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10 Pieces of Careers Advice to My Younger Self

1. The majority of career jobs do not involve work or goals you intrinsically value

Traditional careers advice tells you that a full-time career is the one essential source of valuable work, and that valuable work is the source of self-esteem in life. But the majority of career jobs are work towards goals that you do not personally value. Self-esteem does come from valuable work – but only very rarely does this work begin within a career.

2. The rewards of rewarding jobs are suffocated by the stress of a full-time career

Medicine, teaching and working for a charity are all worthy professions with rewarding goals. But these rewards are so submerged beneath overwork and work politics in a full-time career as to make the rewards almost imperceptible.

3. The pleasure of creative work is not found in a ‘creative’ career

Most careers in the ‘creative industries’ are not creative, but administrative. And the positions in these industries that do require creativity do not want ideas that stem from your own personal interests – they require ideas to sell their clients’ products or find the largest audience. This is a wholly different different creativity from taking pleasure in your own creative ideas.

4. A full-time career does not give you control of your life, it takes control away

When you place high value on your career, for both your income and self-esteem, you hand your employer control of your life: control of your time, your ambitions, and your respect for yourself. For fear of losing that hard-fought-for career, you allow yourself to be treated in ways you would not put up with in your personal life.

5. Earning money is less important than your own creative work

The work you do to earn money for rent and food does not need to fulfil you, or be the source of your self-esteem. The real source of self-esteem is work you have originated yourself, not (at least at first) for money. The purpose of work for money is to support the discovery and pursuit of your own creative work, the work that you do find fulfilling.

6. Learn to live cheaply

If you avoid a career you will almost certainly, at least to begin with, need to live on less money than your careerist peers. But you need  less money to treat and entertain yourself when you can spend a significant number of hours a week taking pleasure from your own creative work.

7. Genuine self-esteem comes from pleasure in your own creative ideas

Everyone can be creative. Just because you were not labelled arty at school means nothing. Creative ideas are not limited to the traditional arts, they are found in the setting up of charity, in science, in anything. What would you do if money was no object? Creative work begins by copying your heroes. Everyone who does creative work feels like an imposter until they recognise the progress they make.

8. University or college is not essential

The valuable experiences you have at university – living with your peers, meeting interesting people, further study – can be found elsewhere where they will not leave you with enormous debts. University can be fantastic, but is only essential for a degree in order to get that career job. And if you do want to go, there is nothing that says you have to go straight from school, or after a gap of only a year. Do the minimum number of exams you need for college to leave the option open. And exams can always be retaken.

9. Define your own success

Success need not be measured by the size of your impact upon the world, by how famous you become. Success also comes from the satisfaction of personal, truly valuable goals, even if they affect only a small number of people. Many people who feel successful are invisible in society.

10. A career can wait, perhaps forever

Don’t aim for a full-time career straight from school or university. Find paid work that best supports your discovery of the work you really want to do, that you would do without expectation of money. If you do later come to have a career, let it follow from this valuable work. But it may be that you never have a career at all. This is the life of the happiest people I know.

Read the full essay: Semi-Retirement for the Under Twenties: How Can Work Make You Happy?

  1. December 11th, 2012 at 17:28 | #1

    Nice and true!

  2. Rob Ellis
    December 18th, 2012 at 06:56 | #2


    What do you really want in your life at a basic level? Creativity? Love? Connection to others? Making a contribution? Power? Peace? Friendship?

    I suggest that “play” instead of focus on “career” will not always lead to getting what you really want. Some things require funds or connections. Some things don’t. Most of the developed world participates in careerism. It’s possible to get fulfillment within the work-ethic framework. It takes being a person who stands for those things I mentioned at the beginning and being unreasonable about having them present, even in an environment that can be easily hostile to, e.g. love and peace. If you master bringing that with you, no circumstance can remove it from your life.

  3. December 18th, 2012 at 17:11 | #3

    Hi Rob, thanks for your comments… I agree that it is possible for find fulfillment in a career – just that it only happens for a very small minority of people. And the careers advice we receive (and take in subliminally through our parents and schools) implies that a career is the main, guaranteed way to find fulfillment in life.

    The reason I wrote the essay was because after all my years of working in or alongside people in careers, I have found barely any who are as happy as the part-time/freelance workers I know (and am now myself) who don’t value their money-earning job as highly as the creative work they do for themselves.

    In my experience yes, you can find all those things you mention in a career. But you will be very lucky if you do. And if you need funds for your creative work, you can be creative about how you get them, or just ignore the fund-needing work and do something else that requires less or no funds.

    What career do you have? I’m always interested in finding people who find fulfillment in their career – it’s one to direct children towards rather than away from.



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