The Big Decisions: Education, Career, Marriage, Kids

Some thoughts on six major life decisions.

Posted Apr 20, 2019

Pixabay, Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, Public Domain

Here are some thoughts on six major life decisions:

Go to college?  (also relevant to graduate school.)  Your answers to these True/False questions may help you decide:

  • In high school, you’ve enjoyed academic learning  (English, math, science, social studies, foreign language) and look forward to more at a higher level.
  • You’re at least fairly sure of the career you want to pursue and that career requires one or more degrees, for example, engineering, law, health care.
  • To learn well, you'd rather trade the freedom of choosing what and how you want to learn things for the structure of school: required class attendance, specific readings, and homework.
  • You don’t feel ready to start your own business nor to develop entrepreneurial skills at the elbow of a successful and ethical businessperson.
  • You’re not attracted to options like the military nor to a job working your way up from the bottom.
  • You or at least your family can afford the cost of college. Note that unless you’re attending a college at which you'd be an above-average student or are otherwise deemed particularly desirable (athlete, musician, legacy, “underrepresented” minority) and so the college dangles a significant discount to attract you, much if any “financial aid” will be loan, which must be repaid with interest and cannot be discharged in bankruptcy. Important: Cost is usually less of a factor at community colleges, which perhaps surprisingly, on average, have better teachers of undergraduates as well as offering more practical courses.

Do what you love for a career?

“Do what you love!” and “Follow your passion!” are widely preached. And sometimes, that’s wise counsel—If you’re able to land a good job doing what you love. Alas, too many people love one of just a few things: sports, fashion, entertainment, big-money jobs like venture capital, investment banking or corporate law, nonprofit work, and yes, psychotherapy and counseling.

Having been career coach to 5,500 people, I’ve concluded that you’re more likely to find career contentment by avoiding the popular careers—Competition there is fierce so that unless you’re a star, employers tend to treat you poorly, knowing that many wannabes are eager for your job, sometimes even for a volunteer position. Career contentment more likely derives from work that is of moderate difficulty, with a decent boss and coworkers, reasonable pay and commute, and an ethical work product. You’re more likely to get those in fields that lie—to quote Thomas Hardy—far from the madding crowd.

Quit your job?

That depends on how viable you are for a better job. If you’re capable enough and your resume shows it and/or you have strong network connections into likely better work, err on the side of quitting or at least of quietly putting out feelers while remaining on your current job. However, if you’re less marketable, it may be wiser to focus on how you might become more satisfied in your current workplace: get your job description or boss changed, improve your skills or attitude, etc.

Marry?

Today's increasing enmity between the sexes atop the 50% divorce rate (sometimes a protracted, stressful, expensive affair,) means that we must be more circumspect than ever before deciding to tie the knot. Yes, if you’re confident that you’ll remain compatible in and out of bed, you’ll enduringly bring out the best in each other, you’re both reasonably employed or otherwise are financially at least marginally okay, neither of you have a marriage-devastating characteristic such as substance abuse or other addiction, major mental illness, or an anger management problem, and ineffably, you feel like you’re meant to be together forever, great!—I’ve been married for 42 years and glad I am. But more than ever, it’s wise to not marry because—as many people still do— it’s the thing to do. Of course, being fully rational in matters of love is difficult, but do your best to, in a clear-eyed way, decide if  “Until death do us part” is wise.

Have kids? 

For many people, having children is the highlight of their life: It’s touching to see the product of your egg and sperm or the child you adopt gradually grow into an adult, culminating in a close, positive lifelong relationship. But while it’s unseemly to verbalize this, many parents, in retrospect, wonder whether the 18+ year major replacement of freedom with obligation and cost was worth it. And what if your child turns out to be unusually challenging—oppositional or with a major physical or mental illness?

Address your substance abuse?  

For some people, the pleasure of mind-altering substances, commonly alcohol or marijuana, outweigh the downsides. But other people, if they’re being honest, realize that the short-term pleasure is dwarfed by the potential long-term negatives described by a 2017 meta-evaluation of 200 authoritative studies by the National Academies of Sciences and a 2018 summary of research findings by the National Centers for Disease Control: IQ loss, memory loss, motivation decrease, increased risk of depression, social anxiety, psychosis, vehicle accidents, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

The takeaway

With such complex, major decisions, and the wide variability among people, no brief discussion can substitute for thorough consideration of your particular circumstances but perhaps this article can be a springboard.

I read this aloud on YouTube.

Update: I encourage you to read the comment by "Your Reader in Pennsylvania."