Advertising
Advertising

How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

How Mentally Strong People Make Career Decisions

Mentally strong people don’t let others determine their career paths. Instead, they take charge of their own lives and go where there want to go. I was lucky to realize that at the stage where I was making my own career decision, and I want to share my story with you.

I planned to become a medical doctor.

Back when I was in high school and through the first couple of years in college, I had a clear career goal. Why? Looking back at it, my career goal was a result of the encouragement and expectations from my family and friends.

My family emigrated from the Soviet Union when I was 10, and we spent the next few years living in poverty. I remember my parents’ early jobs in America, my dad driving a bread delivery truck and my mom cleaning other people’s houses. We couldn’t afford nice things. I felt so ashamed in front of other kids for not being able to get that latest cool backpack or wear cool clothes – always on the margins, never fitting in. My parents encouraged me to become a medical doctor. They gave up successful professional careers when they moved to the US, and they worked long and hard to regain financial stability. It’s no wonder that they wanted me to have a career that guaranteed a high income, stability, and prestige.

My friends also encouraged me to go into medicine. This was especially so with my best friend in high school, who also wanted to become a medical doctor. He wanted to have a prestigious job and make lots of money, which sounded like a good goal to have and reinforced my parents’ advice. In addition, friendly competition was a big part of what my best friend and I did – whether arguing with each other about life questions or playing poker into the wee hours of the morning. Putting in long hours to ace the biochemistry exam and get a high score on the standardized test to get into medical school was just another way for us to show each other who was top dog. I still remember the thrill of finding out that I got the higher score on the standardized test. I had won!

Advertising

As you can see, it was very easy for me to go along with what my friends and family encouraged me to do.

I was in my last year of college, working through the complicated and expensive process of applying to medical schools, when I came across an essay question that stopped in me in my tracks:

“Why do you want to be a medical doctor?”

The question stopped me in my tracks. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? Well, it’s what everyone around me wanted me to do. It was what my family wanted me to do. It was what my friends encouraged me to do. It would mean getting a lot of money. It would be a very safe career. It would be prestigious. So it was the right thing for me to do. Wasn’t it?

Well, maybe it wasn’t.

Advertising

I realized that I never really stopped and thought about what I wanted to do with my life. My career is how I would spend much of my time every week for many, many years, but I never considered what kind of work I would actually want to do, not to mention whether I would want to do the work that’s involved in being a medical doctor. As a medical doctor, I would work long and sleepless hours, spend my time around the sick and dying, and hold people’s lives in my hands. Is that what I wanted to do?

There I was, sitting at the keyboard, staring at the blank Word document with that essay question at the top. Why did I want to be a medical doctor? I didn’t have a good answer to that question.

My mind was racing, my thoughts were jumbled. What should I do? I decided to talk to someone I could trust, so I called my girlfriend to help me deal with my mini-life crisis. She was very supportive, as I thought she would be. She told me I shouldn’t do what others thought I should do, but think about what would make me happy. More important than making money, she said, is having a lifestyle you enjoy, and that lifestyle can be had for much less than I might think.

Her words provided a valuable outside perspective for me. By the end of our conversation, I realized that I had no interest in doing the job of a medical doctor. And that if I continued down the path I was on, I would be miserable in my career, doing it just for the money and prestige. I realized that I was on the medical school track because others I trusted – my parents and my friends – told me it was a good idea so many times that I believed it was true, regardless of whether it was actually a good thing for me to do.

Advertising

Why did this happen?

I later learned that I found myself in this situation in part because of a common thinking error which scientists call the mere-exposure effect. This term refer to our brain’s tendency to believe something is true and good just because we are familiar with it, regardless of whether that something is actually true and good.

Since I learned about the mere-exposure effect, I am much more suspicious of any beliefs I have that are frequently repeated by others around me, and go the extra mile to evaluate whether they are true and good for me. This means I can gain agency and intentionally take actions that help me toward my long-term goals.

So what happened next?

After my big realization about medical school and the conversation with my girlfriend, I took some time to think about my actual long-term goals. What did I – not someone else – want to do with my life? What kind of a career did I want to have? Where did I want to go?

I was always passionate about history. In grade school I got in trouble for reading history books under my desk when the teacher talked about math. As a teenager, I stayed up until 3am reading books about World War II. Even when I was on the medical school track in college I double-majored in history and biology, with history my love and joy. However, I never seriously considered going into history professionally. It’s not a field where one can make much money or have great job security.

Advertising

After considering my options and preferences, I decided that money and security mattered less than a profession that would be genuinely satisfying and meaningful. What’s the point of making a million bucks if I’m miserable doing it, I thought to myself. I chose a long-term goal that I thought would make me happy, as opposed to simply being in line with the expectations of my parents and friends. So I decided to become a history professor.

My decision led to some big challenges with those close to me. My parents were very upset to learn that I no longer wanted to go to medical school. They really tore into me, telling me I would never be well off or have job security. Also, it wasn’t easy to tell my friends that I decided to become a history professor instead of a medical doctor. My best friend even jokingly asked if I was willing to trade grades on the standardized medical school exam, since I wasn’t going to use my score. Not to mention how painful it was to accept that I wasted so much time and effort to prepare for medical school only to realize that it was not the right choice for me. I really I wish this was something I realized earlier, not in my last year of college.

3 steps to prevent this from happening to you:

If you want to avoid finding yourself in a situation like this, here are 3 steps you can take:

  1. Stop and think about your life purpose and your long-term goals. Write these down on a piece of paper.
  2. Now review your thoughts, and see whether you may be excessively influenced by messages you get from your family, friends, or the media. If so, pay special attention and make sure that these goals are also aligned with what you want for yourself. Answer the following question: if you did not have any of those influences, what would you put down for your own life purpose and long-term goals? Recognize that your life is yours, not theirs, and you should live whatever life you choose for yourself. This approach is part of a broader strategy of dealing with common thinking errors by considering alternatives, which research shows is a very effective way for avoiding thinking errors such as the mere-exposure effect.
  3. Review your answers and revise them as needed every 3 months. Avoid being attached to your previous goals. Remember, you change throughout your life, and your goals and preferences change with you. Don’t be afraid to let go of the past, and welcome the current you with arms wide open.

Featured photo credit: Smiling via flickr.com

Advertising

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

What Is Abstract Thinking And How To Develop It 8 Effective Ways To Make Hard Decisions Easier 8 Daily Habits To Develop Emotional Intelligence How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress How to Handle Pandemic Depression and Take Care of Yourself

Trending in Career Advice

1 The Lifehack Show: Standing Out in Today’s Job Market with Dr. Julia Ivy 2 Clueless On Your Career? Sabbatical vs. Career Break 3 10 Essential Career Change Questions To Ask Yourself This Year 4 10 Job Search Tools Every Jobseekers Need To Know About 5 If You Have This Key Behavior, You’ll Be More Successful Than 90% Of People

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on May 23, 2021

10 Best Free Job Apps You Need For Effective Job Hunting

10 Best Free Job Apps You Need For Effective Job Hunting

Seeking for the right job but not sure how to do it in a more effective way?

Try job search apps!

To make the job hunting process easier, I’m recommending 10 best job apps that can help you look for the right match anywhere at any time. The best of all? They’re all free!

1. jobandtalent

jobandtalent

    Great for browsing new jobs as you commute home via subway, bus or carpool, the jobandtalent app is like a Pinterest for job seekers.

    Easily browse, save and revisit job postings from your smartphone and receive notifications about jobs that match your professional qualifications.

    Download it for iOS and Android.

    Advertising

    2. Jobr

    jobr

      This job hunting app is unique in that it lets you anonymously browse job listings based on your professional resume. If a company that you like also shows an interest in you, the app let’s you chat directly with a company rep. Great for getting your foot in the door and making a memorable impression.

      Download it for iOS.

      3. Monster Job Search

      monster job search

        I’m a big fan of Monster. It’s one of the first job sites employers think of when they want to list a new position online. The Monster Job Search app functions pretty similarly to the normal website, so it’s very easy to use for not-so-tech-savvy job hunters.

        Download it for iOS and Android.

        4. Jobs and Career Search

        Advertising

        job and career search

          This is a good, simple app for browsing global locations for your next job. With a job index of more than 50,000 jobs listed globally, this app is a good choice if you are moving to a new area and want to line a new job up quickly.

          Download it for iOS.

          5. Hyper Networking Groups

          hyper networking groups

            This job hunting app isn’t so much a job hunting app as it is a connections hunting app. It’s great for learning who’s who in your desired field and forming connections. It also shows you how you and your industry connections are connected via your social networks, so you can follow up with them on your other social sites.

            Download it for iOS.

            6. CardDrop

            CardDrop

              CardDrop is an awesome job hunting app that let’s you digitally drop and pick up virtual business cards. This app is great for helping you make new connections at seminars, interviews, meetings and conferences. You can also attach social media profiles to the cards you pick up or send to enable easier connecting on social networks.

              Advertising

              Download it for Android and iOS.

              7. Job Interview Questions

              interview questions both

                Okay, so this app looks kind of outdated, but it’s super useful for getting you into the swing of answering any kind of interview question that is thrown your way. The big benefit of using this app is that it explains to you what your interviewers motivations might be for asking you a specific kind of question. Learn what your interviewer is looking for in your answers and be more prepared for the real interview when the time comes.

                Download it for Android.

                8. 101 Interview Questions and Answers

                101 both

                  This app is great because it provides guidance about the kinds of answers you should give for each kind of question. Think of it as an essay rubric but for job interview questions.

                  Download it for Android.

                  Advertising

                  9. Job Interview Question-Answer

                  q and a

                    Feeling confident with your text-answered interview questions but concerned about doing the face-to-face interview? This app prepares you for interacting with your interviewer by simulating an employer asking you questions.

                    You can record your response and see what you look like to the interviewer to understand what movements, vocal pauses, etc. you need to work on.

                    Download this app for iOS and Android.

                    10. HireVue

                    hirevue

                      HireVue is a great job hunting app for those times when your interviewer wants to get some preliminary questions out of the way.

                      When an interested employer wants to interview you, they send you a request via HireVue and you can answer it in your free time, when you’re ready. Your interview might consist of a some FaceTime, some multiple choice questions or open-ended text answers and can be completed and sent to the interviewer when you’re finish.

                      Advertising

                      Download it for Android and iOS.

                      Featured photo credit: Yura Fresh via unsplash.com

                      Read Next