How to Find a Career You Will Love

Two steps to find a career you will love. Find a career aligned with the life you want and find ways to make the work fit the life you want.

My advice to high school and college kids on choosing a career.

Here is my two-step method to choose a career you will love. If you do the work on each step, you will exponentially increase your chances of having a great career.

1. Research Humans

Identify people who do what you think you want to do and follow them around. Don’t stalk them; ask them if you can volunteer to help them for a few weeks. Give them free labor in return for learning about their work.  I know what you're thinking, duh, of course. But this obvious first step is often skipped. 

How many college graduates jump to law school, business school or other graduate school and invest countless hours and money into their studies only to realize two or three years later that they hate being a lawyer, teacher, accountant, consultant or financial advisor? But now they're in big debt and have lost two to three years of earning capacity. 

Make a serious effort to shatter your misconceptions. Bring a big hammer.

Find out what the work is really like by shadowing someone who does it. A Google search won't cut it.

You will discover what the person who does the work actually does:

  • How she does the work, who she works with, and where she works.
  • Does she work in a big company with lots of coworkers?
  • Does she work by herself?
  • Does she have a long commute, or can she work from home?
  • How does she have to interact with bosses, clients, or customers?
  • Does she control how she works, or do others tell her what, where, and how to do the work?
  • Who dictates her hours?
  • How does she get paid, and how can she get paid more?
  • Does she have to be picked by her boss for a promotion, or does she have a direct path by achieving measurable results - objective, not subjective standards?
  • Does she have to socialize with people she won't want to socialize with?
  • What is the emotional output of her work? Is it paper pushing and administrative meetings, or does she make art or improve people's lives?
  • Does she work in a cubicle in a big city skyscraper, at a desk in a small town, or in her home office?
  • How does she have to dress? Does she have to wear suits and heels or can she wear jeans and flats?

You will find the real work is not like pop culture portrays it. The everyday life of an attorney is not like a John Grisham novel. Working in a restaurant is not like a Food Network Star. Working as an accountant is not like the movies; oh wait, there are no movies about accountants. 

But be careful. Don't let your decision turn on your discovery that the work is hard. Rewarding careers are hard. Don’t be afraid of hard work.  

2. Will the Career Give You the Life You Want?

After you've done your human research and you think you’ve narrowed it down, ask yourself whether that career will give you the life you want.  This goes beyond how much money you will make or whether your talents match the work. It’s about what your life will be like in that career both now and ten years from now. 

It's not just about your talents and likes. You may discover many careers you are capable of doing. More important than matching your skills and likes with the work is matching the work with the life you want.

  • Do you want to have a family and be home with your spouse and kids for dinner every night? Then don’t be a chef at a dinner restaurant where you get home after midnight, and don't be a trial attorney because you won't see your family for weeks at a time.
  • Do you want to work in the entertainment industry? You may need to move to Los Angeles or New York.
  • Are you strong and like to do physical work? What happens when you get older and throw out your back? If you create a business and have younger people do the physical work, no problem.
  • Do your talents take you to a big corporate job making lots of money? No problem, so long as you don't let it capture your soul.

Your career should be about creating the life you want. It won't help if you make lots of money but hate your life. Of course, money matters, it's very important. But you can make money and still have a good life if you are strategic.

Change the Way the Work is Done

What if you discover you really like the work but not the way it’s done? 

Technology has made it possible to bend many careers into your lifestyle. The way the work has been done is not how it has to be done. 

As an example: If you want to be an attorney but you don’t want to work in a downtown office with high-stress people with outsized egos, it's okay. You can bend the work toward your lifestyle. You can build a substantial practice with like-minded people who put clients and service above ego. More and more attorneys have robust practices working mostly from home. Cloud computing and productivity apps have significantly lowered the cost of doing business while making it easier to do business. Work that five years ago took three people to do can now be done by one person. 

This article is not about finding a job. A job is what you do to pay the bills, and you need to do that. But what I’ve described here is how to find work and a career you will enjoy.

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