Early Career Decisions: Why is it Hard to Choose?

So many young adults are deeply confused about what they want to do in life; what to choose and what career paths they want to pursue. Some of these concerns may sound familiar:

  • I’m confused, and I have no plans laid out yet.
  • I have interests in multiple avenues. How do I choose the right one?
  • I don’t want to make any mistakes!
  • What if I regret my choice down the line? How will I be able to change things?
  • I have financial constraints.
  • I have issues with my grades!
Statue of a man thinking; European style black statue; To show confusion regarding career choices

These are perfectly reasonable concerns, and quite frankly, they are extremely common. It is only human to feel this way. It is highly likely for this to be a cause for great stress in a young adult’s life and one that can lead to analysis paralysis. (Here is a separate article on stress for college students.)

‘Analysis Paralysis’ is a situation in decision making when we over-analyze or overthink our situation. ‘Choice Paralysis’ is an extension of that and happens when we have too many options to choose from.

One might not believe it, but there is a reason behind this confusion that results in indecision. Let us see why.

Career choices in the past

Tracing back a little bit of history is one of the greatest tricks in life. One can use this hack both personally and professionally. The history could spread over a few hours, days, weeks, or even years. When we are talking about the history of education, political and business systems, they could go back centuries. It requires us to understand the background behind a certain situation, how it came about, and why things are a certain way.

Looking back at the source (as far as possible) usually helps unravel a little bit about the situation.

If we look back 20 or 25 years ago at the various career options prior generations had, or even options for college courses, we will recognize the clear difference in what was available. Back then the major options were:

  • Professional courses: medicine, law, engineering (a select number of colleges)
  • Government job tracks
  • Generic graduation courses: B. Sc., B. Com, B. A.
Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry Ice cream in the cone on white background.
Career Choices: Limited range of flavours 20 years ago

When talking about this, we like to use the analogy of an ice-cream menu. The previous generations had limited academic and career options that came in standard ‘Chocolate-Vanilla-Strawberry’ flavours.

Folks who did generic graduation courses mostly ended up in banking or manufacturing offices. (This is a slight oversimplification, but it is fairly relatable.)

The levels of poverty were also such that any jobs would do. Many individuals belonged to large families and had bills to pay. So any additional income was a substantial benefit to the household. As a result, job satisfaction was not a serious criteria.

Job stability was a higher priority than other parameters such as job satisfaction. People typically stayed at jobs for several years and even decades.

What does they scenario look like today?

Things have changed drastically across the world and in India. Since the 1990s, socio-economic mobility has enabled many people to rise above poverty into the middle and upper classes. The wealth levels and spending capacity of people in India have increased as well.

Affordability and wealth bring options. Not just for individuals, but for the nation as well. As a result of development and progress there has been significant investment and business growth in the last two or three decades. There arose more jobs requiring higher levels of education, and more schools and colleges have opened up making learning more accessible and thereby increasing the varieties of jobs.

The rapid snowball effect of the internet and the online jobs it has provided is another factor that has led to the increase in job categories and options. Digital services, eCommerce, SaaS (Software as a Service), digital marketing, content writing, and all kinds of other jobs have opened up that did not exist before.

Variety of ice-cream flavour options available - showing 32 ice-cream lavours to show the number of options available.
Career Choices Today: So wide, multi-disciplinary and highly flexible

A peek at the large menu of courses and programs offered by colleges today is a strong indicator of how things have changed from the days of limited ‘Chocolate - Vanilla - Strawberry’ flavours.

Today’s courses range from the veterinary sciences, public policy, to retail management to name just a few. This is the equivalent of Rocky Road and Chunky Monkey ice-cream. The wide spread of jobs on offer does not make it easy to choose for sure.

Conclusion

Yes, career choices are certainly harder to make in today’s scenario. The situation is made harder by parents and society who insist that we need to make them in our teens and early 20s. Comparing with how they ‘did it easily in their time’ isn’t accurate or fair.

No one is arguing that the prior generations didn’t have their own set of challenges. But the world was a different place then.

It’s also hard to watch friends and peers making their choices while we are still waiting to figure things out. On top of that, worrying about taking too long, the possibility of not being able to switch if we later wish to, or even financial constraints or pressure that force us to dive in sooner than later, are additional thoughts that can burden us.

Things used to be less complicated than they are today. But that isn’t a good enough reason to wait on the sidelines and be paralyzed. We need to keep moving forward.

Making hard choices is a part of growing up and adulthood.

Do we have to make a choice? Yes, we certainly do. It is that unlikely someone is going to make the decisions for us, let alone effective decisions.

Maybe perhaps your parents. But if you were comfortable with their decision and direction, you probably would not be reading this article right now. Would you?

So, can we simplify the decision-making process? We talk about that in our upcoming article.


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