There's plenty of advice out there about how to choose a career.  This list, on the Wall Street Journal Online, tries to magically distil what makes a "best" or "worst" career to just 5 criteria - physical demands, work environment, income, stress, and hiring outlook. No mention of engagement, satisfaction, the psychological benefit of getting out of bed every morning excited to go to work, or any one of the many factors that really make a great career.  No mention of the opportunity cost and actual costs associated with the years of study required to enter some of these careers, and the life-long financial burden that can impose. No adjustment of salary by average hours worked in these professions to get a true hourly rate. No mention of how little that last point really matters if you love what you do.  It's also very bad news for my sister, who loves working in the job that she had wanted since she was 10 years old. She shouldn't love it though - according to the list, her career as a newspaper reporter is the worst possible career ever.  For everyone.  Turns out she, and everybody else, should have become an actuary.  Sadly, some of the young people who really need some good career advice will, after reading this list, write off their passions and spend years of their lives working in a career that's not suited to them.

But the advice that made me truly sad, was this one advising people choosing a career to not follow their passions.   I'm a big fan of the author, and her Ask a Manager blog is fantastic - but in my opinion, that advice is terrible.  Most of the career advice out there is wrong, and there's a very real chance that the advice I'm posting today will be too.

Chalkies at the Australian Stock Exchange

Chalkies at the Australian Stock Exchange

My dad worked very long hours (10+ hour days for as long as I can remember) for 40 years at a bank. It was a respectable job, and met the definition of a "good" career choice - the only problem was that he didn't like it very much.  One of my very first memories is of him taking me into the city and showing me the stock exchange. Before it was all automated in 1987, the Australian Stock Exchange in Melbourne was, nonetheless, a real-time market. 'Chalkies' were employed on the trading floor, and it was their function to record in chalk on a huge blackboard the bids, offers, and sales of each stock. These chalkies used to frantically run around, rubbing out and updating the bid and offer on a blackboard, like some bizarre and frantic kind of post-modern dance.  Dad used to go there on his lunch break to watch them, because the stock market fascinated him.  Back in the 80's, he studied at night and became qualified as a stock-broker - the job he would have loved to do, had he the opportunity.  Even after he became qualified as a stock broker, he never felt able to change careers at that stage of his life. He called it "a young man's game" when I asked him why, but what he didn't tell me, but we both knew was true, was that his financial obligations to his family and his mortgage in his 40's stopped him from adjusting the career choice he made in his 20's.

The new economy is very different to the past, and the world of work is changing almost as fundamentally as it did during the industrial revolution.  It's my opinion that job titles won't exist 20 years from now, but personal branding will be critical.  Globalisation has led to the rise of the freelancer, crowdsourcing is disrupting but creating new opportunities in the creative industries, and location is becoming increasingly unimportant.  In the new world of work, the market for your expertise is global, rather than limited to your hometown.  This means your market - even for the very small niche of what you're passionate about - will be much bigger, but you'll also have a lot more competition. To survive in the future of work, you absolutely have to be passionate about what you do - because you'll need to market yourself.  As Dank Pink says, we are all in sales now. By being passionate about what you do, you'll work harder at it, you'll be better at it, and you'll be more rewarded (intrinsically, but also financially) by it. If you follow your passions professionally, you're already on your way to the 10,000 hours it takes to become an expert.

Your best chance at a meaningful and successful career is to follow your passion. That has always been true, but it is more true today than it ever has been in the past.  Life is too short to be stuck in a job you're not passionate about - and if you are, you may not be stuck in it for long.  So my advice, if you're trying to decide on a career today, is this: Ignore the naysayers.  Follow your dreams.  Watch this video.

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