by Roberta Balagopal

Should I study what I like, or what will give me a good job?

Sound familiar? Most of us have asked ourselves this question, whether when just starting out in our careers or contemplating a mid-career switch.

Before attempting to answer this question, however, it is necessary to figure out what it means. To do that, we’ll take the question apart, bit by bit.


Using the word “should” has a few problems. It is one of the words that can signal an automatic negative thought (ANT), in other words a self-applied distortion of the true situation. When you use a “should” statement (or “must”, “ought”, “have to”), you apply a set of standards which may or may not be valid for you or the situation you are in. Why is this a problem? You are trying to live up to standards you don’t necessarily believe in.

“what I like”

This is good news – you know what you like, or at least you think that you do, which is a start. So now ask yourself, why do I like this subject? What about this subject do I find interesting or challenging? Do I really like it, or am I just good at it and assume therefore I like it? Being good at something, even very good, is not the same thing as enjoying doing it, day in and day out.

“what will give me a good job”

This is a tricky one, if you’ve not actually worked in the field before. How do you know the other field of study will lead you to a good job? Have you any direct experience in it? Have you done your research on the job market for this area? Where is this sector heading in the future? Even if you have done all your homework, finding a job is often more about networking than about having the right credentials on paper. Are you willing to get to know people in the field and cultivate professional relationships? Consider too, is your other option necessarily not a “good job”?

“a good job”

Good job, high paying job, prestigious job – all of these may be important to you. But what do they mean exactly? What makes a job good for you? What is your definition of high pay? What does prestige mean to you? What else might “a good job” mean? And, most importantly, is this meaning your own, or something adopted from someone else?

As you can see, the question “Should I study what I like, or what will give me a good job?” is very hard to answer unless you first ask a host of other questions to get at the root of what you really want. It is nearly impossible for another person to answer this, as at best they can tell you their own perspective, if they were in your shoes. But that, unfortunately, does not help you.

So what can you do?

1. Define what you like, as precisely as possible.
2. Define what you want in terms of your career, and be wary of ideas of what you “should” do.
3. Do your research, and make sure you know as much about your options as you can.
4. Validate your conclusions by talking to people in the industries you’re interested in.

One last thing, no education is ever wasted. Even if you find your course of study didn’t meet all of your expectations, remember that most of us change career paths several times in our working lives (by our own choosing or by circumstance), and what may seem irrelevant now, may become a valuable asset down the road.


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