Direction signs pointing in different directions, all with name of different career fields, listed as follows: Economics, Engineering, Medicine, Biology, Law, Art

A Fulfilling Life’s Work: How we Decide our Career Paths

A Fulfilling Life’s Work: How we Decide our Career Paths

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

From a young age we are asked this question and taught to dream big. Some common answers are “an astronaut” or “the President of the United States.” However, we become more aware of external factors such as our culture, socioeconomic status, and familial expectations as we grow up, gain new experiences, and encounter new people. Our interests may start to change in response to these factors as well. It may seem as if our passions begin to clash with what is logical.

Those who decide to pursue higher education are often startled by this growing pressure to choose what their life’s work will be during the transition from high school to college. This pressure only grows throughout one’s undergraduate years and right up until getting a degree. Some people worry about how their career will not only provide a living for themselves, but also their family. Others worry that the career their family has envisioned for them is not what they envision for themselves. Sometimes we feel as if we must sacrifice our passions for what makes more sense. There are so many considerations to be made when choosing our career paths, but it is important to not only choose a practical career, but one that is fulfilling as well. 

Isabelle Li, an Undeclared Freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, has felt this pressure her entire life. Along with her own career path uncertainty, Isabelle struggled with the expectations of her family and others. 

“My sister is a doctor so growing up, a lot of people were like ‘Are you going to follow in her footsteps and become a doctor?’ But watching her lifestyle as a doctor is a little disturbing to me; I don’t find that lifestyle appealing at all so I decided that I never want to go to med school,” said Li. 

For Isabelle, deciding her future career has been a continuous journey in learning about her likes and dislikes. She began narrowing down the possibilities in high school when she took various AP courses along with her peers. “A lot of my friends were going to become STEM majors, but I realized that I didn’t like science at all,” Li said. Li wanted to continue figuring out her career path after high school, so she decided to come into college as undeclared.

Eliana Chandra, a sophomore studying Statistics and Sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, declared her majors this semester and is continuing this career path search into her undergraduate years as well. For Eliana, high school gave her the freedom of not needing to focus on one specific subject. She wanted this freedom in college as well. 

The question of practicality was also a determining factor in choosing her majors. When making this decision, Eliana knew she enjoyed math but also being involved in issues of social justice. Like many, she thought about her future career options as well as her passion for social justice. 

“Out of all the career paths I wanted to pick things to study that wouldn’t cross out a bunch of career options. That's why I picked two majors. I think Statistics is probably more of a money-making major than Sociology is but there’s no need to just pick one,” Chandra said. 

Picking a career that will ensure financial stability is important, but we need to also be able to envision ourselves in these roles in terms of fulfillment and personal strengths. It goes without saying that most of us would like to spend our lives doing things we enjoy. When we are passionate about the work we are doing, working seems like less of a burden. 

Gina Jagminas, a sophomore studying History at the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, considered all these factors when deciding her major and career path. During her freshman year of college, she started exploring the possibility of a history degree and began taking classes in this department. She also considered getting a minor in Secondary Education to possibly go into teaching History at the High School level. After talking with her advisor several times, she began to explore more options. “I was able to get a sense of what my path would look like beyond college and even in grad school and eventually a career. Talking it through helped me realize that I could take these classes that I liked and then also make a career out of it,” Jagminas said.

Although the decision to major in History may seem simple, there were many factors Gina considered when making it. One option would be to continue her education in graduate school which would allow for more career opportunities but at a price. “I try to think about what I would be happy doing in a career, but I also think about money. I've thought a lot about that in terms of grad school with the time commitment depending on the program I want and spending that much money on however many years,” Jagminas said. 

When deciding on a history degree and a future career in this field, Gina made sure that this was something that she could envision herself doing. Coming into college as undeclared, she felt like she had control over choosing her major and ultimately how much money she would be making. This assured her that she could choose a major that would eventually lead to a certain lifestyle. Gina is still unsure about what she wants to do immediately after college but has an idea of what career path she wants. 

“Teaching is the one thing I know I want to do because I think I’d be good at it, and I think I would like it; I loved all my high school teachers. At the same time, I’m thinking it would be a solid living. Theoretically it works well for me,” Jagminas said.

Many sacrifice their personal fulfillment to achieve a financially suitable lifestyle, but it is important for you and others that there be a balance. Finding a job that you enjoy doing every day provides a sense of purpose that will make your work more meaningful. Looking from a productivity perspective, having people in roles they enjoy will allow for better work to be done. Everyone’s journey to finding this balance is different but we must keep in mind that finding it is possible.