Sam Holstein

5 Signs You Picked the Wrong Career

5 Signs You Picked the Wrong Career

t’s not always easy to tell if you’ve chosen the wrong career for yourself. Maybe you’re unhappy because you’ve picked the wrong trade— but maybe you’re just unhappy because you’re not being paid enough, or given enough autonomy at work. Maybe you just need to find a better job instead of ditching the career altogether.

Or maybe you are happy at work… almost. Maybe you get paid plenty, have great coworkers, have an easy and enjoyable job, but can’t shake this nagging sense that you were meant for something else in this life.

That’s what it was like for me in my first career. As a consultant for tech startups, I got paid well, worked with great people, tackled challenges that were just hard enough to be rewarding, and had good benefits to boot.

But no matter where I worked, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was selling myself short. No matter how many industry awards I won, no matter how many happy clients left glowing LinkedIn reviews, and no matter how lined my pocketbook was, I felt like I’d won second place.

Fast forward to today. I’m a writer, and I don’t feel that way anymore. I feel like I’ve won first place. No matter how few people read my articles or how little money I make, I wake up every morning feeling like I’ve already won and that everything else is just icing on the cake.

In retrospect, there were a few signs I was in the wrong career all along. If you’re in the wrong career, chances are you’re feeling these things too.

Here, five signs that you, too, are in the wrong career.

1. You daydream about other careers

When you’re in the wrong career, you daydream regularly about what it would be like to be something else. Astronaut, rockstar, fireman, doesn’t matter — all that matters is that it’s a lot different than what you’re doing and a lot better.

When you’re in the right career, you don’t daydream about what other careers would be like, because you don’t want another career. You love the career you have because it’s the one meant for you.

When I was in the wrong career, I daydreamed about being a NASA mission specialist or the vocalist for a heavy metal band all the time. Now that I’m a writer, I don’t daydream about those things much anymore. I daydream about being different types of writers, from philosopher to fiction novelist to technical writer, but in those daydreams, I am always a writer.

If you find yourself daydreaming frequently about what it would be like to be someone else or to do something else with your life, it’s a sign you picked the wrong career.

2. You say “If I could be paid to do what I love, I would.”

Other variations on this include “I would be a professional [blank], I could,” and “If I could get paid to do [blank], I could.”

What you insert in the blank spot doesn’t matter. It doesn’t indicate anything, other than that you would like to do that thing more than what you are currently doing.

When I was in the wrong career, I was constantly saying shit like this.

Sure, I would say “If I could make money writing, I would.” But it wasn’t about writing. I would say that about all kinds of things.

The only thing they all had in common was that they were something I would rather spend my time doing than consulting for tech companies.

What makes those thoughts so silly is that people do make careers out of those things. Artists draw for a living, comedians tell jokes for a living, Alex Honnold makes a killing rock climbing for a living, and live streamers can easily make millions.

If you are quite sure you would rather make money doing something else if you could, it may be a sign you picked the wrong career.

Maybe you should have picked one of those things you daydreamed about instead.

3. Salary is a significant factor in your job satisfaction

When you are in the wrong career, jobs are not that much different from each other. Swap out the company name and the coworkers; they’re all essentially the same. So when you are looking for job offers, salary is important to you because it’s the only difference you get to take home.

Some people will take it even further. They will take the job with the highest pay, even if they don’t like the working conditions or the work itself whatsoever, because to them, work is just about getting money.

When you’re in the right career, though, salary doesn’t matter so much.

When you’re in the right career, you’re working for more than just money. What you do for work is linked with your purpose. You don’t ask “how much does this job pay?” You ask questions like…

If the only difference between jobs for you is how much you have to work and how much you get paid, you may be in the wrong career.

4. Professional education always feels like a chore

When you’re in the wrong career, professional education feels like a chore. It keeps you from finishing everything else you already have to get done, and it means you have to spend even more time working. The fact that you’re usually paid to do it is the only benefit.

When you’re in the right career, though, you welcome the opportunity to get better at what you do. After all, you love what you do. Being paid to learn even more about something you already love is a blessing, not a burden.

This was my experience. When I was a consultant, I didn’t keep up on my professional education. Reading the latest business and tech books was an annoying demand on my time, one I didn’t even get paid for.

As a writer, though, I relish the opportunity to read more books on writing. Whenever prominent modern writers release books on how to build a writing career, I eagerly pre-order them with all the enthusiasm of a nine-year-old on Christmas. It’s pretty lame, really. But it means I’m in the right career.

If professional education is a troublesome demand on your time, not an opportunity to learn yet more about something you already love, you may be in the wrong career.

5. You don’t care about the ‘why’ of your work

When you’re in the wrong career, you don’t care too much about the meaning behind your work. As long as you get paid regularly and you’re not selling drugs to babies, it’s all the same.

If your work is not even making a positive difference in your life, it’s hard to care if it’s making a positive difference in the lives of others.

When you’re in the right career, though, the effect your work has on the world means a lot more to you. You actually care whether your work makes the lives of others better or not. If it doesn’t, you want to do what it takes to change that, even if it means taking a pay cut or working a little longer.

Part of my motivation for writing is the knowledge that what I write makes a positive difference in the lives of others. This article you’re reading is helping you determine whether you’re really happy in your current line of work, and that means something to me. If I thought my writing was making the lives of my readers worse, I would stop writing until I figured out how to change that.

If you find you don’t really care about the consumers of your work, that’s a sign you may be in the wrong career.

Are these signs definitive all of the time? Of course not. Humans are not homogenous, and one person’s experience is going to be different from the next one.

But if you find yourself relating to most of this list, take some time to think about why your current career is wrong for you. Put aside the expectations of others. Ask yourself what you really want.

The answer might surprise you.