Choosing Your Career

“Marry in haste and regret at leisure.”

I don’t remember where I saw this quote about the need to take time to choose a marriage partner in order to avoid a life of misery, but I think it aptly applies to choosing ones career, too. If you choose a career hastily, without considering the pros and cons of the chosen career, you may live to regret your decision.

I know many people who don’t enjoy the work that they do either because they were forced into it by their parents or because they got into it as a last resort, after failing to get their preferred job.

A career is generally defined as a long-term or life-long job, and a career person as someone trained for and expecting to work in a particular occupation for an entire working life rather than briefly.

Since your love affair with your career is meant to last a life-time, it is important for you to make sure that you take great care when it comes to choosing your career.

But how can you know what career is right for you?

Let us start by examining what methods were used by different people in the past to choose their careers.

One common method in many societies, including Zambia’s, was parental decree. It was considered the duty and privilege of parents to decide their children’s careers. In most cases, the parents chose a career for their children based on family pride rather than the children’s need for self-actualization or the need to render a service to society.

We may question the merits of this practice in the present day setting, but it is important to realize that the social norms those days were different from our present ones. It was considered the responsibility of parents to ensure their children’s success in all spheres of life. This responsibility extended to the area of marriage. Parents decided who their children married.

In biblical societies, about 4,000 years ago, careers were determined by special skills that seemed to run in the family. Some families were known for their special carpentry skills, while others were known for their skills in masonry, and so on. Members of these families did not need to think hard about what their career should be. The family to which they belonged decided this for them.

In some countries such as India, society was structured into specific social classes. These classes determined what careers you could or could not take up in life.

In some countries such as Zambia, tribal traits and preferences influenced what career a family member opted for.

In primitive cultures, sorcerers and fortune-tellers were consulted to know what ones career should be. Fortune-tellers included mediums, palmists and astrologers. Usually, it was the parents who consulted these practitioners of arcane arts on behalf of their children. In some cases, consultations were even done on behalf of yet-to-be-born babies.

The use of horoscopes to reveal to someone what their future would be had a great deal of influence in what career they chose. (A horoscope is an astrologer’s description of the personality of a person based on the position of planets in relation to the sign of the zodiac under which the person was born.) If you were told that you would be a great and influential teacher you would be likely to make those decisions that drove you towards the realization of your predicted future.

Let us examine the ways people choose their careers today.

The involvement of one’s parents in choosing a career has generally been relegated to that of advisor and financial sponsor. Very few parents today dictate what career their children should take up.

However, what the job offers in terms of salary and other perks, as well as the associated prestige, tends to influence parental advice and the child’s choice of career.

In Zambia, a considerable number of people still consult modern day fortune-tellers and religious prophets about their future. This is evidenced by the many adverts placed in Zambia’s daily newspapers by traditional healers and religious prophets who promise to communicate to interested members of the public special knowledge about the future.

Before I present my suggestions about how you can go about choosing your career, I need to mention a special class of people who do not need to think about choosing their career because this matter has already been decided for them by their birth. These people include children of national kings and queens, and tribal chiefs. We may add to this list, children of owners of personal enterprises, since they are entitled to assume ownership of these enterprises upon their parents’ demise.

So what factors should you consider in choosing a career?

My advice will be very brief.

You should consider a career for which you are suited in terms of your personality, attitude and aptitude.  

Different careers, or jobs, call for specific personality types. If, for instance, you are an introvert who likes to keep to yourself, you would make a very poor television or radio broadcaster. The job of a television or radio broadcaster requires an outgoing personality and a flair for good interpersonal communication skills.

Certain attitudes will disqualify you from certain jobs. If you are the kind of person who regards certain sections of society as inferior, you are unlikely to make a good social worker.

To work as an accountant you need to have a flair for numbers.

There are educational institutions that administer psychological tests which determine an individual’s particular aptitude in life. These tests are quite useful in indicating what kind of career you are most suited for. The tendency by most people to go for well-paying careers despite being unsuitable for them is a cause of undesirable social outcomes.

People who get into jobs for which they are not suited are not only a menace to themselves but to society as well. One wouldn’t be far from the truth in concluding that the many uncaring and sadistic nurses and teachers are so common in our Zambian hospitals and schools, respectively, are a case of a mismatch between the person and the job.

Something else that I consider as important as being suited to ones career is doing a job that you love and enjoy. What is the point of choosing a career or job that you loathe? Is the money motive more important to you than your happiness and peace of mind?

You may find a three-point checklist that was presented at a seminar on careers that I attended some years back useful in helping you to choose your career. According to this checklist, there are three things that you should consider, namely, your interests, your skills, and your values.

Your interests could include playing music, playing tennis, taking part in politics, travelling, writing, and camping.

Your skills could include public speaking skills, computing skills, project administration skills, writing skills, leadership skills and teaching skills.

Your values could include family ties, a good education for your children, morality, friendship, health, and happiness.

You should choose a career that will not conflict with your interests and values, and one which will give you an opportunity to utilize your skills.

You may be wondering what I have to say about the role of an individual’s parents in choosing his or her career.

Parents have a very critical role to play in counseling their children in the area of career choice. For one, other than yourself, they are probably the people who know you better than any other person. They can supplement your knowledge of yourself by pointing out the blind spots in your self-knowledge.

Is there any merit in the old belief that certain families possess attributes that make their members suited to particular skill? My personal experience is that there is.

I come from a family of excellent teachers. My father and two of his brothers were primary school teachers. His two brothers rose to very high positions in their field.

A number of my cousins became teachers and turned out to be excellent teachers. One or two of them attained the highest academic qualifications in the field.

The last thing I wanted to be in life was a teacher. Somehow through no initiative of mine, I found myself in a teacher training college. In time I was able to rise to high positions of teaching-related work in industry.

One of my two brothers and my only sister also became teachers, a job that they seemed to enjoy while they did it. I once heard my brother Kingstone, who chose the career of a medical doctor, express a desire for a teaching role within his area of specialization.

Maybe it has to do with becoming familiar with the demands and requirements of a particular job through close interaction with people doing that job, and not necessarily a case of heredity, as some people would have us believe.

Whatever method you decide to use to identify your future career, it is important that you think about some of the issues highlighted above to avoid getting into a job that will only cause you stress and much unhappiness.

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