Why is it so hard to choose a career?!?
Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Why is it so hard to choose a career?
I wondered the same thing myself over the years.
After reading the book stumbling on happiness by Daniel Gilbert recently I may have found out why – and it's not even our fault!!
Memories are fleeting…
Memories can also be misleading. Our brains have a habit of filling in and leaving out details without our permission. Anyone who has seen the Disney movie ‘Inside out’ will understand what I mean.
To make things worse we remember things that didn’t really happen. Its all because our brain wants to help us remain in a sane, ‘healthy’ reality. That doesn’t stop us from thinking we said or did things we didn’t actually say or do based on what we think we should have said or done. Confused?
It comes down to this:
Memory fills in the blanks left by our long term memory.
Imagination helps memory to fill in the blanks
Perception allows our imagination to come up with realistic pictures of what could be expected from any given situation.
So for example, ten years on from your graduation ball you may remember that Lucy cried her eyes out when you all said goodbye at the end of the night.
That could be because it actually happened OR it could be because your perception of teenage girls is that they are incredibly emotional and so its likely something like this did happen.
Your imagination kicks in and allows you to remember something that never happened. The rest of you may have cried your eyes out but Lucy most definitely did not.
How does this affect you?
Feel like you can’t trust your memories?
Had an incredible week's work experience at the beauty salon after GCSE’s? Two years later in the first 6 months of your beauty course, you remember that those amazing memories had done you the disservice of forgetting you also had to deal with smelly feet, lots of other people’s ‘BO’ and endless hours spent on the reception desk?
It could be that there were lots of horribly disgusting moments but the experience ended well. So say for example they paid you cash money on Friday, you went home feeling on cloud nine and that’s how you remembered it. The rest kind of got forgotten.
It was those last moments that left you feeling happy and ultimately lead to you making it your career choice. Now you have to decide if the good stuff is enough for you to outweigh the bad and if it's not, what can you do about it?
Why didn’t the bad memories affect my future choices?
As far as we know it's pretty much impossible to predict the future. Even if we could, the endless possibilities would change with each new decision.
Using our imaginations, we try to put ourselves into the future to paint a picture and see how we would feel about certain future events. However, this picture could be based on limited knowledge on the subject i.e what we think we know about it or what our friends told us about it. Therefore it might not be a 100% correct picture of the future.
When you try to imagine yourself in your future beauty career, you probably won't think about how your future self will evaluate other people’s ‘BO’ for example. So when it’s something you have to deal with on a daily basis it’s much worse compared to when it’s all wrapped up as a new and exciting experience when you have so much to take in it probably won’t occur to you that it would matter in the future.
In addition to this, you also forget to compare what you were doing differently during work experience. For example, you were hopefully trying your best to make a good impression and didn’t really notice the ‘BO’ or you were hungry and didn’t really notice…
Unfortunately, there are so many different variables and comparisons that could have been occurring at the time you did work experience (excitement!) compared to what you are experiencing now in the present future (boring day to day life).
Each variable has a different effect on how you perceive the experiences you are having and cause you to remember them differently. So this could be the reason why your work experience and your actual career choice have affected your affect emotional responses in such different ways.
Am I stuck with it?
So you have paid the course fees and won't get a refund. You’re stuck with it. Chances are you will automatically start to look for things to make this situation easier for you to stick with. You could start daydreaming about your future salon where you’re the boss and you only do what you want to do. Or even if you don’t do it for a career when you finish you’ll be able to do it for yourself forever and save loads of money. You start to search for things that please you about the situation you find yourself stuck in. This will help you follow through and complete the course without feeling too bad about it.
We feel better about action than inaction.
Even if it does turn out to be a mistake, we prefer to think about the things we did do rather than the things we didn’t. There’s no way we can justify turning down a place at college to ourselves. It just grates on our conscience and encourages self-loathing thoughts like why didn’t I go for it and if only I did that…
Feel better in the knowledge your brain will help you justify actions like this because you took a chance and went for it even though it didn’t work out – or even better – what if it does work out? Did you think about that?
Your head won't do this every time things like this happen it depends on how bad the experience turns out to be. The more painful the experience, the more likely you’ll unconsciously look for justification for your current situation.
So you complete the course but instead take a job at Aldi because the hourly rate is better and put the ‘failed’ beauty career down to a wonderful experience where you made a lot of friends you now go clubbing with every weekend. After about 6 months you get bored and start to think about your beauty career again.
Why don’t we learn from our mistakes?
We have a habit of remembering the infrequent stuff more because its more memorable and so think it happened more than it did. Maybe it was just once or twice you had to deal with the bad smells but remember it differently so you go back to thinking your beauty career really was the best option after all because you start to think maybe it wasn’t all that bad.
Was it a mistake to drop the beauty career or should you have stuck with it? So back you go to have another pop at it and the cycle begins again. HOWEVER. This time all the variables and comparisons may be different again and it ends up being the best thing since sliced bread and you’re hooked again.
We remember the best and worst of times and not really the average times because the average times were more frequent than any of the other times.
Can we ever win?
It would appear not. A lot of it comes down to timing and luck. Cool huh?!?
Making Lasting Memories
Even though our memories can be so fleeting, there are ways we can cement at least some of them into our lives by taking photographs. In the days of smartphones, we take so many photos but never really do anything with them. So make a collage old school style, put photos in a frame and do what you can to make the next transition in your life as easy as possible. In 15 years' time when debating with old friends if Lucy was a cry baby, you might have the photo to prove – or disprove it!
About The Author
Gemma Gosden, Computer Systems and Business Management BSc and Building Surveying MSc MRICS has moved from industry to industry since leaving school with the dream of finding the ‘perfect career’.