Choosing a Career in the Era of Too Much Choice

The abundance of professional possibilities can make choosing a career difficult.

| June 2013

  • How To Find Fulfilling Work
    In "How to Find Fulfilling Work," Roman Krznaric reveals how to make sense out of choosing a career.
    Cover Courtesy Picador USA
  • Man Walking Out Of Mine
    The nineteenth century may have been the era of Dickensian poverty and hellish laboring in the mines and textile mills, but it simultaneously witnessed a revolution in career choice through the spread of public education and the invention of the career open to talent.
    Photo By Fotolia/Kovalenko Inna

  • How To Find Fulfilling Work
  • Man Walking Out Of Mine

How to Find Fulfilling Work (Picador USA, 2012), by Roman Krznaric, shows how to take working life in new directions — how to negotiate the labyrinth of choices, how to think about personal ambitions and motivations, and ultimately how to take concrete steps to choosing a career that is fulfilling. While not ignoring the insights of psychology or the need for practical planning, it reveals wisdom about work found in sociology, history, literature, film and philosophy. It may be a false illusion that there is some perfect dream job out there for us, an ideal calling or vocation. But this book is premised on the idea that it is possible to find work that is life-enhancing. The excerpt below comes from chapter 2, “A Short History of Career Confusion.”  

‘Blue Poles’

I remember, aged 23, standing with my father in front of Blue Poles, a painting by Jackson Pollock. He told me that the poles made him think of the bars of a prison cell into which he was gazing. My interpretation was the opposite. I felt as if I was trapped inside a cell, looking out in frustration at the free world.

‘But how could you possibly feel that?’ he asked. ‘You have so much freedom and so many opportunities before you.’

Of course he was right. After graduating from university in Britain, I had travelled around Australia and Indonesia, earned some money working in telephone call centers, and volunteered at Amnesty International. Finally, I had found a job as a financial journalist in London — although it was not nearly as fulfilling as I’d hoped it would be.

‘I feel I’ve got too many choices. All those squiggles on the canvas are my confused thoughts about what to do next. And the bars, maybe, are my fears about making the wrong decision. I don’t think journalism is my true vocation in life. But how am I supposed to discover what is?’

‘You’re only young, kiddo. You can try different careers. There’s no point doing something you don’t really enjoy.’