How do you know if you’re really choosing the right career?
My career choice has been the same since I️ was young. Most people at my age have changed up to fit their interest, but not me. So what if I’m choosing the wrong path, how do I️ know?
Well, this is a really mature and deep question - and not easy to answer! You've not provided many details about what stage you're at and where your doubts are coming from, so this is all pretty general.
My honest, immediate reaction: you can't always _know_ you're choosing the right career. Sorry; that's not a particularly optimistic answer, but some things in life are like that. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. This is one area of life where you have to learn to be OK with a certain amount of uncertainty for a while.
There are many examples of people who picked a target career at a very young age, stuck by it, and everything worked out great. So don't assume that just because you chose something as a kid, it can't be right. Cmdr Chris Hadfield, retired Canadian astronaut, is one example that springs to mind. In his autobiography he details knowing he wanted to be an astronaut as a little kid, and making all his life decisions on that basis. It definitely worked out for him!
My story, on the other hand: I have almost a full decade of career experience behind me now (since graduating college), but I definitely had doubts about whether I was following the right path for somewhere between 3 and 5 years in my first professional job after college. I know friends of mine went through similar phases - some lasting a lot longer than me! In my particular case, I had a super-clear career plan formed during high-school, made my college decisions based on it, and then rapidly hit a wall in my first year at college where I discovered that career wasn't going to fit me (based on how I performed in the classes I needed to take).
I then graduated with a different major and no clue what career I now _wanted_; fell into something by chance (healthcare IT, as it happens), and spent 3-5 years unsure if it was "right". In that time, the exact nature of my career shifted and wobbled a bit, within the one employer I was with - and I gradually learned to identify the aspects of work that I enjoyed and to define for myself what my career WAS, in such a way that it was something I was happy was right for me. Then I could take that new understanding and definition to the job market and look for a next job that really fitted.
Some important things I learned along the way:
* A career path is never finished, or fixed. You pick a direction but there are forks in the road all the time; you get lots of opportunities as you go to make new decisions and tweak the direction. Many small adjustments can add up to big changes over time.
* You are allowed to change your understanding of your career, and your priorities, as you go along. Many employers will be happy to accommodate adjustments to what you want to be doing, if it suits them too. You can control your own story.
* If you're _sure_ you're in the _wrong_ job or career, definitely take steps to change that. If you're just _unsure_, there can be value to keeping on working hard at what you're already doing, for a while at least. Changing your mind too frequently is not good. All (good) jobs are hard at times, and all jobs/careers take time to settle into. Having some decent experience at something, anything, under your belt, stands you in good stead and is usually respected by others.
* Doing hard/unpleasant things, and going outside your comfort zone, is very healthy and makes you a stronger, better person in the long run. Don't shy away from hard or scary stuff just because it's hard or scary. (There might be other reasons to shy away from something, that are legitimate.)
* Sometimes you even have to endure a job you don't like much (a junior or trainee grade in something, for example), in order to get to one you think you will like. Tactical decisions like that are OK.
* There are loads of transferable skills to most professional or skilled jobs, which can be surprisingly useful in different, unrelated careers. You're probably not locked-down to one career for ever. In fact, these days, lots of people do change careers multiple times in their working life. That's OK!
You probably don't have just One True Career. Most people will be able to live a happy, fulfilled life in a variety of careers. Think of this as being about trying to pick "a good one", not "the only right one".
Do listen to your instincts, emotions, and mood: are you excited to get stuck into the topic / work each morning? Do you feel satisfied at the end of every day? Or do you find yourself trying to think of anything else you could do _but_ the work? More likely, somewhere in between? If so, is the balance more towards the positive or negative ends of that spectrum?
Try to untangle feelings about the process of learning and training _for_ your career, from feelings about the career _itself_. School is hard in a different way to actual jobs; training for a particular skilled job isn't necessarily much like the job itself after the training is done. Lots of people don't really like the process of learning and studying. Thankfully, very few jobs are anything like school (classrooms, assignments, and so on). Arranging work experience or shadowing somebody in the field you're aiming towards, is a good way to understand this better. I had on-the-job training at the start of my career (after college) which was a lot like being back in school again for a while - classes, book learning, memorizing and tests - and I loathed that! But then I found the actual job very interesting and motivating.
And finally, remember: a lot of people actually don't know _at all_ what career they want, even when they finish education, or for many years after. You are in a great place by having any kind of career plan at all to start from!
Stuart recommends the following next steps: