Phyllis Brust, PhD
Feeling Lost? Start Here: Career Advice
Updated: Jun 6, 2022
Does it seem like everyone but you knows what they want to do? Do you berate yourself because you can’t figure it out? Then this blog post is for you. You may be looking for your first career or perhaps you’ve felt unfulfilled for years. Let’s see what we can untangle.
Among the reasons you might feel stuck:
1. You may be judging yourself too harshly.
2. You are a people pleaser and may be more concerned about what others want for you rather than what you want (especially your parents).
3. You don’t know what jobs and careers are out there.
4. Your ego or expectations are blocking you.
5. You are making decisions based on the lists that you read in the news. You know them—highest paid careers, hot careers, dying out careers, etc.--with less regard as to whether you would like that career.
6. You are afraid of making a mistake.
Let’s look at each of them.
1. Judging yourself harshly: You don’t have an accurate perception of yourself.
If you are in school—or even if you have graduated—you probably judge your abilities by the grades you received (even years later). Maybe you’ve been a great student or maybe you weren’t. Maybe a sibling was a straight A student and you struggled. That can be scarring. But, you can be intelligent and still not get great grades.
There are many reasons that grades may not be an accurate reflection of who you are. School can be boring and you tune out. You might have had to work many hours at a job to earn money with less time to study. You might not have seen the relevance of or been ready for school. You are a late bloomer. While there are many inspiring teachers, you might not have had one. Have you even been encouraged?
Result: You may be ruling out options because you don’t think you are capable.
Your specific skills and talents might not be those measured by grades. For example, think about something that you are passionate about (a hobby, perhaps)—then think about a grade you would get if it were a class. Your confidence would soar.
Attributes like leadership—you are the person people always look up to; being organized; having a great imagination, being an excellent problem solver; or working really well with kids or animals, aren’t usually graded. You may not be able to see your strengths or you take them for granted because they came easily to you. You think everyone can do that. You may
think anything that was graded is more important.
Maybe you won’t win the Nobel Prize--not many will--but you have special gifts and abilities.
Example: Suppose you always wanted to be a veterinarian, but your grades and/or scores were never high enough for admission. How do you read that? Should you give up on your dream? The answer is complex. Why is it your dream? If you can only answer with your love of animals, there will be alternatives that may be equally fulfilling, such as being a vet tech or shelter manager. You can also explore pet-related careers that may be less obvious. For example, public relations for a shelter or fundraising (and there are many more). But suppose, you also love science and medicine, but felt very anxious in class—like the weight of the world was on your shoulders--which affected your grades and standardized test results. In that case, your grades may be more reflective of your anxiety than your ability. It could be time to revisit that interest. If you are a university student or graduate, talk to a college career counselor (many universities provide free resources to alumni).
The CareerMutt website has information that will help you. "Designing Your Life," by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans is an excellent book that about finding your career (but it is not specific to pet careers).
2. You may be trying to please others—and not yourself.
OK, I mean parents, primarily. Parents love you deeply and want you to be happy. They don’t want you to be hurt or suffer. You want them to be proud of you. They may have specific ideas that you have to go into science, medicine or business. Perhaps your first toy might have been a doctor’s kit. They may have sacrificed a lot for you, and you want them to feel justified for that sacrifice. Love them, listen to them, talk to them, but maintain your perspective. Make sure that you are doing something that you will find fulfilling. In the end, they really want you to be happy.
3. You don’t know what jobs or careers are out there.
Life isn’t black and white. Growing up, you have learned about certain careers, for example, veterinarians (we are a pet career site after all), doctors, lawyers, teachers and nurses, but there is a much wider world. There are careers and jobs at the intersections of these fields and careers that haven’t yet been invented. You may be limiting yourself because you don’t think you have choices.
Recently, I met the head of a butterfly exhibit, took a photo with and learned about animatronic Permian monsters, admired the work of a pet photographer, talked to someone who house sits while exhibitors are away showing their dogs (and takes care of the animals left behind), and interviewed an agility dog trainer. These aren’t jobs you are likely to learn about in school and are rarely listed on job ads. The butterfly manager had been a history major, the house sitter previously managed a law firm and the pet photographer takes beautiful pictures of shelter dogs to help them become adopted.
Try writing your interests and skills free form. Brainstorm. See if you can come up with possible jobs that combine many of those elements. It doesn’t have to look like any job that you have ever seen. The CareerMutt questionnaire is a great starting point. If you can’t think of what you like, try this: 1. List what you definitely don’t want to do; 2. Ask friends and family what they think you do well; 3. Look at the job titles listed on our website (https://www.careermutt.com/working-directly-with-animals; https://www.careermutt.com/animal-careers-without-touching-ani
Don’t rule anything out. Use your imagination to look at possibilities. Salary, hours, anticipated need and other issues are important, but not right now.
4. Your ego or expectations are blocking you.
You may be limiting yourself by thinking that certain jobs or careers are beneath you. Most commonly this is because the level of education required may be less than you expect to achieve. For example, maybe you plan to go to a four-year college but the career you want requires a two-year degree or none at all. Or, you are committed to getting an advanced degree even though you aren’t sure in what area. (This is often accompanied by the phrase, “If I don’t do it now, I’m afraid I never will,” and is especially common with recent bachelor-degree recipients.) You may be closing yourself off to many other possibilities that require a different level of education or rushing into a program that may not be a good fit.
5. You look too closely at lists.
There are so many job lists out there—best paying jobs, jobs with no future, etc. If you pick a career solely based on a list, you might be miserable. Use such lists as one piece of information. Make sure that the methodology used in compiling the lists is sound. Also consider your interests, skills and values.
For example, US News and World Report’s, “The 25 Best Jobs of 2019” (Jan. 8, 2019), https://money.usnews.com/money/careers/slideshows/the-25-best-jobs?onepage, by Rebecca Koenig lists software developer, statistician, physician assistant and dentist as the top fields. If you aren’t interested in science, mathematics or patient care, you could be very unhappy. You would be performing these jobs every day. However, you could use the list as a way of determining trends and seeing where your interests intersect. You could also use them as a way of identifying courses (electives) that might help you to become more marketable. And, of course, if you are interested in those areas or aren’t sure, research them for more information.
6. You are afraid of making a mistake.
It can be hard to make a change. You may be afraid to try a career that might be different or off the beaten path. Or you might be worried that it will be the wrong move.
There are many considerations in deciding whether to change jobs, such as supporting your family, having enough money to live on, getting benefits, being close to retirement, etc. Everyone will have to assess whether change is feasible.
The decision might work out or it might not. We all make wrong decisions and we learn from them. Do your homework as much as you can—research the field and gain experience if possible. The more research you do, the more informed you will be. Even then, you can have bad luck or learn that it might not be the field for you.
If you think a wrong move will ruin your career, then reconsider. People bounce back and they gain experience in new areas even if that area wasn’t right for them. Recognize how fear and anxiety may be affecting your decision.
Those without the means to change, can still volunteer with animals or take on special projects at work, if feasible, that will help you to grow, gain experience (that you can put on your resume) and feel gratified by helping animals.
Be realistic. You can best judge your own situation. The CareerMutt website and future blogs will address next steps, career changing and how to adapt your resume, interview answers and other materials. (We are a new site and continually adding information.)
It is never too late to get experience working with pets. And, it is so fulfilling.
You got this!
CareerMutt.com focuses on pet careers, pet advocacy updates and links for those who love pets. Our first blog was about the search for Bella the lost three-legged dog; this one is for career searchers. Contact us.