Hindsight is a beautiful thing. No matter what we do, or where we end up in life, even the most successful among us look back at key moments of our past, wonder and daydream about what we would have done differently, if only we knew then what we know now. If only we could write a letter, detailing all our wisdom and the good advice we have to offer, and send it spinning through some time vortex to land in the lap of our younger selves. What would it say? Would it urge you to ask that special someone out for a coffee? Would it (in bold capitals, underlined twice) tell you to study harder at school, and make the most of your free education? There’s little doubt that we’ve all thought about this from time to time, and most of us would jump at the chance of making such a miracle a reality.

For the vast majority of us, such a time-travelling letter would be focused on one thing above all others: finding a job, and choosing a career. When we finish school or university, all too many of us jump into careers which are perhaps not best suited for us… but we’re tempted by the promise of a big pay packet, a certain set of perks, or the prestige that the job offers. Fast forward a decade or so, and many such people end up rueing the day they ever stepped into that interview room. On the flipside, there are all those people who pursued a passion or temporary creative obsession… only to find that while their peers were streaking ahead with success, they were still struggling to pay the rent on a shared house, and lumbered with debts their chosen path couldn’t hope to repay.

We all make mistakes. It’s an unavoidable aspect of life, and it’s something that has as many positive points as negative ones – after all, if we didn’t mess up from time to time, we’d never learn to get things right. However, at the same time we only get one crack at this life, and choosing a career as a fresh-faced graduate is one of those choices that sets you on a path it can be hard to get off should you find yourself unsatisfied. Let’s imagine for a moment that we really can send a letter back to our former selves, and impart some real world wisdom regarding career choices. Here’s five tips that would sit at the very top of what would probably be a very long list!

Aim For What You Enjoy

This is a big one. Your career is something you’ll hopefully stick with for many years (or even a lifetime), and as such, it’s got to be something you’re going to enjoy doing. Remember, you’ll have to get yourself out of bed each and every weekday morning to head into your job, and finding yourself stuck in a career where pulling on your clothes and making your commute is nothing but torture isn’t going to do you any favours. When we enjoy our work, we do it better. We take pride in it. We push ourselves for promotions and development… and most importantly, we see the value of what we do, and get more out of life as a result.

Identify Your Work Style

For me, this was a bit of a problem which should have been addressed from the very beginning. You see, I’m a procrastinator, and something of a perfectionist. I have the potential to deliver fantastic results which really make a difference… but I don’t work well in environments where I have to constantly report to management teams, or have to have an extremely fast turnaround time regardless of the quality of what I’m doing. If I’d taken my unique work style into consideration when choosing a career, I could have saved myself years wasted in the wrong job. Take some time to think about this: do you work best individually? Are you a natural leader? Do you work well in teams? All these questions and more should be carefully considered before launching yourself into a career, and it’s important to be brutally honest with yourself in this regard, too.

Think About Your Values

There are some careers which allow you plenty of time to socialise, and maybe even settle down and think about having a family. There are others which are rewarding in plenty of other ways, but which demand you to be at the office for extra hours every day, and expect you to put work first and your social life second. Think carefully about your values in this regard, and where you’d like to be in five or ten years down the line. If you dream of long summers travelling, or raising a couple of kids, being in the wrong career can end up being a destructive source of frustration. Choose wisely, however, and you’ll stay on a path and with a schedule that fits you like a glove.change-choices-choose-277615

Balance Money and Passion

We all have things we’re passionate about, especially when we’re young. Maybe you play an instrument, and dream of being a professional musician or singer. Perhaps you love creating websites or  writing essays, are passionate about animals, or helping those in need. While there are always jobs in which you can involve your hobbies and the things you love to do with your free time, finding a rewarding career – which pays well enough to give you the lifestyle you want, while feeding your passions at the same time – is uncommon to say the least. When we’re young, we often baulk at the idea of compromising our dreams, and it often leads to us missing out on opportunities which can lead to us having the freedom and money to pursue them in different ways. Trust me – taking a job which pays well and which you get some satisfaction from doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your passions; you’ll always have free time and weekends in which to scratch that itch. What’s more, sometimes our fantasies about making our hobbies and passions into our professions are often kept as fantasies, as the reality has a real potential to disappoint.

Gain Experience and Do Internships

Choosing a career is rarely easy, but there are ways of making it easier. I was always put off from doing internships and getting work experience. Why? Because I felt as though I needed money right there and then, and wasn’t willing to take a month or two to work for a reduced wage or nothing at all in order to gain skills, see what different industries were like, and get a real feel for a job. What a fool I was! If I’d just bit the bullet, forgotten about the cash I needed for going out and wasting with my friends, I could have saved myself so much bother. I’d have realised that what I thought was my ideal career was, in fact, completely unsuited to what I wanted from life. I might have also found something far more enjoyable, made connections with people in the industry, and gained the kind of skills that would have given me a clear head start. What a difference that all could have made!

Well, those are just five of the many tips I wish I could force my younger self to read! They’d have saved time, smoothed the path to success, and done away with so many regrets and wasted opportunities. When we’re young, we think we already know it all… and while that idealism can be a great thing, there’s a lot to be said for choosing a career with great care, serious thought, and a realistic approach to life.