Understanding Our Anxieties About Having the ‘Right’ Career

By Hannah Smith, Legends Report Writer

When we begin to ponder as children what we would like to be when we get older, we are told that we are living in an age of opportunity. To an extent, this is true, as education becomes more accessible and equal opportunity rights are installed as a base requirement for employers to adhere to. For a lot of us, there has never been a better time to try and achieve our dreams, whatever they may be. The perfect career for us is within reach.

"If you want to achieve your dream you have to dream one."

– Renuka Murmu

We are brought up to believe that there is an ideal job out there for all of us. We all have dreams and ambitions from an early age. It is part of our psyche to desire some sort of fulfilment, and our search for happiness is so often interlinked closely with our career path and employment. No surprise, given that around a third of our life is spent at work -- it’s obvious why we all want a job that will give us a sense of fulfilment and accomplishment.

So how come, despite us living in a world where we currently have so many career prospects available to us, are so many people suffering from dissatisfaction in their careers? Why is it that so many young people, myself included, are experiencing overwhelming pressure and anxiety when we think about our future careers, in case we commit to the wrong one? According to Jim Clifton, from a survey of one billion full-time workers across the globe, only 15% stated that they were engaged and satisfied with their job, which is a staggering figure. With statistics such as these looming over the newest generation of young workers, it is daunting to make a decision on what path to go down. 

It is important to contextualise our anxieties about jobs and careers, something that I have struggled doing myself for the past few years. I think it is important to bring these anxieties to the forefront in order to remind ourselves that our lives are not limited to our careers, but rather our job is one part, albeit an essential one, of a happy and fulfilling life.

Managing Our Anxieties

One of the key aspects of managing any anxiety, not just related to our careers, is by understanding the root of our worries and why it can actually empower us. Jim Clifton explains that the attitudes in which young people regard their job has seen a gradual change:

"Baby boomers like me wanted more than anything in the world to have a family with three kids and to own a home – a job was just a job. [...]

Millennials, on the other hand, place “my job” equally or even ahead of “my family” as their dream."

Clifton’s sentiments above imply the reason that young people are more worried and unsure about their careers is that, simply, we care more about being happy and fulfilled from a career specifically. As Clifton explains, baby boomers were the first generation born after the Second World War and it could be that they prioritized a stable family life after the devastation and chaos their parents would have experienced as young people following the war. For young people today, the world is prioritised with progression and sustainability, which is reflected through the higher priority that young people have on their careers and how fulfilling it is. Although prioritising a family life is no less empowering than a career, we are the generation that has grown along with a technological revolution and in return, we want to add our own impact on the world.

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So, rather than our uncertainty and anxiety around careers being an indication of a lack of direction or an apathetic approach to life, it instead shows how much young people care about their future job. We care about the impact we have on the world and how that makes us feel in return. This low self-esteem that a lot of young people have in regards to their employability is in fact coming from an empowered place where most of us have a choice of what we want to do, and we want to make it count.

‘It’s not about how to achieve your dreams, it’s about how to lead your life… If you lead your life the right way, the karma will take care of itself, the dreams will come to you.’ – Randy Pausch

That is not to say that we should not expect hard work to achieve these dreams. Knowing that our intentions are coming from an inspiring place is only the first step to reaching a position of happiness with our careers. I think a lot of anxiety for young people when they are considering their careers comes from the current economic climate of the world. The current state of employability means that many young people don’t believe they have the freedom that they have been told they have. I have experience of this feeling as a recent Bachelor’s graduate who currently works in a minimum wage customer service job, which, in all honesty, I am grateful to have regardless of whether I am overqualified for it.

It is easy to enter a spiral of negativity and lowering confidence because of how the world is recently, especially over the past couple of years. The 2021 Prince’s Trust Youth Index report surveyed 2,180 16-25-year-olds and found a severe decrease in the self-esteem of young people due to the coronavirus pandemic:

"60% of young people say that getting a new job feels “impossible” now because there is so much competition [...] Young people state that they are more likely to feel anxious now than at any other time since the Youth Index was first launched over a decade ago."

Reading this statistic made me realise how a great deal of anxieties that young people have over careers is linked to our uncertainty of the changing world of work around us. This includes me, as I am unsure whether some careers I am considering will actually still be around in a few years time due to the pandemic.

That is why it is important to remember that our anxieties come from an intention to be happy and to do good. It is normal to feel a certain amount of worry, especially now the pandemic is around and doesn’t seem to be leaving anytime soon. But the way we contextualise this worry is what matters. I have spent the past two years worrying about my career which has probably only stunted my personal growth, thus delaying my career decisions. I have been so worried about choosing the wrong career path that it has prevented me from moving on at all.

"Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrows; it empties today of its strengths."

– Corrie Ten Boom, writer and public speaker

One of the main ways that we can manage our anxieties is by focusing on physical ways that we can begin to piece together our careers without becoming overwhelmed by the current climate. I have tried to extend my potential via volunteering, such as my work with The Legends Report, where I have had access to support and information about what is expected from young professionals currently. Of course, not everybody is in a situation where they are able to volunteer, so other things we can do is look for job fairs that can help inform us too. Mentoring and workshops are always a good idea as well, as speaking to others who have perhaps gone through a similar period of anxiety can help us realise that it will not be forever.

Finding The Right Career: Is It Urgent 

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I can only speak from my personal experience as a young person searching for their ideal career, but for a long time I have felt that my ideas of a career are becoming more and more convoluted. I find a lot of happiness within creativity, by doing activities such as reading, writing, playing music and creating art, and have toyed with the idea of aiming for a career in one of these passions since I live in a time where it is more realistic to do so. But for me, the idea of using creativity to pursue a career produces a whole new set of worries, as it may take away the freedom that made me love my creativity in the first place.

I feel that this is an anxiety that a lot of people currently face and I know many people my age who have similar worries. In a world where we now have an opportunity to turn our passions into a career, sometimes we can feel pressured that we should. Although the job-centred perspectives of young people can be inspiring, inclusive and empowering, it can also become too much of a priority that causes us to neglect other parts of our lives. Stephen R. Covey relates how we equate our actions and priorities in life in categories of urgency or importance. He states: 

"Urgent matters are usually visible. They press on us; they insist on action. [...] Importance, on the other hand, has to do with results. If something is important, it contributes to your mission, your values, your high-priority goals."

Reacting to urgent matters is important, of course, but what Dr Covey highlights here is that because of the physicality of urgent matters, other aspects that are important to our self-growth can often be pushed to the back of our list of priorities. I have felt this myself as I have pondered a career in writing and art. Recently, when I began a creative practice for the sake of being creative, I have felt guilty that I am not doing it to progress some sort of a career in creativity. I was placing the urgent matter that I felt finding the right career was, before doing things I enjoy because they are beneficial for my well being and self-esteem, something that I’m sure everyone would agree is a matter of great importance.

Stephen Covey goes onto explain how a fixation on ‘urgent’ matters can ultimately be a detriment to our overall effectiveness and productivity:

"Even when the urgent is good, the good can keep you from your best, keep you from your unique contribution, if you let it."

As Stephen Covey explains, it is important to remember that our careers are just one part of what makes us who we are. Some people find a lot of self-expression through their work, but to some other people their time to express themselves could be through a hobby or time with their loved ones. Just because something does not have a payslip attached to it, it doesn’t mean you should not have ambitions to do it. Anything that we do that helps us grow as people and connect with the world around us always has value. What we do as our job can give us the power to do this, but it is not the sole factor.

I find Dr Covey’s quote above particularly powerful because it has reminded me that just because I am not seeing physical positive repercussions from my hobbies and creativity, it does not make them any less important. Obviously earning a decent wage is intrinsic for a healthy life but I do not need to make my creativity monetizable and sellable for it to have worth. It is empowering to know that we can use our hobbies in our careers, and it is inspiring every time I see somebody succeed and find happiness in doing this. But I personally am still learning what I would like to achieve from my creativity to make me happy. It is important to keep reminding ourselves that as empowering as it is to forge a career from our passions, it is empowering if we choose not to as well.

It Is Okay To Be Unsure

Writing this article has been one of the most difficult ones during my time writing for The Legends Report. Since this particular subject is causing me a lot of anxiety currently, I have struggled to work through writing about it. My first draft suffered primarily because I was unable to come up with a conclusion to resolve the issues mentioned in the article, and my own worries about my career. I realised upon writing this draft that I would be putting pressure on myself to come up with a resolution that I didn’t have. It is easy to end an article and move on if you can come up with a clean resolution to tie everything up like a bow, and it can imply that the topic discussed is sorted out and complete. I think on some level I thought that by coming up with a falsely positive and clearcut ending to the article I would be able to clear my mind of my own anxieties.

If I were to end this article with some overly positive exclamation then it would be insincere. It wouldn’t be honest. Completing this article will not put a full stop on all of my anxieties regarding my career and what I must do to have a happy and fulfilling life, but it is a step in that direction. This article is a part of my journey to find a career that will help me have a happy life and hopefully can help other young people with their own anxieties about the subject, or even broader searches for meaning.

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The main message that I would like to send out with this article is that it is okay to keep looking. We are not supposed to be static beings, like the world around us we are always changing, and it is empowering to change our jobs to suit who we are becoming. A mistake that I have made over the past couple of years, where I have put so much pressure on myself to commit to the right career path, is that I have confused reaching a career as the peak of my life that I must reach. I have allowed myself to become apathetic to my present day life in the hopes that someday I will have a lightbulb moment where I will know where I want to go with a career. To an extent I have fooled myself into believing that when I reach that mystical dream career, I will achieve constant happiness and fulfillment, which is not the case. Happiness is not a future end goal, it should be something we constantly strive for no matter where we are with our lives.

‘Life is growth. If we stop growing, technically and spiritually, we are as good as dead.’ – Morihei Ueshiba, martial artist

I have allowed myself to be so caught up in the anxieties of finding a dream career, that whenever I consider a job I immediately expect failure, a self-esteem problem that I know a lot of young people currently have because of the chaos going on in the world. Upon writing this article I will challenge myself to change the way I consider my life and career. Rather than focus on the anxieties of not knowing where I want to go, I would like to enjoy the mysteries of life and know that even if I am not sure yet, I am always learning. Even if I do not know where I want to be with my life a year from now, I know that I will be closer to knowing.

It is always good to be prudent about our careers. As we all know, the world is shifting chaotically around us at the moment. But when this diligence to secure our futures turns into anxiety and low self-esteem, it is important to stand back and remember how far we have actually come, even though sometimes it may not seem like it. As long as we keep looking and keep learning we will be making efforts to secure a happy present day.

If you have ideas for possible jobs you may like in the future, it is helpful to surround yourself with like-minded people with whom you can find support in your search. Learn more about workshops and mentoring schemes with the Legends Report below. Sometimes, just being able to talk to somebody can help clear our muddled minds, whether it be a loved one, a workshop, colleague or mentor. Just having a conversation with my mentor about this article has helped me shape it into something that I am more proud of publishing. Remember that no matter what your anxieties, whether it is about your career or not, it is always a good idea to reach out for support and to support others.

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