How to Choose a Career, Part I

Every person has an interest in a particular vocation or type of commerce to the exclusion of others, for which Hashem has instilled in him a natural love and affinity.

(Hovot Halevavot, Shaar Habitahon Ch. 3)

Every person has a unique mission, and is charged by Hashem to make a particular contribution to the world. In order to carry out this mission and contribute that which only he can contribute, a person is given a unique set of tools – things like innate talents, personality, mental ability, and physical stamina.

Fortunate is the person whose career dovetails with the mission to which he is uniquely suited. For him (or her), every day at work is a vacation.

No matter how much of your life you are planning to devote to income-generating activities – whether you are working part-time, full-time, or double-overtime; whether you plan to work for a short period or for the rest of your life – you should try to ensure that the work you do is suited to your unique strengths, characteristics, and passions.

Generally speaking, people experience the most fulfillment, and earn the most money, when they do work that they are good at and enjoy. Conversely, many families go hungry because the breadwinner in the family is working at a job that doesn’t match his abilities and personality.

How, then, does one choose a career? In this article, we will first address how not to choose a career.

Don’t choose a career because it’s…

Lucrative: “There’s a lot of money in that field.” Any field can be lucrative or unprofitable, depending on the person and the circumstances. Indeed, the Gemara (Kiddushin82b) teaches, “There is no vocation that does not have in it poverty and wealth.”

Popular: “Everyone’s doing it.” If everyone’s doing it, that makes it less scarce and therefore less valuable.

Available: “It’s the only job available.” You have to be proactive about your career choices, and not passively accept whatever’s available. If opportunities don’t present themselves at your doorstep – and they usually don’t – you have to pursue or create them.

Familiar: “It’s the family occupation.”If people in your family or community work in a certain field, it might be easier for you to break into that field. And if the field is right for you, that’s great. But don’t embark on a career solely becauseother people you know do it and it’s the path of least resistance.

Convenient: “It’s right around the corner.” The comfort that comes with a convenient job can very quickly morph into boredom and tediousness after you do the job for a while. You’re better off doing something inconvenient that makes use of your talents and abilities than work at a dead-end job that is convenient. If you enjoy what you do, you’ll find a way to make it work no matter how inconvenient it is.

So, if you’re not supposed to choose a career because it is lucrative, popular, available, familiar, or convenient, how do you choose a career?

The answer is: you choose a career by finding the best fit between your Gd-given abilities and the demands of the economic market. Put differently, we might say that the right career for you is the intersection between what youcan uniquely offer and what the world needs. When choosing a career, therefore, you need to ask yourself the question: How can I use my strengths to fill a need and generate income?

How you do that will be addressed in next month’s article.