DEAR LL -- Try working with an academically trained career counselor to get a better fix on where you aim; ask for referrals at any local college career center. The benefits and satisfactions of work sought by the learning class today differ from common expectations in the last century.
After World War II, expectations zoomed toward the goal of personal satisfaction with career choosers urged to "Do something you'd do for nothing. Do something that makes you feel vital and excited and alive, rather than merely surviving in a shell of a wasted life to gain a paycheck." No argument there.
Fast forward to today. The work-as-passion philosophy has become an established value in modern America. But it became embedded in the national psyche at a cost for many young contemporary college graduates.
In the words of life coach and author Christine Hassler, "Now that Gen Y is facing the realities of grown-up life and our current economy, they are discovering that dreams don't pay the rent. They are learning that their passion combined with their college degree does not guarantee an immediate career." (See if you agree by reading her Huffington Post article, "Are 20-Somethings Naively Optimistic About Their Careers?")
CHOICE ADVICE. In the meantime, here are some down-to-earth practical suggestions to avoid landing once again in the last place you want to be. Way back in the 1960s, the late Robert Hoppock, a trendsetting New York educator who specialized in occupational information, developed timeless principles for choosing an occupation. With my comments in parentheses, here are seven of Dr. Hoppock's principles:
1) Before making a career choice, find out all of the things you will have to do in an occupation, and which things would take most of your time. (Avoid surprises by seeking agreements to "shadow" individuals in the target occupation for a day or two.)
2) Choose an occupation because you like the work, not solely because of the rewards in money or prestige. (But a trifecta isn't a bad target.)
3) Choose a career field where there is likely to be an active demand for workers when you are ready to be hired. (Track occupations through federal Labor Department reports and projections, professional association newsletters, company websites, industry press releases, business news blogs and social media services.)
4) Choose an occupation that uses your abilities and competencies; avoid those that require traits you do not possess. (Do you know what your abilities and competencies are? Ask friends. Search online for "list of competencies" and "ability list.")
5) Do not confuse interest and ability. (Not every basketball hopeful can score baskets. If you can't hit high C musical notes, you can't sing opera. The dark side of advice to "Do what you love and the money will follow" is disappointment.)
6) Do not choose an occupation because you admire someone else who chose it. (Mother Teresa could handle ministering to people living in wretched poverty, but can you? Your best friend loves being a world-traveling flight attendant, but are you a home-hugger?)
7) Do not expect to find a job in which you will never have to do anything that you dislike. (If that happens, order champagne and contact GuinnessWorldRecords.com.)
(E-mail career questions for possible use in this column to Joyce Lain Kennedy at email@example.com; use "Reader Question" for subject line. Or mail her at Box 368, Cardiff, CA 92007.) .