Best-Of Advice

On playing dress-up

Dear Coquette,

I’m interested in so many fields. From bartending to chemical engineering and journalism and law. I get that no one cares about your degree, but since these areas do all kind of require some kind of credentials, how should I prepare for them?


An Enthusiastic High School Junior

You don’t want to be a bartender. You want to be a hipster mixologist rocking out signature martinis for a bunch of starry-eyed hotties at the coolest bar you’ve never been to.

You don’t want to be a chemical engineer. You’re a fan of “Breaking Bad,” and you want to be a modern-day wizard who secretly has the knowledge to whip up a fresh batch of blue crystals.

You don’t want to be a journalist. You want to be a truth-chasing, gut-following investigative reporter with a reputation for integrity and a show on one of the cable news channels.

You don’t want to be a lawyer. You don’t even know what it means to be a lawyer. You just like the idea that if you stay in school long enough, one day you’ll be able to wear a suit and tell people that you’re a lawyer.

See what I’m getting at here? You’re not really interested in those fields. You’re interested in those identities. You’re fantasizing. You’re playing dress-up and make-believe with your future self. That’s fine. You’re a teenager. It’s what you’re supposed to be doing.

The problem is, there are a lot of twenty-somethings out there with dust gathering on their liberal arts degrees, still doing the exact same thing that you’re doing at sixteen.

I’ll give to them the exact same advice I’ll give to you: Don’t create an identity for yourself that isn’t rooted in the real world. You can bartend for a few years while putting yourself through engineering school, but whatever you end up doing, recognize that it’s gonna be a grind.

It doesn’t matter what kind of credentials you earn or what field you eventually choose. You’re guaranteed to spend at least a half-decade paying dues at the entry level. You’ll work longer hours, doing harder work than your bosses for significantly less pay. Nothing will be handed to you, and in all likelihood, the experience will be degrading and a little bit soul-crushing.

If you want to prepare for a career, then don’t pick your field based on the fantasy. Make an honest assessment of your talents, and pick your field based on the reality.


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