The progression of purpose
Five hundred years ago, we would have had little say in what profession we entered; if your father was a blacksmith or butcher, in all likelihood, you would simply learn his trade and get to work. And career options were even less bountiful if you happened to be female. Nowadays, in the prosperous world, we have a good deal more choice, and we tend to think that – among the thousands of jobs on offer – our ideal vocation awaits us somewhere. Yet, despite those many possibilities, research suggests that almost half of the U.K.’s employed would like to change careers, with more than a quarter feeling they made a mistake by entering their current profession. It seems that, no matter how much choice we have, finding a career that fits will always require a good deal of further contemplation.
Perhaps the first question we might want to ask ourselves is: how did I arrive at my current job? What unique aspects of my personality, joined with certain details of my background, have conspired to lead me here? As with our predecessors hundreds of years ago, some degree of family influence is almost inescapable. It might be that we pursued one of the older, more esteemed professions such as medicine or law because we knew that the security and respectability of such a career would please our parents. We might have ignored our obvious talent for business and accounts, because we wanted to rebel against the advice of our family. Or we might have pursued a career with a high salary so that we can comfortably out-earn our siblings (whether or not we quite realised this was our motivation). The manner in which we were brought up, the expectations of our family and care-givers, will inevitably shape the decisions we make when we start to earn a living.
Education, in this respect, is also important for shaping the course of our career. It’s quite regrettable that our current system of secondary education does not give its students much time to consider how their chosen subjects will be used (and often misused) by the world of work. Each exam takes us further down a course of specialisation that closes off certain pathways, until the maths and science students are scooped up by engineering firms and data analysis companies, whilst those studying languages or psychology are recruited into sales or marketing. Before we know it, it seems as if these choices have been made for us without even realising it. And since re-training can be so costly and time-consuming, the path of least resistance often tells us to conform to the world of work, rather than daring to make the world of work more closely resemble those things which excite us and seem meaningful.