Deciding Upon A Career

by | Jun 7, 2001

Finding a career to be passionate about is like finding the love of your life.

Q: Eleven years ago, I chose my college major essentially on a whim, because I took a class in it. I enjoyed the subject and wanted to decide on a major quickly. I stayed in the field (recently obtaining a Ph.D.) all these years merely to avoid conflict, and to follow the “path of least resistance.” The problem is, I don’t know what I want to do now. I feel like there’s nothing that’s truly of interest to me … nothing to which I’d like to devote my entire life.

How do I decide which career path to pursue — and, more generally, how do I identify what my values and interests are, and learn how to strive for them?

A: Finding a career to be passionate about is like finding the love of your life. It’s very hard to plan on finding such a thing. You mainly have to visualize and conceptualize that it’s possible for you, and never give up on its pursuit. You have to continuously be on the lookout for something of great interest to you, i.e. work which motivates you beyond anything else in life. When and if you find it, you can’t miss it.

Your case is particularly difficult, because you have knowingly done damage to yourself for the past eleven years. You even went so far as to obtain a Ph.D. in a field you knew was not the one you wanted. I don’t know what I can tell you that will prevent you from experiencing the regret you must feel over this fact. The regret is actually valid, so I don’t even want to shield you from it. You committed a terrible betrayal against yourself, and your current predicament illustrates how important it is to take major decisions (such as career choice) seriously. If you now grasp this principle better than most, then in many respects you will have found a silver lining in this cloud.

At the same time, what’s done is done. First and foremost, make absolutely sure that there’s nothing you can salvage from your current career. If you have obtained a Ph.D. in it, then to some extent I assume you are marketable. If you managed to stay with the field for eleven years, I’m thinking that you must have some devotion to it. Will you ever achieve greatness or phenomenal excellence in this field? I very much doubt it. In order to achieve excellence, you must love what you’re doing. And you don’t love your field. But make sure that you don’t despise it, either. If you don’t despise it, you might be able to salvage something good — if not great — from the “wreckage,” while you continue to search your life for a career about which you can truly be passionate.

In the meantime, make a solemn promise to never betray yourself again — in big things or even little things. This is the only way to develop a healthy attitude about life and yourself. You must internalize this healthy attitude before you can expect yourself to consistently make wise choices; and, at the same time, by making wiser choices you will more quickly internalize this attitude.

I don’t rule out the possibility that you can still find a highly rewarding career. Many people don’t discover their true loves (either romantically or career-wise) until middle age; some don’t even discover them until old age. First, however, you must learn to develop and internalize the psychological habit of treating your life as crucially important. The rest follows.

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at:

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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