There’s no careers crystal ball, you have to take a leap of faith
You won’t find out what career you want until you get out there and try a few jobs on for size
Benefit of experience: do a job, any job really, learn from it and work out your next move. Photograph: Getty Images
Q Dear Ruth,
It won’t be long now until I have to enter the big, wide world of the job market. I’m itching to get out there and make a proper start in life, but there’s one problem: I have no idea what I want to do.
I find myself getting jealous of people doing vocational degrees like medicine, even though I’d probably be no good at it anyway, because at least they have a guaranteed job in their chosen sphere after their six years in education.
By no means does everyone at my stage in life have it all planned out, sure, but I’ve always been the sort of person who knows exactly what’s coming next and it terrifies me that all I can see in my future is a tangled mess of ideas floating around the top of an infinite abyss of terrifying possibility.
Should I postpone the future until I’m sure of what I want to do with it? Should I go travelling until inspiration strikes? Should I stay in academia, collecting qualifications until I run out of patience/money? Or should I bite the bullet and make a decision? How does everyone do it?
Anon summer intern
A Life decisions, especially on the job front, only ever make any sense in retrospect: when you look back upon your career, as you no doubt will one day, you will conveniently see how each shitty job you ever had was somehow an essential stepping stone to get to where you have arrived.
One of the most paralysing things to do is to approach this with the mindset that if you make the wrong choice now, it will somehow kill off a vital avenue of opportunity and dictate the course of the rest of your life.
This is never the case. And there are no wrong choices. All that really matters is that you do make a choice – an informed one – that the choice you make plays to some of your strengths, that it appeals sufficiently to get you out of bed every morning and keen to do whatever it is to the best of your ability, at least most of the time.
Because the reality is, unless you are a doctor or vet or some other such professional, you are bound to go through any number of different jobs, possibly in completely different industries until you find your thing.
Enjoy the ride
This journey can take most of your working life. Or all of it, and you may still never feel you got there at the end. Which is why it is so crucial that you enjoy the ride.
The fatal thing to do (second to doing nothing at all) is to choose something half-heartedly, always with an eye on someone else’s job or career choice as somehow being better than yours.
Every career choice has at its centre an opportunity forgone: that is the essence of choosing. You choose and you lose.
That medic you envy has made enormous sacrifices, not least of which is the opportunity of all those other careers they have not pursued.
And if that isn’t bad enough, medical students don’t have proper holidays; the medical library is open 24 hours a day because they have to study all night to pass their exams. These people don’t get to party like arts students. They have sweated blood and tears for six years and the pain is far from over because they then have to work insane hours in hospitals as juniors, saving lives and being paid peanuts.
So never envy another person’s life. There is always a struggle, no matter how attractive it looks to you.
The job market is fiercely competitive now, with a record number of graduates unemployed. So, along with your preferred choice or choices, you are well advised to apply for loads of different things, in all sorts of tangential industries, and see what comes out in the wash.
The process of trawling through job applications and interviews will be extremely revealing as you begin to get a feel of what a certain industry might actually be like to work in.
If you like, you could choose to see whatever offers you get as fate taking a hand. This might help create the positive attitude that is all you ever need to make a success of your working life.
It is all in the choosing and, thereafter, in your attitude and application.
It is through starting the process, and then engaging in a job that your path will be revealed.
You are in a great space. You have made the grade, got a degree, a good one by the sounds of it – as academia is still an option available to you.
Just the beginning
Continued academic study is definitely worth pursuing if nothing else appeals, or you fail to get the job you want. Study is never wasted.
Whatever you choose, remember it is just the beginning: you are by no means resigning yourself to a lifelong career in it.
You have to make a start somewhere, because you only really find out who you are and what you want to do by doing a job, any job really, and through that first experience – positive or negative – working out your next move.
Nothing makes any sense yet. And it isn’t supposed to. You are exactly where you ought to be right now: Good degree; curious mind; bags of options. So choose one.
The grit doctor says: The short answer lies in your final question. Yes, you should bite the bullet and make a decision. This is, ultimately, how everyone else does it.
If there is any area of your life in which you need to ‘Get Your Shit Together’ and would like the grit doctor’s advice, email firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet (@gritdoctor). No subject is off limits.
Ruth Field is author of Get Your Shit Together and Run, Fat Bitch, Run