I still don’t! I recently found an old notebook from when I was about fourteen years old, and it was all very serious stuff; full of sage musings about the state of the world and my quest to right all the wrongs therein, it also contained a dedicated careers section. Here I listed all the pros and cons of each potential career choice in great detail, as if there were no barrier to any of these potential paths except in my ability to sufficiently weigh up said pros and cons. My top four career choices were: astronaut, marine biologist, vet and geologist. I laughed at some of my derogatory ‘con’ comments; they included: having to spend time outdoors as a geologist (might be a pro nowadays after years working in offices), encasement in a heavy spacesuit as an astronaut (not wholly different from the fat suit I have sported for over a decade), and possibly having to wipe animals’ bottoms (two children down and I now have such an encyclopedic knowledge of the different colours and contours of shit that wiping a small clump of black droppings off a rabbit’s bottom would be almost enjoyable).
How the hell are we supposed to pick?
Back then anything seemed possible, and the world was there for the taking. There were so many opportunities that I think I really struggled with what is sometimes referred to as ‘analysis paralysis.’ I couldn’t bloody decide! Of course I acknowledge that I was very lucky to have parents that supported me fully and the chance to go to University and have a good career, I know these options are not open to everyone. But even so I feel now that I got it a little bit wrong, as equipped as I was. I remember ordering University prospectuses for fun (sometimes even just to sniff that glorious newly-printed smell) and reading them cover to cover. I have no idea why I did this to be honest, it was always a choice between a science subject or English.
So which one to go for? And here it gets really funny, because I actually decided to do both! I went first to Manchester uni to study Biology with Italian (had to add the non-science bit in there) and stayed a gargantuan two weeks, after realising I was completely incompetent at using lab equipment (I managed to scrape a D in my Chemistry A Level by copying what someone else was doing). I then took a year out and worked as a secretary at an architects (horrible stuff) before going to Kent uni in Canterbury to study English and American Literature and Creative Writing. What a mouthful, but again revealing my propensity to stuff as much as possible in there for fear of missing out on anything. In the end I ended up back in Essex doing straight English Literature, and most days now I think of studying Astronomy with the Open Uni.
The moral of the story
So now what do I do? I’ve worked at a university since finishing my studies in various roles, all of which I didn’t necessarily need a degree for. I’m not unhappy as such, but often think of what else I could have been. I wish I could go back in time and tell my teenage self to just pick something and stick at it, work my way up and become an expert in that field. Of course there is no harm in changing careers if you realise you need to; that is better than staying in a job which relentlessly douses you in Sunday evening dread. But best just to pick the right thing to begin with perhaps.
How we are supposed to know at that age what that right path is I don’t know; perhaps schools should focus on offering students a variety of work placements before shuffling them off to college or apprenticeships with only one paltry two-week experience as a kennel maid in hand because they might have listed vet as a vague potential career choice (my story of course). When my boys are ready to make these kind of choices I will offer my pearls of wisdom, to swat away as they wish, and tell them to just pick something and dedicate themselves to it. But before that I will tell them to try things whilst they are still at school, a Saturday job in a hospital for a few weeks followed by some evenings in a restaurant etc (I see the eyeball-rolling from parents of teenagers at this blind optimism). Hopefully though this would allow them to get an idea what they like doing, before they have to choose for the rest of their lives.