The career advice I received when I was younger was not very good at all. The message was basically “go to college, get a job, and you will have a happy life and career”. Fortunately, I found my path and I am happy with my career; but with better guidance I would have reached my goals much earlier in life. So many people are unhappy with their careers but will never do anything to change their situations out of fear or comfort–and that’s not a good space to be in. I would love to help young people avoid these types of situations, that’s why I am offering the career advice I wish someone would have told me as a young man. Here are my tips:

Pay Attention to Your Interest

If you are interested in something don’t be afraid to give it a try. When I was in high school I thought about learning to play an instrument. I even considered joining the band. Unfortunately, at my school, people who were in the band wasn’t considered cool–in fact, they were considered nerds. I’ve always been an independent thinker, but at that age peer pressure got the best of me. Besides that, I didn’t want to stay after school for practice or special events, and I thought the band uniforms were absolutely terrible. Nonetheless, sometimes when I look back, I wonder how good I would have become with my instrument. Don’t allow peer pressure (or your ego) stop you from getting involved in things that peak your interest. You could actually discover a talent you never knew you had. Your interest could lead you to a meaningful career, or at the very least a great hobby you enjoy. Even when you are established in your career and  happy, you should always seek to try new things.

Discover Your Natural Talents & Nurture Them

People are born with innate tendencies and abilities. Unfortunately, most people don’t take the time to discover their natural talents. Many individuals end up in careers where their natural talents and abilities are not a match for what they do every day. In nature, you would never see a beaver attempting to be a lion. A beaver would look pretty silly roaring and tying to chase down a gazelle. People are different from animals in the fact that we are extremely good at adapting to whatever situation we find ourselves in. We can often learn to become good at things that we are not naturally talented at, this is called a skill. However, when you do what you are naturally gifted to do, you’ll find yourself happier and more likely to thrive. Once you figure out what you are naturally good at, be sure to nurture your gifts. People like Steve Jobs and Kobe Bryant discovered their natural talent, nurtured their gift, and put themselves in environments that would allow them to flourish.

College Is Not The Only Option

No matter what you decide to do with your career it will require education, however, the setting for your education is equally as important. Over the years, college has become so ingrained in our culture as the next step after high school, that it’s hard to get people thinking of other options. The most frequent question a high school graduate encounters is “where are you going to college?” Better questions to ask would be “what problems would you like to solve?” or “what are your interest and natural talents?”. College has positioned itself so successfully within our society that it is supported by the federal, state, and local government. Parents, teachers, and even family friends all guide children towards getting a college education. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not bashing college at all. I am a product of college myself. Nevertheless, college isn’t the right setting for everyone. Working in career services in higher education for the past 5 years, I’ve encountered many people who have made the wrong decision concerning  their career of choice. With the massive amount of debt that most people amass, compared to the income made, along with the overwhelming amount of college graduates who are unhappy with their careers, the setting you receive your education needs to fit your career goals. That’s why it’s very important to explore ALL options. For some, trade school and industry standard certifications are helpful, while others may benefit more from on-the-job trainings. Not to mention some people may be a better fit for a career as an entrepreneur. In the case of the entrepreneur, having a career mentor, networking with other business owners, and actual experience often works better than a college degree. Just be sure to take the time to discover what you are interested in prior to deciding which setting will work best for you.

The Decision Is Yours To Make

Society, parents, teachers, and friends all have the potential to have a big impact on your choice for a career. Ultimately, the final decision should be yours to make and no one else’s. Success in our country is centered around making a lot of money. Be careful not to let society’s idea of success influence your own. Many people choose careers based on earning potential as opposed to it being a good match for their talent, interest, and abilities. Once someone has achieved a certain level of success (especially attaining financial security), it is highly unlikely that they will change professions even if they don’t like what they do. Instead of teaching children to focus on the things that they’re good at, people often tell them they can be good at anything if they try hard a it. For instance, parents won’t tell their kids they don’t possess a natural talent for soccer and they should try something different. Instead they tell them to work hard and they will see the results of their hard work. While it’s true that an individual may get better with hard work, that would be a learned skilled as opposed to a natural talent. In the end the decision has to be made by you and not the people in your life.

Don’t Just Live In The Present

When you are young there is a tendency to not think that far ahead and to live in the moment. While you should enjoy being young since adulthood is not always fun, there needs to be some attention paid to the future as well. The decisions you make when you are young can have great influence on your life in the future. I remember our college coordinator in high school repeatedly telling me to apply for scholarships in preparation for college. At the time, I had what I thought was more important things to do. I wanted to work a ton of hours after school so I could buy clothes and make upgrades to a car I’d purchased. Although I did really good academically and would have probably secured scholarships, I started college financing my education solely with student loans and a very small grant. Now as I am paying back student loans, I wished I had listened to the advice of my college coordinator.

In conclusion, take time to discover your interest, talents, values, and passion while you are young. While parents, teachers, and others that play a role in your life may have your best interest in mind as it relates to your future, they don’t always employ the best tactics and strategies for success. Often people will guide young people towards financial security and careers that allow for higher social status as opposed to the best match for their skills and abilities. Enjoy being a kid, but also think about your future and take an active role to discover possible careers. You may not fully know what you want to do in the future, but at least you can get a good idea about what you are good at and interested in. And remember the choice is yours.