosy. The outlook is not all doom and gloom, of course, but anyone who doesn’t tell an aspiring student about both the petals and the thorns of this particular rose will be doing them no favors.

Personality Plays as Big a Role as Talent

There are tons of jokes about different professions that play on their stereotypical practitioners: lawyers are venal, engineers socially inept and doctors arrogant. So we are told, anyway.

There is, in fact, an element of truth to these characterizations. Doctors need to have the confidence and assertiveness to take charge of situations and have their instructions followed, lawyers’ moralities are dictated by professional standards even when these are contrary to their natural inclinations, while engineers have to prioritize circuits and structures over feelings and attitudes. Anyone pursuing one of these careers without being able to follow the explicit or unspoken codes of behavior they require will probably not be successful.

Choosing a field of study shouldn’t be done only on the basis of what a young person is good at, but also who they are. One of the best investments someone can make in their professional future is to subject themselves to a psychological assessment that will clarify their “soft” strengths and weaknesses. This costs very little in terms of time and money compared to finding out, too late, that you’re stuck with a degree you can’t really use.

You’ll Have to Change Careers, and Probably More than Once

A long time ago in a galaxy far away, it was possible for someone to follow an almost linear path through college to employment to retirement, with few surprises along the way. Some people even went their entire career working for the same company.

This is no longer the world we live in. Companies go under on a regular basis, while employees are laid off as soon as the numbers for doing so make sense. Unless you’re actually Carl Sagan, your professional security will never be assured. No matter how skilled you are, you might find yourself out of a job and with a qualification that no employer wants at that moment.

It’s therefore a good idea to broaden your skill set beyond a narrow focus with some abilities that can earn an income in any economy. Statistics, programming and sales experience are all areas of competence that will always be in demand.

Five Minutes of Brilliance Can Outweigh a Full Day of Hard Work

Are famous figures like Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk successful because of their insane work ethic? That may be part of the answer, but a more important factor is that they have the ability to make connections others can’t and ask questions most won’t.

Not all of us are geniuses and dedication certainly has no substitute, but when productivity and results are what matter, ingenuity and inspiration are often more valuable than simply following the manual. Knowing the basic mechanics of your job remains essential, but the ability to rewrite the rules from time to time will increasingly distinguish high performers from their less talented colleagues.

Author: Maria Miguel

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