An issue that I see at university is that many students are pursuing a career that is not the right fit for them, and by that I mean that they’re misled as far as the character required for that particular career. Ask any first year science student what they want to be, and most will say that they want to be a doctor. Ask them why, and most will say that “they want to help people”, “they want a stable career”, or “they’re passionate about health care”. These are not encompassing reasons to become a physician, and demonstrate how poorly misinformed many students are about their future. You could be passionate about health care and be a nurse, a public health official, etc… The same metric can be applied to those who desire to be lawyers, or investment bankers, or whatever big league career you have in mind. Students are very mislead on what a job actually entails, because as a society, we like to focus on the glamours and the rewards of our desires, but never the often grim, difficult path it takes to achieve them.
I find that young students often fall in love with the idea of becoming a doctor, or lawyer, or whatever, because they enjoy the prospect of a good career with a solid income, a title, and other prospects that this will bring. I was guilty of this, and you probably were too at some point. One of the big problems with the culture at university is that envy persists in an almost universal prevalence. Envy is a characteristic of a meritocratic society; one in which status is based on what you have achieved – your merits. This might seem nice at first, because shouldn’t societal status be determined by how hard you have worked for it? The problem with meritocracy is what happens when you don’t succeed, when you fail. If you have failed, for whatever reason, then society tells you that you don’t deserve anything nice, and that your place is at the bottom. Not only that, but we have rather nasty terms for generalizing failures: a loser, to name one. This sort of placement system can be very rewarding to those who succeed, but even more damaging to those who don’t. This is why so many students are caught up with the dream of a great career: no one wants to be known as a failure or a loser. Unfortunately, using this notion of success/failure has limited the scope in which we choose our paths in life, and our motivations for doing so are often misguided and shallow.
What many high school students and university students need to understand is that in order for a career to be enjoyable, you have to fall in love with the process achieving your career, not the product of possessing your career, or the “title”. And this is not limited to the process of becoming what you want to be; this includes the day-to-day grind of whatever it is you desire to be. You have to embrace the daily struggles you’ll face and use that anxiety in a positive way to help motivate yourself. I’m going to pick on aspiring physicians and lawyers for the bulk of this article for simplicity’s sake, but this metric can be applied to whichever prototypical “good” career that you can think of. This article is not meant to negative or critical of those who are set on pursuing one of these careers and are well-informed as such; it’s meant to provide a sense of realism to the ones whose heart may not be in the right place and who perhaps don’t understand themselves enough to make the right decision.
I was given great advice by a friend of mine who, at the time, was in med school. He said: “A lot of people have this mindset that while I might be miserable in undergrad, once I get into med school, that will all change! And they’re wrong. It gets a lot harder, and you have to dedicate a lot more time to your profession. If you’re miserable getting into med school, you’ll be miserable in med school.”
This perfectly illustrates my point about process versus product. Getting into med school is not some magic pill you swallow to make your life immediately better. It’s a small piece of the puzzle in terms of life satisfaction; you need balance, and your personality has to match well with the type it takes to have an enjoyable career as a physician. There are lots of difficult aspects of the job that can wear on you, the long hours might not be for everyone, and people are less grateful for health care than you think. The novelty of getting called “Dr. so and so” wears off quickly, so if you truly want to a be physician, you have to dig a little deeper than superficial things such as the title or the big pay check. Don’t base your idea of success and happiness off of what is around you. Envy is ever-present in our society, and the more similar you are to somebody, the more likely you are to envy them. Envy can be a good thing; use the thing that you’re envious of another person possessing and use it to try to improve that gap in your own life.
Much like medicine, law is a very prominent career choice that is often poorly misunderstood and over-glamourized in popular media. Law school involves a great deal of reading and writing, and most of the material is not the most exciting literature on the planet. Legal work itself is also very time-consuming and repetitive, and it’s a very difficult thing for some people to get used to. Like medicine, law is not a glamorous career. When you get admitted to the bar and start work as an associate, you’re likely going to be doing a lot of document review and preparation. More long hours await, and many people are simply not capable of putting in those long hours of work. This is the process of being a lawyer, at least initially, so you really have to ask yourself if this is right for you. Don’t be misled by movies or tv shows; law is a grind, and it’s not for everyone. The job market for lawyers is also not the greatest at the moment. There are currently thousands of unemployed J.D.s in the United States, and Canada isn’t much better. Be aware of these things before you decide to pursue a career in law.
Guys, if you think that dropping the whole “Sup girl, I’m a doctor/lawyer/iBanker” line at the bar is going to get you that hot girlfriend that you always envisioned would be your reward for your years of hard work at school, think again. You’re likely going to be restricted to someone who has just as little free time as you do. Why do you think so many dual doctor or lawyer couples exist? Yes, they share common interests and passions, but a lot of it has to do with convenience and proximity. Quit believing what movies have told you: girls will not magically fawn over you if you have a prototypical “good” career. You’re just falling in love with the idea of the title, and hoping she will, too. If you barely have enough time for yourself, how could you possibly have time for someone else? Don’t pursue a career path of this nature if one of your motivations for doing so is picking up hot girls with your bank statement and job title. It’s a foolish notion, and it’s incredibly shallow and asinine. That being said, if you do make it to one of these careers, chances are you’ll meet someone equally as intelligent and hard-working as you are, so there’s something to look forward to at least.
Before you start calling me a cynic, or think that I’m too bitter, know this: I have many friends in both med school and law school, they’re enjoying things immensely, and they’re happy with their decision. Yes, some of my law school friends aren’t the most confident about their future job prospects. Yes, some of my med school friends are not looking forward to those long nights in the ER. That being said, all of these people chose the career they did because they fell in love with the process and not the product. They don’t go around bragging about what they’re in school for, because this type of education is a humbling experience. They led a balanced life in undergrad, and they all have sound mental health records. They enjoy what they do most days, and they also know that pursuing a demanding career such as medicine or law requires a balanced lifestyle that one cannot sustain if they are too caught up with only the academic portion of their life.
That being said, not everyone who becomes a physician or lawyer will be happy with their career, but these are likely the people who didn’t fall in love with the process, and were perhaps a little dishonest with themselves. Balance is key to maintaining this level of happiness, as your career alone simply cannot provide you with all the happiness that a healthy life requires. There are a lot of students who are pressured into pursuing careers like this because of family pressure, whether it’s because of your parents, your siblings’ accomplishments, or extended family. Because of your close relation and similarity to those in your family, envy is at its strongest here, and it is no wonder that siblings are often secretly (or overtly) resentful of one another if one is “successful” and the other is not. The common theme with a lot of these scenarios is that they completely ignore the dreams and desires of the individual in question. The people providing the pressure just see the good career, the title, and the money. This is not a healthy way to choose a career, because you run the risk of pressuring someone into a career that they’ll be miserable at. The people in this environment have failed to recognize the importance of falling in love with the process.
Another reason why people fail to fall in love with the process is because they create lofty expectations of themselves and become too focused on the ends but not the means. As mentioned in a previous article, high school grades are being inflated at a rate never seen before, and this is creating an illusion for more and more students that they have the academic potential to achieve a great career. Once in university, reality sets in, and only the top students make it into whichever professional school they were gunning for (and some of the top students don’t even get in!), leaving a large group of disappointed, envious people.
Relax. All is not lost, but perhaps this is a great time in your life to examine why you decided to pursue a certain career path. Did you want to become a physician because you wanted to help people? Was it just about the title, money, and job security? Was it just because you were good at science? Was it because your parents, sister, brother, and half of your extended family are also doctors? There are many careers where you can help people, many more where you can make a lot of money, and plenty that require you to be good at science. Maybe you enjoyed the thought of being a respected member of the community? There are plenty of careers or even volunteer positions that give you that same sense of worth and value to your community. Why do you want to be a lawyer? Do you enjoy debating? Relish the opportunity to wear a nice suit every day? Want to help the victims of the world achieve justice? Just like the previous example, there are many answers to this question. What more students need to work on is to start asking the right questions about their chosen path, and then fall in love with the process of answering it.
Many psychologists and executive coaches are now identifying the importance of knowing yourself in terms of your interests, strengths and weaknesses with regards to career choice and life fulfillment. Take a second to write down your interests – they could be academic, extracurricular, whatever. Try to find common traits between them, and use these traits to determine what will best for you. For example, I have worked at summer camp, I enjoy doing outreach and education events, I’m very analytical and love reading, I love debating and public speaking, I love working with people, and I love creative things like writing and marketing. A career that is best for me should involve working with people, problem solving, have me being in a leadership role, and allow for some creativity and flexibility. Think critically about what traits achieving your dream career truly entails, and see if it meshes well with what you are like as a person. This way, you’ll determine if the process is going to be worth attaining the product.
As philosopher Alain de Botton once said: “We should not give up on our ideas of success, but make sure that they are our own; that we are truly authors of our own ambitions. It’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse having an idea of what you want, and finding out at the end of the journey and that it isn’t in fact what you wanted all along.”