At some point, along the way of growing up, kids begin to realize that someday they will have a job.  They will work, just as their parents do. Working is part of being grown up. Some kids will naturally imagine that they will do whatever it is that their parents do, because they see their parents doing it. Others will settle into dreams of exciting jobs. Traditionally, boys imagine that they will become policemen or firemen, or train engineers, or, perhaps, pilots. Girls think of becoming teachers or nurses. Not so much, anymore, of course. Nowadays, girls can reasonably aspire to become anything that boys can be: doctors, lawyers and astronauts. In fact, the reality is there are more female medical students currently than male. (In my medical school class there were five women out of a class of about one hundred and ten. As I remember, there were also two blacks.) 

Not uncommonly, young people look forward to becoming a movie star or a rock star. Since there are very few famous musicians, or movie stars, or, for that matter, star athletes, these kids will not fulfill these youthful ambitions—which is just as well, because what they really want is recognition, admiration, and acceptance. Besides, being a rock star, for example, is not all it’s cracked up to be. A patient of mine managed to overcome all the well-known obstacles to making it as a rock musician and reached a point where he had his own band and a record contract and found, nevertheless, that he was unable to support himself. His audience downloaded his recordings without paying him. He made his only income by selling T-shirts when he was on tour. Even very successful musicians do not have an enviable lifestyle. Much of the time they are away from home.

No young person looks forward to becoming a funeral director; yet there are funeral directors. And it is not a bad profession. There is a continuing and reliable demand for their services. They can make a decent living. They even have the opportunity to be truly helpful to people who are in distress, if they are so inclined.

In fact, just looking around, it becomes obvious that many people are working at jobs that they never would have anticipated doing when they were growing up. Does anyone think ahead of time of becoming a liquor salesman, or a linesman, or a bus driver, or an office administrator, or a dog walker, or a welfare worker, or a mortgage broker, or a sailor in the merchant marine? Probably not. Most people stumble into a job and are likely to continue in that job or in a similar sort of job indefinitely. Studies suggest that most people are more or less happy at their jobs, whatever they are, although it may not always seem so given the inclination people have to complain. The critical aspects of work are the same in every job: the chance to make enough money to support a family, the chance to do something useful—at least more or less useful, the chance to interact socially with others on a continuing basis, the opportunity to organize one’s day, and week, and year—and to some extent the chance to define themselves. When a stranger asks, “What do you do?” he means more than “What kind of work do you do?” He is asking, “Who are you.” Still, having said that all jobs are equally important, it is still true that some jobs are more satisfying than others. Not only that, but what is satisfying to one person is not necessarily satisfying to someone else.

A few people have always wanted to be a particular thing—let’s say a doctor or a lawyer, or a singer or a carpenter-- and have stuck with that ambition and managed to pull it off. But most people come to a time when they have to decide just what kind of work they should be looking for. These are some of the considerations:

  1. How important is it to make a lot of money? Some people feel that for various reasons it is important to be rich; others do not. I had a friend in college who told me perfectly seriously that it was important for him to be able to afford a chauffeur. He became a banker and did, indeed, have a chauffeur. Most people I run into in Westchester County want to make enough money to live a typically suburban life-style, at least with the additional income of a spouse. But there are very many others who are happy just to get by. They would like to make more money, but that is not a deciding factor in picking a job. When I was in the army I discovered the PX was empty right before pay day and crowded the next day. The professional soldiers I came to know were not disquieted by having to budget their finances so carefully.

Of course, there are not very many jobs that afford the opportunity to make a lot of money.

  1.  The desire to make a lot of money overlaps with the wish to have a prestigious job. Not very many people tell me they want to be famous, although I think there are some who do want to be preeminent in whatever field they go into. I hate to see young people motivated by the wish for a high status job, because I think they are likely to be disappointed even if they achieve that goal. More commonly, I see patients who have not entered into work that they were good at and liked simply because it seemed to them these were low status jobs. Examples include being an auto mechanic or a plumber or working at some other blue collar job. This too is regrettable.  Regrettable or not, these wishes have to be taken into consideration when looking for a job.
  2. How important is it to come home from work at a time that will allow interaction with the rest of the family? This may be more of a consideration for women. Many of the jobs that are high-paying, or are in some other way especially desirable, often require working very long hours on a regular basis. Entrepreneurs usually find themselves in this situation. Working every evening may be too high a price to pay for success. But some people do not object to working such a difficult schedule, especially if they see that sacrifice as temporary.
  3. Is it important to be an expert? For most people it is not. But some people think of themselves as being more knowledgeable  than others—as needing to be more knowledgeable than others to think well of themselves. Most of these young people are driven to the professions, including working with computers, or some other cutting-edge technology.
  4. Is it important to work for, or by, yourself? Or do you feel comfortable working within a corporate structure as one among others on a team? This is an important distinction for some people who “don’t like someone looking over my shoulder.” These may include people who work at a route distributing a product. Postmen fall into this group. So do house painters. Some of the people who work as painters or plumbers like the option of walking away from a particular job if they do not like the way they are being treated. Similarly, is it important for you to be able to set your own hours?
  5. Is it important to work outdoors rather than indoors? Very few people prefer working out of doors, but those who do feel strongly about that preference. These include forest rangers, farmers, and gardeners. Fishermen may fall into this group, but it is hard for me to judge. I don’t see many professional fishermen operating out of Westchester County.
  6. Do you need to do different things every day, or do you feel comfortable in a routine? Similarly, do you like traveling, or not? Some jobs, like being a salesman with a route, require considerable travelling. Some high paying jobs require travel away from the family for weeks at a time. Military jobs similarly demand long separations from family.
  7. Are you willing to work on a commission basis, or do you require the security of a regular paycheck? Even some lawyers whose income may sum to a considerable amount over the course of a year may prefer a job that pays less but more regularly. The alternative is a practice that pays on a contingency basis and is, therefore, unpredictable from month to month.
  8. All jobs imply doing something useful, I think; but some jobs seem more immediately helpful to others and, therefore, provide a certain kind of satisfaction. These jobs may include pastoral work or nursing. Is that sort of satisfaction important to you?
  9. Is it important to do creative work (in the conventional sense of the word: writing, painting, composing etc.)? Since it is so difficult to support oneself at these jobs, I find it hard to encourage someone pursuing this kind of work; but for some the need to be creative trumps all other considerations.

These are some of the important aspects of personality a young person should know about himself/herself before deciding on a career. Unfortunately, the current economy is so difficult, I think people are inclined to take any job they can get.(c) Fredric Neuman Follow Dr. Neuman's blog at

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