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Whoa. That is a title in and of itself – finding your perfect career path.

In my previous roles I dealt a lot with interns and students who were on the cusp of finishing their degree and now wondering where to go in life. I still get many questions about careers from people, typically around how to choose the right one. The thing I find (and was valid for me as well) is that people frequently find themselves at a crossroads, caught between their passions and practicality, in their search to choose the optimal job path. I knew from a young age that I was a leader. I knew I wanted to go into management. I knew I wanted to climb the corporate ladder, fast, but I wasn’t sure at the time where to start. I just “fell” into a job and role. The rest is history.

I find that many people are still baffled by the age-old dilemma of choosing between following one’s heart and taking care of one’s finances. While there isn’t a universal solution to this conundrum, there are methods and information that can help you on your quest to find the ideal profession. That is what I want to dive into in this article as those nuances of striking the ideal balance between your interests and pragmatism, ultimately assist you in navigating the job options minefield.

When I coach younger folks, and we get into this topic I tell them that finding the ideal career is a very personal process that calls for self-reflection and investigation, not for someone else to provide you the solution – in this case me. There is no one-size-fits-all approach. I find that each of us as individuals should take ownership of their career choices. You should never be asking anyone if you should go to medical school, hop onboard with your parents and work the family hardware store or start your own company. Advice is one thing. But honestly, no one but you has the answer to this. At least not the answer you prefer to hear. No one can choose what is best for you, regardless of background (in my personal opinion in regard to certain cultures – with all due respect).

Beyond the Conventional Wisdom

We grow up and are conditioned to run the hamster cycle. Things are changing, for the better or worse, with new jobs like “influencers” and “youtubers,” however traditional career advice often falls short in addressing the fundamental struggle between personal passion and financial stability. We all need to work (and on a side note screw what everyone tells you about AI and how our lives will become easier. It’s BS), period. While some may suggest pursuing a high-paying job at the expense of personal satisfaction, others stress following your aspirations without taking into account your financial situation. Most painters, I guess.

By providing a more nuanced approach to career decision-making that recognizes the value of both passion and practicality, I want this article to spur some thought and challenge that traditional wisdom that is passed on to us generation after generation.

Striking the Balance

If someone asks me what they should do, my standard answer goes along the lines of: “The key is to find the right balance between your passions and your ability to support yourself financially.” I know how vague that may sound – even empty to a certain extent, but again, I can’t (nor can anyone else) choose what is best for you. You need to figure that out on your own. The core of your strategy is to combine your passions with reality, rather than seeing these parts as mutually exclusive. Now that is completely different. It is crucial to evaluate your abilities, principles, and interests in order to find prospective career routes that are in line with who you really are. I know people who went into careers, just because their parents required them to do so. Literally. I know people who went into jobs because the money was good – certain doctors, bankers and managers – and if your reading this then you know who you are (give me a call). See what many of these people have in common, and they know how I think, is that their lives are primarily unfulfilled. Money makes things easier. It doesn’t make happier.

So what exactly should you do? Well here are my thoughts when it comes to striking the balance:

1. Assess Your Skills

A crucial starting point in aligning your passions with practicality is a comprehensive assessment of your skills. What are you naturally good at? Where have you acquired an expertise in or through education or experience? Identifying your core competencies can reveal potential career paths that both align with your abilities and cater to your interests. For instance, if you excel in communication, writing, or public speaking, careers in journalism, content creation, or public relations may be avenues to explore. For me it was leadership. I recall as a child leading Taekwondo warm up sessions as a yellow belt for blue and red belts (gups), or class president, or soccer captain. The list goes on. But I excel at that naturally, just the way I do with operations and process improvements. Is it always what I enjoy doing, no, but for the most part it’s ingrained in me, more than physics or chemistry – that’s for sure.

2. Understanding Your Values

Your professional decisions are greatly influenced by your values and principles. Finding job paths that are consistent with your moral and ethical compass might be aided by reflection on what is genuinely important to you. I find that today’s society preaches and conditions a lot in regard to monetary success. We have become greedy (consumerism) as a society and want more. More money, and hence, I find that many people are losing their moral compass no matter what role and what their foundations had been previously. We need to get back to our roots – tough morales and sounds principles.

3. Exploring Your Interests

Your hobbies are a useful compass for discovering the ideal career fit in addition to your talents and values. What topics or activities really pique your interest? What interests you in hobbies or pastimes? Your interests can steer you into a profession that provides intrinsic satisfaction. Careers in graphic design, visual arts, or art therapy, for instance, may speak to your inner self if you have a passion for the arts. You may love baking, however if that does not cover your expenses or there are no jobs available in your area, well then it’s just going to stay a hobby while you work the phone – and to a certain extent that is okay!

4. Identifying Overlapping Areas

There are frequently places where your values, interests, and skills overlap. These points of intersection can be a good place to start looking for a job that satisfies both your passion and your needs. For instance, you might find a fulfilling career in charity technology consulting, where you can utilize your technical talents to promote causes you believe in, provided your problem-solving abilities, values, and interests all revolve around technology. I know that sounds a little wacky and spacey, but it’s true. It may not come today or tomorrow. It may take some time to find that “ideal” role that overlaps in those areas, however, stick with it.

5. Continuous Learning and Adaptation

Remember that your job path may change over time. I hoped through various roles, albeit most being in management. However, some were focused more on communications, others on finances, and yet others purely on customers. It’s critical to be flexible and open to new chances when circumstances change. To remain competitive in your chosen field and to be ready to change course when necessary, continually invest in your knowledge and skills.

6. Seeking Guidance and Mentorship

Lastly, never undervalue the value of consulting mentors or career counselors for advice. Their perspective and experience can offer insightful information about potential job options that fit your goals. Even if I give you my standard answer from above – you’ll find that my insights and world view are different then yours. I can help you ask the right questions rather then give you the answers to anything. That is what mentoring is all about. I have been a mentee and am still a mentor, and I know first hand how people like that can help you can improve your goals and improve your decision-making.

Again, finding the right job balance between your passion and reality requires a dynamic process that involves self-evaluation, reflection, and a willingness to try new things. You can find employment possibilities that resonate with your actual self and offer both financial security and personal fulfillment by matching your talents, values, and interests. I really hope that makes sense, especially to those of you who are still in high school or in college, or even those of you who are older and pondering where to head in your professional life. And if you are someone like that, know that it is okay. You are not alone. Many people struggle to find the balance in what they enjoy doing versus what someone will pay them to do. Again, I find that most career advice is bad at adressing this struggle. This article serves as a guide, empowering you to make informed choices that align with your unique aspirations and circumstances. As you embark on this voyage of self-discovery and decision-making, remember that the perfect career is one that brings fulfillment, meaning, and financial stability to your life – because the ideal job is a journey, and it’s totally acceptable to change your course as you gain more knowledge of yourself and the job market. I know first hand.

So while I won’t tell you what to do, I hope that with this little bit of insight it’ll help work through some thoughts.