The Paradox Of Career Choice | Job and Internship Advice, Companies to Work for and More

The big question

When I started mentoring students, I thought it was just a coincidence that the students I met were accidentally swallowed up by that troubling question. As more and more students shared the same concerns with me, I have noticed that people with very different personalities and backgrounds grapple with the same question. It can not be a coincidence. Instead, the mind of the thinking, feeling, and growing young person is naturally drawn to the basic question: What is the direction of my life?

This question is expressed in different ways:

  • Which college major should I choose?
  • What profession should I enter?
  • What will I do after college?
  • How will I look in ten years?

The sense of freedom and independence that accompanies our arrival at college is not the only feeling that comes with us. In the back seat sits another feeling – a sense of worry about finding out what I’m going to do with my life.

I want to share with you the most effective approach to answering this question. Getting the answer will make the college experience (and life!) Much more valuable and enjoyable.

Looking for personal career advice? Click here contact me.

The crucial choice

When I visit New York, I like to take my favorite collectible item: the silly little New York Yankees dolls, with their dangling heads attached to their bodies with a spring (the ones taxi drivers like to put on their dashboard), known as “Bubbleheads.” As the car moves, the head bounces around in response to the car’s bumps and bumps. For many, this doll encompasses the college experience, in which we randomly jump between lessons, trends and career options, our heads constantly moving in response to the many thoughts, possibilities and opinions that distract us.

I remember the moment I received the course catalog during my first year of college orientation. I perused the catalog feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of options. I enrolled in a liberal arts program that was supposed to “empower” me in life, but instead I felt desperate, not knowing what to choose.

Barry Schwartz, author of The paradox of choice, Describes one of the ultimate dilemmas in life: a huge amount of possibilities. The primary measure of freedom can be quantified in terms of a person’s ability to choose. That is, freedom is measured by the degree of a person’s freedom to choose. In today’s world, people in free countries have more options than ever before in human history. From the variety of products found at the local grocery store to the tremendous career choice opportunities, the world has never been a place of such equal options.

However, today’s world surpasses the rest of history in another area: our sense of general well-being has never been lower. Depression today is ten times more common than it was in the 1960s, and it affects at a much younger age. Nearly seventy years ago in America, the average age for an initial onset of depression was 29.5. Today the average age for an initial outbreak is 14.5. Issues of low self-esteem have never raged. In America, the leading type of prescription drug is the antidepressant drug. Divorce rates are higher than ever. Domestic violence, acts of aggression and unwanted pregnancies are at an all-time high. The list goes on and on.

What is the cause of the phenomenon? Why while most of the world’s population experiences an unprecedented level of freedom, universal welfare metrics have never been so low?

Freedom of choice is essential to a life of happiness, but too many choices to choose tends to lead to poor decision making, anxiety, stress and dissatisfaction.1 The time and energy invested in examining and pursuing multiple options undermines our overall freedom and well-being.

While the idea may seem counterintuitive, restricting choice can be the thing that produces the ultimate freedom and well-being in life.2

College students

One significant factor contributing to this phenomenon applies to the vast majority of students, and is one that every student must deal with: lack of direction. The abundance of possibilities outside makes it difficult to find my direction here, inside me.

Every time I talk to students, I find that most of them feel paralyzed, overwhelmed and eaten up by the myriad of options available to them. They tell me that if they could somehow eliminate many of the options, it would be much easier for them to choose.


But how do we limit our possibilities and thus increase our happiness and well-being?

The answer is that within each of us is a compass that points us in the right direction. Let’s call it ours Internal compass. This inner compass can filter out the possibilities that are irrelevant to our lives and give us clarity in every decision we have to make. How exactly does this internal compass achieve this? Just as the Earth’s magnetic force causes a compass needle to point north, my strengths direct me to options that best suit me, and help me navigate all the major choices in life, especially my career choice.

A life of true greatness and happiness is achieved only when I can understand how to make the choices that suit my essential self.

College is, for many, the first true taste of freedom and individual expression. The experience will be much stronger and more effective in establishing the foundation for future success and well-being if the student formulates a clear and confident vision of how to spend his years in college.

Natural intensities

All living things share the tendency to grow, evolve and realize their potential, including humans. Within each of us there is a kind of inner compass that guides us on the paths that lead us toward becoming the best we can be. This inner compass gives us a sense of what is right for ourselves. To the extent that we act according to His instructions, we are able to live authentically, in harmony with our unique and individual selves. Our strengths represent our fit with this inner compass. Our personal combinations of interests, natural abilities and preferences mark them. It is when we use them in our lives that we feel most authentic, full of energy and satisfied, confident that we are who we were meant to be. Every person’s greatest potential for growth is in his or her greatest strength.

What happens when people act from their strengths? They are more efficient and more served. In the workplace, where we spend so much of our lives and where our strengths can be so clearly expressed, employees are six times more likely to be involved in their job when their job requires them to use their strengths.3

Gallup’s research suggests that people who do not work from their strengths at work tend to:

  • Afraid to go to work
  • There are more negative than positive interactions with co-workers
  • Treat customers badly
  • Tell friends they work for a poor organization
  • Achieve less on a daily basis
  • There are fewer positive and creative moments.4

When we live our lives according to our strengths, we thrive. We are happy, energetic, relaxed, and celebrating our many successes. There are various reasons why so many people do not live according to their strengths. One of the main reasons, and the one I hear most often from students, is this They just do not know their strengths. They lack the awareness, sensitivity and self-knowledge required to identify their unique abilities and character traits.

How to discover your natural benefits

Some people are endowed with deep clarity about who they are, and their strengths are clear to them. Most people, however, need little or no help in discovering their true areas of power. A good mentor, friend or coach (and a parent can be any of those!) Can help. There are also valuable resources available that can help us find our strengths:

  • VIA Institute on Character ( Offers the VIA survey for free, a scientifically verified strength assessment for adults. Detailed reports provide strategies on how to use your strengths at work, at school and in relationships.
  • The Clifton StrengthsFinder (, The culmination of more than 50 years of Dr. Donald O. Clifton’s work, has led millions of people around the world to discover their strengths.
  • The best reflected self-exercise ( Allows people to identify their unique strengths and talents. Each participant seeks positive feedback from significant people in his or her life and then synthesizes it into a cumulative portrait of his or her “best self”.


The decisions we have to make upon entering college can be fascinating. The course catalog is hundreds of pages long, flooding us with confusion, uncertainty, anxiety. How will I choose my trend and my career path, with so many paths ahead of me? If I choose one path, I automatically reject hundreds of others, and maybe one of those hundreds is the right path for me! How can I feel confident that I am making the right choice?

With a little detective work on myself, I can discover the innate strengths that empower me, and make wise decisions based on them. Personal discussions, online resources and seeking the guidance of a college or career counselor are effective ways not only to choose a career but to discover the strengths within me that will be the guiding light for all major decisions in life.

Dr. Joseph Lynn is the Dean of Students at the Dr. David Robinson Institute for Jewish Heritage. He is also a writer, career discovery coach, associate professor of positive psychology, and the founder and director of Greatness Within Seminars. He holds a Ph.D. in Human and Organizational Psychology (PsyD) from Toro and received a Master of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) from the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied with the founder of the field of Positive Psychology, Dr. Martin EP Seligman.

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Concluding remarks

  1. Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: why more is less. New York: Eco.
  2. Schwartz, B. (2000). Self-definition: tyranny of freedom. American Psychologist, 55(1), 79-88.
  3. Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York: Gallup Publishing, p. 12.
  4. Ibid., P. 12.


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