The first in a series of posts exploring career choices that are safe and choices that are too safe.
Pretend it’s lunch time. You’ve got an hour. There’s a so-so sandwich place that’s always empty, a good Mexican place, and a great pizza place all within walking distance of where you work. You try the pizza place first, but the line is out the door. So you check out the Mexican place, but they tell you it’s going to be twenty minutes just to get a table. The lunch hour is dwindling. You need to eat something. So what do you do? You go to the always empty so-so sandwich. In other words, you settle.
Settling is easy enough in most cases. You settle on a place to eat, you settle on a movie that’s not going to offend anyone, you settle on a computer that meets your needs and fits into your price range. In all of these cases, it might not be exactly what you want, but it’ll work fine enough.
Settling for a job, though? That’s not so easy at all. After all, this is your life. You don’t want to spend it doing something you don’t care about. You want to be passionate about your work. But how do you define “settling” when it comes to careers?
Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer to this question. Settling is defined by the person doing it. Everyone has dreams. For some people, those dreams are tied directly to a career. Is your dream to be a science teacher? Cool! For you, it’s simple. Look at what you’re doing right now. Are you a science teacher? Are you working towards becoming a science teacher? If you answered “yes” to either question, you’re in good shape! If you answered “no” to both, you might be settling.
But your goals might not be as concrete as “get a job doing x.” You might have dreams of doing something big and weird, of shaping your own career path. But big things take time. Despite what Ashton Kutcher wants you to believe, Steve Jobs didn’t build Apple in 122 minutes. That means you’re going to need something to pay rent in the meantime. Would it be settling, then, to take a run-of-the-mill office job? Only if you let it.
Like I said, settling is defined by the person doing it. You need to know yourself and to trust yourself to make decisions that are best for your long-term interests. Can you work a long day in the office, come home, and write your novel or paint your paintings or build your app late into the night, day-in, day-out? Yeah? Great! You’ll do just fine. If not, though, if all you want to when you get home is drink a beer and watch television, then maybe you need to find a different situation. Maybe you need to go back to grad school or maybe you need to get a bunch of roommates so that you can afford to work part-time and save the bulk of your energy for chasing your dreams.
Whatever your approach is, remember this: you should never feel bad or inadequate. Everyone works at different speeds and takes different paths. Only if you’re letting your dreams die or actively taking an axe to them should you be upset with yourself.