Arturo loves learning about why people do what they do, and he has a knack for getting people to trust him with their problems. Arturo has taken many general education courses in college, and done very well in just about all of them except for math. He needs to decide on a major soon. Arturo's parents would prefer he study marketing and then take over the family business. He isn't sure what to do, but Arturo knows that it is important to do something you love so you don't wake up every morning dreading the day ahead and therefore not fulfilling your potential at work. So he is thinking psychology is probably the best choice.
Jenny loves reading about entrepreneurs and why some companies fail while others succeed. From her first lemonade stand to her latest venture in which she purchases flash drives in bulk and then sells them at a profit to her classmates when they need one, Jenny has a mind for business. Jenny's parents would prefer she study pre-med and therefore be able to work anywhere. Jenny's highest grades have been in science, with business not far behind. She isn't sure what to do, but Jenny knows it is important to do something you are good at so you don't wake up every morning dreading the day ahead and therefore not fulfilling your potential at work, so she is thinking maybe pre-med is the best choice after all.
Who is right? Well, both Arturo and Jenny are correct. Yet like many of us, each has an incomplete picture of the necessary ingredients for career satisfaction. What will make Arturo and Jenny satisfied with their work? Loving it or excelling at it? Both? Yes.
Why? Because researchers have found that college students' expectations of their future career satisfaction is best predicted by both their affective commitment (or passion for the work) and a good fit between the demands of their major and their abilities (Conklin, Dahling, & Garcia, 2013). Yet such an affective commitment makes little difference in predicting future career satisfaction if individuals do not possess the necessary abilities.
Therefore, career counselors should advise people to emotionally identify with their career choice, assuming they possess the necessary abilities. So what does this mean for Arturo and Jenny?
Arturo's passion is helping people, and he seems to be very good at it. But psychology majors must pass statistics. If math is truly Arturo's weakness, he may want to consider a related field that emphasizes research less, such as social work. On the other hand, if his previous math grade was an isolated event, he may very well want to pursue psychology after all. If he does, he could also consider double-majoring in psychology and marketing, the latter to not merely please his parents, but perhaps to discover the field of industrial-organizational psychology, which applies the research findings of psychology to the workplace.
Jenny's passion is business, and she seems to be very good at it. So Jenny's case is a no brainer, right? No exactly. Jenny might want to consider the merits of becoming a physician, a computer engineer, a teacher, a medical researcher, and various other careers before ruling out something that may be an even better fit and one for which she has an even greater passion. Even if nothing appeals to her more than business, if another field is at least as equally interesting, she could combine it with business, e.g., she could consider double-majoring in business and pre-med, the latter not to merely please her parents, but perhaps discover the field of management consulting, which provides business advice useful in many professions, including medicine.
So, in the words of Maya Angelou:
"...pursue the things you love doing, and then do them so well that people can't take their eyes off you."
Conklin, A. M., Dahling, J. J., & Garcia, P. A. (2013). Linking affective commitment, career self-efficacy, and outcome expectations: A test of social cognitive career theory. Journal of Career Development, 40(1) 68-83. DOI:10.1177/0894845311423534