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Career Advice I'd Give My Child

By Marty Nemko

If my daughter asked me for career advice (fat chance), here’s what I’d say:

Don’t think that picking the “right” career will necessarily make you happier. Most people’s happiness comes from within. Think of how many people with ostensibly cool careers are miserable Curt Kobain, Janis Joplin, and John Belushi all committed hara-kiri.

Yeah, a lousy boss or a clanging work environment can make you miserable, but you can prevent that by doing a thorough enough job search that you get multiple job offers and can pick the best one.

Having said that, here are eight careers with potential to be cool careers. They offer meaningful work, pleasant work conditions, decent pay, and good job security.

Audiologist. As we boomers age, we will be needing hearing aids. Wanna help us out?

Electrician. Unlike other blue-collar careers, this one isn’t as hard on your body. Demand is high and expected to continue so as our lives get ever more wired.

Home Stager: To wring maximum dollars out of their already overpriced houses, home sellers hire home stagers—few-day-decorators to turn their pigsty into a showplace.

Lighting Designer. Office building lobbies, trade show displays, theater and film sets all require lighting designers. A fun job!

Locksmith. Short training, high success rate, and grateful customers—remember the last time you were locked out of your car or home?

Optometrist: I like this career because you please a high percentage of your clients—and you get to wear a white coat.

School Psychologist. Johnny’s doing lousy in school. You test him one-on-one, then pow-wow with kid, teacher, and parent to develop a plan.. You might also do other stuff like a parent workshop on sexuality, or set up meetings between bullies and the bullied. It’s rewarding work—and you get plenty of vacation time to rejuvenate. Many school psychologists are expected to retire in the next decade, so the job market should be A-1.

Speech Therapist. Another school-based career in which you work one-on-one. Speech therapists also work with older adults; for example, stroke victims learning to regain speech. Lots of patience required, but most speech therapists, ahem, speak well of their jobs.

For 492 more cool careers, dear child, read the book, Cool Careers for Dummies—even if your father did write it.

Whatever career you choose, don’t spend too much time paying dues. Employers will try to convince you that you need to spend lots of time on low-level work. That advice better serves the employer than you. From Day One, show that you’re better than that: Ask questions, read, tactfully make suggestions, be enthusiastic. And sooner rather than later, ask for a promotion.

Corporations are getting ever leaner and meaner. Corporate job security is dead. The only bastion of security: government. Plus government workers rarely kill themselves—they’re usually out at 5 and get holiday and vacation days galore. Plus, a government job needn’t mean a bureaucrat’s life of clock watching at a metal desk. Government hires everyone from managers to counselors, researchers to engineers.

You might also consider self-employment. Most employers pay employees as little as they can get away with. That usually means that after taxes, you’ll have a hard time paying your bills, let alone having extra money for that Kauai trip, and let’s not even talk about saving for retirement. Self-employment may be your best shot at big bucks.

Entrepreneurship can be learned. Don’t go back to school..Intern with or work for a successfully self-employed person. Even if you have to do scutwork for a month or two, as long as you can watch the boss in action and ask lots of questions, it’s usually worth it.

The best businesses to own are often simple, grungy businesses—there’s little competition and less that can go wrong. The book, The Millionaire Next Door, describes the commonalities among 750 millionaires. One frequent commonality: they owned dull-normal businesses such as mobile home park maintenance, sand blasting, and used truck part brokerage. And importantly, even though those businesses aren’t glamorous, those people love their work because they own the business, are in-demand, and earn a great living.

True, especially in the early years of owning a business, many self-employed people work crazy hours, and despite that, over half of new businesses are out of business within five years. And with stiff self-employment taxes, payroll taxes for any employees you might have, and ever rising health insurance costs, it’s ever tougher to make it as a self-employed person. Nevertheless, if you’re a true self-starter who rarely procrastinates, are excellent at solving practical problems on the fly, and have a nose for buying low and selling high, self-employment can be the best idea of all.

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