How do you know what kind of work is right for you?

And what advice would you give to a young adult – or a middle-aged one – who is trying to find work that aligns with core values?

All right. Everyone knows the “right answer” to this one: Find your bliss and pursue it. Do what you love, and the money will follow.

But that doesn’t always work. If your bliss happens to be writing, art, music, acting, or photography, the money doesn’t always follow. Even if you prepare yourself well and work really hard. I know far too many creative people who have found this out the hard way. For every bestselling author and rock star there are tens of thousands of wannabes who struggle to earn any money at all from their passion.

I myself was a history major, but I’ve arm-wrestled with some of my good friends about the value of a liberal arts education. Fortunately, my dad gave me some great advice at the age of eighteen. He set me straight about how hard it is to earn a living as an author and suggested journalism. At his advice, I pursued paying internships in journalism and worked on the college newspaper while I was earning my beloved degree in history. Only later in life did I combine my passions and my training by writing historical novels.

This is the advice I’d give a young person: Take lots of courses to find an area you love – but also pursue summer jobs and classes that will prepare you for the workforce. Don’t neglect either passion or pragmatism. If you do, you may regret it.

But what about a middle-aged person? Some of us have enough financial stability at midlife to shift gears and pursue something we love. One lesson I learned is that life has many seasons, and the season for raising small children may require putting aside other ambitions. Once the kids are grown, a new season offers fresh possibilities – sometimes with more risk than you were willing to undertake when the family depended on your income. For me, that meant a move from journalism to book writing.

One woman I interviewed for Warm Cup of Wisdom became a preschool director at midlife. “Sometimes parents would send me the nicest notes about how happy their children were at our preschool,” she told me. “Those notes made me feel like I was doing something important.” With positive feedback like that, work undertaken at midlife can provide satisfaction and fulfillment on a deep level.

What about you? What advice have you given?

About dorijonesyang

As a former journalist in Hong Kong, I love writing books that bridge the gap of understanding between China and America. My new book, When the Red Gates Opened: A Memoir of China's Reawakening, will be published in September 2020.
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