- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 16, 2007

You haven’t asked, but I’m offering my advice anyway. Here’s what I think you should be when you grow up. Maybe more correctly, here’s what I wish I had been when I grew up.

But when I was at the stage of life to make decisions about careers, I didn’t know anything. The world was so large and alien to me. I didn’t really think in terms of choosing a trade or a profession. I didn’t know what a career was. I just knew I needed work.

But I’ve learned since then, and I’ve been paying attention. Observing people and their careers I’ve seen good and bad, things that would be rewarding to do for a living, and things that would not.

So here’s my advice: Choose something that will support you and your family. Don’t forget that the ultimate purpose of a job is to make money.

It’s not to make you happy, it’s not to make you feel fulfilled. It’s to make you a breadwinner. A career can serve other purposes, and you will be happier if it does, but that is secondary. Your job is just a means to an end: providing your family with food and shelter and the other necessities of life.

So as you choose a career, make sure it pays enough. All other considerations are secondary. And understand that you need to weigh not just what the field pays as you enter it, but what you can realistically expect it to pay you 20 years later. Your financial needs will grow as your family grows and ages.

So, keeping that in mind, down to brass tacks. If I had it all to do again, I would be a cop. For 20 years. Then I would be a school teacher.

Both are honorable professions, both are a true service to the community, and each would challenge you in a different and important way. And they both have good benefits and retirement plans.

I’ve noticed police officers, especially those in an agency large enough to have its own culture, share a certain camaraderie. They are often, because of the nature of their work, close friends. That friendship, as I’ve seen it, is very sweet and clearly blesses the lives of those who share it.

Law enforcement is also a field that will give you adventure and challenge. When you are young, it will test your strength and endurance and courage. It is a young person’s job with an old person’s responsibility.

And when you’ve got in enough years to retire you will still be young enough to take up teaching, a wonderful field that will, over time, pay you well and give you a freer schedule for your later years.

I would get a high school teaching job in a smaller community, where you can know all the students and they can know you, where you can make a difference in the spirit of the school. Teachers who do it right can be very important and useful to their students.

Education, in fact, would be a good field to spend an entire career in. People who are in a school and see generation after generation of families come through their classrooms have a priceless blessing. They also enjoy a stature in the community and an upper-middle-class income.

The law would also be a good field, if you got in the right part of it. Law school is expensive in money and in time, but it can open many career doors. If I had more lives to live, I would spend one of them as a prosecutor, fighting the battle between good and evil in a criminal courtroom. I would not, however, be a criminal defense lawyer or a civil liability lawyer. I would not use my abilities to get a crook off or to commit theft via lawsuit.

In addition to money and satisfaction, an honorable lawyer can also share in the spirit of the bar and the pride of those who work there. It can be a very good thing to be a lawyer, if you do it right.

Your mother may want you to grow up to be a doctor, but she may not know what it entails. Clearly, being a medical doctor will allow you the most obviously visible opportunity to be of service to others. And the income potential is staggering.

But it comes at a tremendously high personal price. You would probably not be done with your schooling until your mid-30s, and your spouse and young children would be hurt by that. And even then, depending on your specialty, your personal life may suffer because of your long and odd work hours. It takes a special kind of family to support and tolerate a doctor’s career, and most can’t do so.

You may consider the military, which is an honorable and good thing. But it also must be considered in terms of duty and sentimentality. Because, otherwise, it’s not a very good deal. The pay is poor, the risks are huge, the work is unpleasant. And people treat you poorly.

But if you go in, do so as an officer, especially if you might make a career of it. The only wise reason to choose to enlist, instead of seek a commission, is to get college money. In which case, get in, get your college money, and get out. But if desire to make a career of the military, decide early and go to one of the service academies. If you’re going to do it, you might as well do it right.

Avoid sales jobs. Most people can’t do them, even fewer can do them honorably. While you can support a family with some of them, you can’t do it reliably. And most sales jobs are very exploitative of the worker.

And if you want to be a movie star or a recording artist or a professional athlete, forget everything I’ve told you. You’re not ready for advice yet. You still need to beat your head against the wall for a while. Until you learn something about life.

Good luck with your choice. And remember that the decision you make at this stage of life will follow you as long as you live.

So be careful, and be wise. And think about being a cop. Or a teacher.


Commentator and talk show host. See boblonsberry.com.

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