Dear Lauren,

It's nearly time for me to decide what I would like to do in the future but I really don’t know what I want. I cannot stop thinking about it and asking advice from family, friends and people that I trust…except that only makes me more confused! I feel really lost.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

I commend you for thinking about your future! Trying to plan out your life is a very responsible thing to do, and you should be proud of yourself for being mature, responsible, and goal-oriented. So many people just float through their relationships, their jobs, their lives. I think you’ll start to feel less “lost” if you stop for a moment and consider the value in your deliberations.

That being said, it is no fun to feel lost. So here’s what I’m thinking about your future: you probably have many, many options which would each be “the right thing.” Assuming you’re not considering becoming a professional thief, a professional gambler, or a professional drunk, I have a feeling many of the options you’re considering would probably work for your life. Let’s say you’re deciding: lawyer or physical therapist? Doctor or teacher? Stay-at-home-parent or business executive? Even though some of those are diametrically opposed to each other, you could possibly find fulfillment of different kinds in each of them.

Ask people you trust—friends, mentors, parents, alumni from your college or seminary, teachers, principals, adults in different professions—a few important questions. (You should also research these questions online.)

For every profession they know about, 1. What are the work hours required for that job? How many hours per week are standard for work within that profession, and at what times of the day?

2. How long is the training period for that profession? For example, doctors have a long haul. Lawyers have a shorter period of schooling. Therapists have a slightly shorter school trajectory. Some businesses you can learn while on the job, already earning money. Artists, musicians, and writers can go through training or they can just try their hand and see if their craft is discovered and appreciated. Then you consider: are you a person who enjoys school? Are you a person who is willing to study for long hours, for many years? Or are you someone who might prefer learning while working?

3. What is the average income for a person of that profession? What is the range of incomes for people of that profession? Does the income justify the cost of schooling and training? How much debt will you incur through the schooling? How much risk is there regarding income? Is there a steady, predetermined income? Some professions give a low base salary, and additional income depends on how many clients you recruit or how many items you sell. Are you someone who wants a steady, predetermined salary? Or are you someone who likes the thrill of trying to make more money if you can, but can tolerate the risk of losing money, too? Many business ventures can be very lucrative, but can also involve high risks of losing money. Then you have to consider: how much do material things mean to you? How much does money mean to you, and how much will it mean to you in the future?

4. What is their opinion of that profession? What do they think are the pros and cons of that profession, and why? What are they basing their opinion on? Were they in that profession? Did they have family members or close friends in that profession? What do they think might be the future utility and relevance of that profession?

5. Is it a job that can be done anywhere, or would you need to be in a particular locale?

After asking as many wise and trusted people as you can those questions about any professions they are familiar with, then it’s time to assess rationally what makes the most sense for your life. If you want to be a hands-on parent, it might not be smart to pursue a career as a travelling salesperson. If you want to have lots of free time, it might not be smart to pursue a career as a physician. If you are someone who enjoys creative thinking, you might not want to become a CPA, unless you can also practice your creative thinking in some other way in your life. If you don’t love kids, you might not want to become a schoolteacher.

Once you hear and read about the particulars of different careers, and once you’ve assessed rationally what makes the most sense for your life, then get calm and centered and quiet and contemplative, and try to feel what your heart is telling you about each of the options. Try to tune in to what your gut feeling is. If certain career paths make you anxious but also really attract you, you might want to go for it. If thinking about certain career paths gives you a headache and make you feel dead inside, those probably aren’t the paths you should pursue. Of course, if you start to feel really excited and alive and passionate about a certain job/career/profession, then that’s probably the one you should run to!

You also might want to consider that you can do certain things as your job, and pursue the things you are passionate about as “extra-curricular activities.” Maybe you’ll be a CPA by day in order to earn a steady income, and because you enjoy orderliness and math, but by night or on the weekends, you’ll pursue your passion for woodworking or baking or photography or acting or mountain biking…. Maybe you’ll create beautiful works of art that you sell online, but also work in a chocolate factory or in a business office or become a dentist. Your passion and your career don’t necessarily have to dovetail, although it’s always nice when they do.

Last thought: there are many actions and courses of action we can take in our lives. Most courses of action are reversible. If you go into business and hate it, you can always become an artist instead, assuming you’ve made enough money to live on. Or you can continue being a businessperson, but create art at night and on the weekends. If you become an artist but find yourself starving and homeless, you can always go to school to become a lawyer, assuming you can get student loans and you have a way to support yourself through school. If you become a therapist but decide you really prefer teaching, you can always switch. Often, the experiences you’ve had on one career path enrich you as a person, and as a candidate for the next job.

Whichever career path you choose, you will certainly learn valuable lessons along the way, and you’ll hopefully enhance and enrich yourself, your family, your community, and the world.