6 Surprising Truths You Need to Know About Picking a Career

Your guidance counselor probably didn’t tell you any of this.

by Andrew RanzingerLast updated: 11/12/2020
Older man acting surprised

Picking a career is a daunting task for anyone—there’s so much riding on it, and it feels like you never have enough information. Fortunately, there is a formula for how to figure out what you want to be when you grow up

The very short version is this: you figure out what you like, and you figure out what you’re good at (they aren’t the same thing). Then you pick a career from the intersection of those two areas. 

But there’s more to picking a career than figuring out your interests and talents. There are some counterintuitive facts and important insights that society and our education system doesn’t really tell you, but that are critical to making the right decision.

Here are six surprising truths about picking a career everyone needs to know.

1. There is a job for literally everything. 

Think of any activity you can, and I can promise you, somebody somewhere gets paid to do it. Don’t believe me?

Pet food tasters are professional researchers whose job is to test, and yes—taste—new pet food formulations.

In Japan, you can rent a family member—or an entire family, for specific events or extended periods of time.

Professional cuddlers get paid well over $50 an hour to cuddle with people. Fully clothed, no sexual touching.

Professional dominatrixes get paid hundreds of dollars an hour to dress up in leather lingerie and trample clients. Literally, step on their genitals.

Need I go on?

There are far more jobs out there than you can imagine. Don’t limit your choices to the things you’ve heard of. Do deep research. 

2. Just because you like doing something doesn’t mean you’d enjoy that job.

People often make the mistake of trying to turn a hobby or passion into a career and then regret it.

The surfer opens a surf shop. The writer chases the lucrative book deal. The wine lover starts a wine delivery service.

But often, people find that when they make their hobby their job, they lose the fun. The freedom of creativity is replaced with the burden of making money, dealing with clients, marketing your services, and cleaning up.

Having a passion for something doesn’t automatically mean you should turn it into a job. Doing so may take the joy out of it, and you still may not be able to make enough money.

Be wary of killing your passion and draining the fun out by putting economic demands on it.

3. There is no such thing as a “fun” job. 

There are only fun jobs for you. Every job has parts that can be enjoyed and parts that suck.

You just have to find ones where the good outweighs the bad for you personally—hopefully by a lot. For everyone who says they love their job, there is a person with the exact same job who absolutely hates it.

Being an actress might be your idea of the most fun job in the world, but there are still parts of it that will be very unpleasant.

For example, the countless demoralizing auditions; the creepy or demanding directors you have to work with in your early roles; the long stretches without work; and if you finally get a big break, the total loss of privacy and constant harassment by the press, 

Not only that, but for some people, the idea of getting on stage or in front of a camera—that part you love—is absolutely terrifying. Far from being fun, it sounds like hell. Maybe you’re that person. 

Evaluate jobs and potential careers for yourself. Just because someone else or even society loves a job doesn't mean it’s right for you, and vice versa.

4. There is a trade-off between glamour and accessibility.

The more glamorous a job is perceived to be, the harder it is to get, because everyone wants it. Actors, musicians, and professional athletes all fall into this category, but the principle applies even to less “famous” jobs.

Think of fashion stylists, travel bloggers, or movie stuntmen—glamorous, yes, but there’s a lot of work and competition between here and the Instagram posts you see.

Conversely, the less glamorous a job is, the easier it is to get—and often, these jobs still pay very well. 

Trades are a great example of this. Being an elevator repairman isn’t glamorous, but they make nearly $85,000 per year, and don’t even have to have a college degree.

5. The more creative the job, the less certain the money is.

Money is never guaranteed in art. The starving artist is a stereotype for a reason.

Whether you’re a musician, actor, comedian, writer, or visual artist, the chances of you making it big are very small.

The world is full of incredibly talented artists who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve, and the pages of history are full of artists who never did. 

If you truly love your craft, you’ll do it even without the money and recognition. The process is its own reward.

If the idea of never making any money or being noticed for your art makes you recoil, then you don’t love the art—you love the money and fame, and there are more reliable ways to pursue both of those. 

Furthermore, it’s an ironic truth in art that if you aren’t willing to never be recognized, it’s unlikely you’ll hang in there long enough to be recognized. 

Here’s bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert on money and creativity: 

It wasn’t until my fourth book (the runaway bestseller Eat, Pray, Love) that I finally allowed myself to quit all other work and become nothing other than a writer of books. I held on to those other sources of income for so long because I never wanted to burden my writing with the responsibility of paying for my life. I know better than to ask this of my writing, because over the years, I have watched so many other people murder their creativity by demanding that their art pay the bills.

If your ultimate goal is to be an artist of some kind, build another skill set that will allow you to reliably support yourself indefinitely, because the money will come slowly at first, if it comes at all.

This will give you the freedom to pursue your art without limits. And if your art does start to make money one day, you can always lean on it more heavily then.

6. You can transform any job with a context change.

Context is the environment in which something takes place, what’s happening around it. You’ve probably heard the saying “context is everything.” Well, it’s true, and it applies to careers too. You can completely change a job by changing its context.

Here’s an example: There are physical therapists who work in your local nursing home, and then there are physical therapists who work for your favorite sports team.

They go to work at the stadium, interact with the players every day, travel with the team, and get sideline seats at games. They know that their work has a direct impact on the team’s success. 

Same job, completely different context. Sometimes, it may not be a job that you like or don’t like, but the context. 

There are three main ways you can change the context of a career. 

The first is by changing companies. This is the easiest and the way people are most familiar with. Don’t like where you work? Go somewhere else. 

The second way is by changing industry. Often, the same skill sets are used in multiple industries. Here’s an example: software development.

There is no industry that doesn’t need software developers. If you’re a software developer, you can work in tech. You can work in gaming. You can work in healthcare. You can work in energy. You can work in transportation.

You can work in porn (who do you think keeps PornHub running?). You can work in travel. You can work in government. The options are endless. 

The final way you can change a career’s context is by changing locations. This could mean just moving to a different city. But it could also mean moving to a different country.

Maybe you’ve always wanted to live in Europe or Asia. I can guarantee that doing whatever you’re doing in a different country will be a completely different experience—and probably incredibly enriching. So move somewhere else!

If a career makes sense for you but you don’t like the idea of it, ask yourself if a context change could make it interesting.

Your future is waiting

Your path in life is waiting to be discovered. If you approach your career choice with creativity, openness, and a little cunning, there is no limit to what you can do.

Arm yourself with these insights, and you’re already ahead of 99% of students in college right now. Think of the possibilities, and get excited. The world is your oyster. 

And remember: nothing worth having comes easy. In the words of Thomas Edison, “Most people miss opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”