Posted June 9, 2000
Every week, sometimes every day, someone writes to me asking for advice about the career they should take. I can’t, unfortunately, respond to them all, so I thought I should try to formulate some general guidelines, which I hope people will be able to adapt to their own circumstances. This advice applies only to those who have a genuine choice of careers, which means, regrettably, that it does not apply to the majority of the world’s workforce. But if the people writing to me did not have choice, they wouldn’t be asking.
While this guidance may be applicable to some people working in other areas, the examples I will use all come from journalism, as most of those writing to me want to be journalists, and this is the field in which I have mostly worked. Before you take it, I should warn you not to rely on my word alone. I can’t guarantee that this approach will work for you. You should take advice from as many people as you can. Ultimately, you must make your own decisions: don’t allow me or anyone else to make them for you.
The first advice I would offer is this: be wary of following the careers advice your college gives you. In journalism school, for example, students are routinely instructed that, though they may wish to write about development issues in Latin America, in order to achieve the necessary qualifications and experience they must first spend at least three years working for a local newspaper, before seeking work for a national newspaper, before attempting to find a niche which brings them somewhere near the field they want to enter. You are told to travel, in other words, in precisely the opposite direction to the one you want to take. You want to go to Latin America? Then first you must go to Nuneaton. You want to write about the Zapatistas? Then first you must learn how to turn corporate press releases into “news”. You want to be free? Then first you must learn to be captive.