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Friday, August 10, 2007

Stuck in the wrong career


Words by Francis Kahihu

Does it really matter what career I get into so long as it provides for my daily needs?

I have worked among university and college students in Kenya for a couple of years and established that many students are in colleges they do not like, undertaking programmes they would love to discard upon graduation. This is especially rife among students in public universities since the selection is determined by the Joint Admissions Board. The competition in securing placement forces many to select even programmes they do not like as long as they get to the university.

You don't have to look very far to find people who are trapped in the wrong job or profession. Carpenters who should have been accountants. Accountants who should have been horticulturists. Horticulturists who should have opened an animal shelter.

I've found there are several reasons why people get, or stay, on the wrong career path. Money is never the main cause. That's because, unless you are truly at the subsistence level, I find that money is all too often an excuse used to mask deeper issues. Let's take a closer look at what some of those issues might be.

Turning Other People's Dreams into Your Own

Listen to the case of Rehema, a graduate from one of the local colleges. "When I was young and unsure of what I wanted to be when I grew up, I asked my dad 'What would be a good job to have when I grow up?' He told me, 'an engineer.' I didn't really know what an engineer did, but I figured I could do it. I made it a goal of mine to become an Engineer and made a point to take classes in school that would prepare me for this line of work.

When I entered college and signed up for my engineering coursework, I was faced with the reality of engineering not being very interesting to me within the first term. To top it off, I wasn't very good at it either. Still determined to achieve my goal, I told myself I can't give up (so stubborn of me). So I ended up in a field similar to engineering called Safety Engineering.

Safety had some technical stuff to it, but it also had some behavioral stuff to it. I thought I had hit the jackpot... but to make a long story short, I hadn't. Safety was 10% fun and 90% not. I've been in the field for a little over six years now and I'm ready to make the jump. Funny thing is, my husband says that I've been talking about getting into school counseling or any other field since I started in my first job out of college. I wonder why I never listened to myself...until now :)"

Rehema is certainly not alone in turning a deaf ear to one's inner calling. Classrooms and professions are filled with people who are living someone else's dreams. That's because it's not the major, or the job, or the career path itself that's so hard to let go of. What's hard to give up is other people's approval — especially if they happen to be people you love and respect. Walking away from a career, even one you know deep inside is all wrong for you, means risking that esteem. As Rehema is learning though, it's never too late to start listening to the one person who knows more than anyone else about your true gifts and interests — you!

Not Being Willing to Admit you Made a Mistake

As Rehema's story also demonstrates, the real pressure that keeps us on the wrong path is self-generated. At some point along the way, Rehema shifted from fulfilling her father's notion of the ideal profession to not wanting to give up on what had become a personal mission. Despite her brother's attempts to point Rehema toward the right road, she opted to continue on like a driver who stubbornly refuses to admit she's lost direction.

Despite the occasional story about a doctor who left to become a florist or a lawyer turned musician, the overwhelming majority of unhappy people choose to stay miserably stuck largely out of pride. For a lot of people it's a lot easier to keep that lousy job than to stand up and admit to the world that they zigged when they should have zagged.

Not Wanting to "Waste" the Degree

Then there are those who really did love their chosen career — at least in the beginning. But over time, they and their occupation, well, they just grew apart. If this sounds familiar, chances are what keeps you on the wrong path is, just like a relationship gone bad, it's hard to walk away from a career into which you've put so much time and effort to say nothing of the financial investment.

John Powell once said, "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing." If you identify with any (or all) of the reasons for getting and staying on the wrong career path, don't waste time despairing. Instead learn and then act.

1 comment:

  1. When I finished form 4 my folks asked me what I wanted to do and like the blunt honest person I am I casually said "I don't know". Thing is even then when I had no idea what I wanted to do I knew that I wanted to at least speak to a career councilor so I can explore what I like doing or would like to do but my folks are old school and they pressured me to come up with an answer there and then so I said the first thing that came to mind "I like writing." Hence am now doing print media. Now I see I did not really know what I was saying. I liked writing because it was a way of getting things off my chest...but turning it into a career is a whole other ball game.
    I still don't know what I want and am getting weary of the notion that eventually it will come to me.
    Am now in 4th year, there is no way am wasting this degree as you said. My folks won't be too thrilled if I did. I don't want to hurt them, they put blood and sweat to get me here even though they buried their heads and worked blindly.


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