Remember those career advisors who told you to do the right thing and get a steady job like your parents did?
Well, they should have been saying something else.
You see, every week I get a lot of people emailing me asking what their next job move should be.
- Should they join the military or the airlines?
- Should they change careers from banking to something more ethical?
- Should they start their own business?
And my answer is always the same.
But before I tell you, there's something you should probably know about me - when I signed up to fly military fast-jets, I had no idea what I was doing.
Really, I didn't.
I was just a young kid who'd seen planes flying around at a few airshows and thought 'Hey, that looks cool!'
I'd built some model aircraft, seen 'Top Gun' maybe 20 times and thought that one day I could be Dougie Masters from the film 'Iron Eagle'!
And that was about it.
So, when people ask me what they should do with their career choices - this is what I tell them.
When you first get a job you don't have the knowledge of your industry to understand whether you'll be able to leverage your abilities to get the things you care about in the future.
Take running your own business, for example.
Being your own boss must be incredible, I mean you can take time off whenever you want, hire and fire to get the best employees and run a company that is inspirational, innovative and that everyone wants to buy from!
But that is rarely the case.
For example, my buddy has his own business which easily turns over 6 figures. He earns more than I do, employs many staff and his customers cannot speak more highly of him or the services he offers.
From the outside it seems ideal, all that freedom and respect!
But can he get a mortgage?
Well, not without 7 years of proof of earnings and tax returns behind him and even then the rates he's offered aren't the most competitive.
And employing people - strangely enough they don't care about his business as much as he does! He works 12 hour days everyday and even works in the evenings and sometimes on the weekends too, just to keep the business going!
Think of the stress!
Maybe the grass isn't always greener after all.
'78 percent of younger workers in their 20s are interested in changing careers.' - University of Phoenix, Harris Interactive Working Adult Survey (2013)
But you forgot about the lifestyle.
'I am leaving because I want to be a normal 22 year old who is able to relax and have some private time out of the spotlight.' - Zayn Malik, on leaving One Direction.
When I coach people I ask them to look at themselves 10 years ahead - it's not too distant that it's hard to visualise but not too close that they have to think about the immediate things they must do in order to get there.
Then I ask them a series of simple questions.
- How intense is your job?
- How important is the work you do?
- Where do you live - town/country?
- What are you known for if someone was describing you?
- What's your work/life balance like?
- What type of work do you do?
- How is your social life?
- Do you have control over your working day?
- Do you have a family or are you going to be a lone wolf hunting in a pack of one?
It sometimes helps to write the answers down on a whiteboard to review later.
'The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.' - Malcolm X
It's like when you just cannot decide on something. Tossing a coin and saying 'If it lands on heads then I'll do x' lets you tangibly feel whether you really want to undertake that course of action.
From the questions above - notice that I never ask them what job they want to do?
That's because sometimes people only want a job because of the lifestyle that they think it comes with.
Here's the truth about being a fast-jet pilot.
- It is all encompassing and you spend a lot of time away from home often in hot and dangerous places. Your friendships are transient as you tend to move house every three years and your kids end up changing schools a lot.
- It's uncomfortable and hot in the cockpit. You have a rubber mask on your face, sit in a rubber suit to protect you from the cold sea on ejection, you're strapped into a rocket seat and I have yet to find a cup-holder in any of the aircraft I've flown!
- Every day is a test day and you often have to work in the evenings for the next day's flights. You end up talking about the job a lot because it demands a lot of attention and you are continually judged by your peers.
- You will most likely end up with degenerative neck or back issues and you'll only realise how tiring flying is when you eventually stop doing it.
- Some of your friends will die and you will come close yourself on many occasions.
- Your secondary duties form 90% of your working day and lunch, if you ever manage to have it, will never be at lunchtime. Ever.
- Your day never has a routine and the hours always change, you can't plan gym time or tell your partner when you'll be home - promising to pick up the kids from school is always a gamble.
- You'll only find out where you're moving to next about 3 months before it happens which makes finding schools, dental services for the family and employment for spouses hard to find.
- You'll get envious of people who get promoted over you because they did the nugatory staff work when you were concentrating on your primary role - being a pilot.
- Jets are really, really noisy so the Government puts jet bases in the middle of nowhere where spousal employment can be hard to find and your nearest big town is a long way away.
- You missed out on getting on the housing ladder because you were in Service provided accommodation the whole time because, when you move every 3 years, there didn't seem any point in buying a house.
'Fast-Jet cockpits NEED freaking cup holders!' - Tim Davies, Fast-Jet pilot
Don't get me wrong, the flying can be exhilarating at times, but often very regimented and scripted too.
But do you want that lifestyle?
At the end of the day, it's a job like any other but the lifestyle can often be quite demanding.
When making a career choice a lot of people worry about getting on the wrong train and ending up in the wrong future.
Choosing a job for life is like trying to choose a degree subject for life and that’s hard enough to do when it’s only for 3 years!
We shouldn't take a job just because we have been all seduced into a obsession with instant and perceived gratification; a job is immediate, yes - but building a lifestyle takes time.
If you always put the lifestyle first then you'll always choose a job that fits with it.
The best way to find out about whether a career might match your desired lifestyle is to ask those already doing it and then imagine yourself there.
- You might want time in the evening to socialise in nice bars in a vibrant part of town whilst providing value to the world during the day. You can move house any time because you have a big web presence and work mainly online. You love the surfing life and being outdoors - maybe being an entrepreneur or small business owner is for you.
- You see yourself settled with a family, your children are in good schools and you live in a small village on the edge of a town. You are really busy during the day but are paid well for it, are well respected and part of the community. You work for a big firm that provides stability and one day you might even make partner - a job in industry, banking or the private sector might suit you.
- You want to contribute to the world and know that you want to help people. You want to be always travelling and don't much care for cars or houses - material goods are not your thing. You'd like a small flat to store your things for when you come home but, as you'll spend most of you time travelling it can be small - working for an NGO or charity overseas could be your thing.
Recently my wife and I agreed that, by our mid-forties, we just wanted 'roots'. We needed our own place somewhere to always come back to and it must be within 2 hours drive of our parents who are getting older and require more love and attention.
We visualised being part of a community and able to contribute to the local area in some way, maybe get a dog - that sort of thing.
And we saw ourselves living near towns where we might find work to support the new mortgage or even, if we had to work away from our new house, to have somewhere to come back to and call home.
Visualising your future lifestyle is so much more important than choosing the right career.
So, don't worry so much about 'doing the right thing' and getting a particular job like your parents did - maybe just think about the future of you instead.
Now you can work back from that future and start moving towards getting the lifestyle you really want.
And in doing so, you'll probably find the right career too.