Career confusion?

Advice for 20-somethings

‘THE 20S are far from being a time in life where you feel settled; keep in mind that this is normal and expected.’ (photo credit: TNS)
‘THE 20S are far from being a time in life where you feel settled; keep in mind that this is normal and expected.’
(photo credit: TNS)
Throughout the years of practicing psychotherapy, I have treated many young adults in their 20s. Young people anticipate that this decade should be fantastic. After all, you are at the beginning of adult life, free to make choices about career, relationships, friends, and travel around the world. In Israel, that freedom begins only after obligatory army or national service. Nevertheless, once these responsibilities are over, the freedom and choice really get going.
During childhood and all through the high-school years, your parents, community, group affiliations and personal factors influenced the direction you took. You may have had some input in deciding your educational track and hobbies, but truth be told, your influence was minimal. Most decision-making was in the hands of the adults who took care of you.
The average Israeli 20-something person finally gets to a stage where he/she begins to decide what to study and where to learn after age 21. Some young people make their career choice at a young age and go after those goals. However, I believe that the majority of young adults are not sure about study choice or career paths.
This is indeed a complicated stage of life. Besides trying to sort out a career track, there is also the challenge to figure out your social and dating life. Most social psychologists find that this decade of the 20s is indeed very stressful. It is far from being a time in life where you feel settled. Keep in mind that this is a normal and expected part of life.
Below is some advice I would like to give you.
1. Do not be upset if you do not know what you want to do with your life. This is the rule rather than the exception. The psychological task during this stage of your life is to try to figure things out. You may want to delay starting university or an educational program. Perhaps get a job and just try to give yourself the time to figure things out. Realize that while you may feel the pressure to get your life started, you can make the decision to slow it down and give yourself the time you need to do the research and self-discovery that may enable you to make the right choice. Get in touch with your own unique skills, talents and, most importantly, areas of interests that excite you, your passions.
2. Do your career search carefully. What are you good at? What do you dream about? No one is perfect or good at everything. Close your eyes and try to visualize yourself doing a certain type of job. Talk about your career ideas with friends, parents, a teacher, rabbi or a therapist. Some of my clients have gone to vocational counselors to get an evaluation to help them make a career decision. Read articles online about different career tracks. Talk to people doing the job that you think you would like to prepare for.
3. Follow your dream. Let us say you decide that you want to be a police officer. One young man I know actually made this decision. Hard work, motivation and an opportunity paid off for him. He loves his work, and he is great at his job. I point this out because too often young people feel pressured to go into certain job sectors. For example, some young people see hi-tech jobs as high-paying and prestigious, but may not feel the passion to go into jobs in this area. Do not be afraid to choose your own career path. The beauty of young adulthood is that you own it, it is your life; so after some careful exploration and thoughtful processes, go after your dream. You will never regret this. The worst thing to do is to live someone else’s dream. For instance, a son or daughter chooses to study medicine because his/her father is a physician and all his/her siblings are studying medicine. I have seen unhappy professionals who did not give themselves the time to figure out their personal passion.
4. Do not be afraid to change direction. This is a vital piece of advice. In spite of the fact that you have completed an educational program and begun working in a specific field, you may be unhappy and may realize that this career is not for you. Do not panic. This happens to many people, most typically during midlife. However, it can happen to young adults also. Think things through carefully and try to figure it out. If you do want to change your career, do so. People who do not pay attention to their feelings about a chosen career path may pay the price later on in life.
The 20s are a time of both excitement and challenges, a time to take on adult responsibilities and become independent. However, remember that career confusion is also part of the package and a normal part of the process.
The writer is a marital, child and adult cognitive-behavioral psychotherapist with offices in Jerusalem and Ra’anana.;