Careers: Follow your heart or your brain


It’s a question we’ve all asked ourselves. It’s what our parents ask us constantly. It’s what our high school guidance counsellors asked us.

“What do you want to do in life?”

“I have no idea.”

Deciding which career path to take is something many students struggle with at some point before, during or after their post-secondary education.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, around 80 per cent of students in the United States change their major at least once.

It’s proof that most students struggle with the decision to pursue their passion or something more practical.

Sheridan Student Advisement coordinator Joanne Islip says she sees many students who either don’t know if they’re in the right program or are starting to contemplate switching to a different one.


“It’s not until you sometimes start a program that you start to learn more about yourself or about the courses and the program,” she says. “Sometimes for students they realize perhaps this wasn’t the right choice, and it is part of the learning, that is going to happen.”

Part of the reason why students experience this struggle is lack of knowledge, and not finding the right balance between their “real” and “ideal” career options.

Real is what kind of money the career offers and the opportunities available, whereas ideal is how well a career fits a student’s abilities, personality and values.

Some students go too far on the ideal and realize as they near graduation that their job prospects are slim. And some begin too real and end up not enjoying their job because they only pursued it for the money, says Neil Baldwin, a career counsellor at Sheridan College.

“If they’re willing to balance the two, and not look for perfection in both, then they’re probably more likely to find the opportunities they want,” he says.

Finding that balance can come in different forms, and that balance may come from someone pursuing a more “practical” career but following their passions on the side.

Pursuing your passion on the side

Al Quinn Alquinto, 24, a graduate of the Advertising and Marketing program at Sheridan, is currently working for an advertising company as an assistant broadcast buyer. Although he enjoys advertising, it wasn’t his No.1 career choice.

“I first wanted to do music. It was my main interest. But it wasn’t practical school-wise or in getting a full-time job,” he says.

Instead of completely abandoning his music, Alquinto is pursuing it on the side, writing songs and performing gigs with his band the River Groves. He admits that since he’s working full-time, he can’t dedicate as many hours as he’d like to his music. But Alquinto has managed to find his own balance and compromise.

His plan is to work in advertising to save up enough money so when the time is right, he can pursue his passion full-time.

Alquinto didn’t choose to study music in school, but in the end, he chose a program that he still enjoyed.

Baldwin stresses the importance of choosing a program or career that students like because they’ll be more successful in what they do.

“I believe it’s really important to do work that you’re interested in because if you’re not interested in it, no matter how much money you’ll make or how great the opportunities, are you going to be able to wake up each day and go do that if you’re bored by it?” he says.

The reality is that many students end up sacrificing either job prospects or pursuing their passion when choosing a career. But sometimes, if they’re lucky enough, both real and ideal match up.

When passion and money add up

Adhi Ashali always knew he wanted to go into healthcare.

The 25-year-old graduate of the Michener Institute of Applied Health Sciences now works as a Respiratory Therapist at McMaster Children’s Hospital.

His decision to apply to the Respiratory Therapist program was based partly on luck – it was the only program left open for application – and the good job opportunities.

“Healthcare was something I wanted to do for sure because of the job market. It appeared easier to get a job in the healthcare sector and more secure as well,” he says.

Healthcare is Ashali’s passion and he doesn’t see himself working in any other field.

What are your options?

Many students aren’t as certain about their future as Ashali and ask themselves: Which path should I take?

Alquinto says students should always pursue something they love so they won’t live with regret. However, he emphasizes the importance of being realistic and visualizing a long-term goal.

“Before you put all your eggs in one basket, see what you can trade off. If you love writing philosophy articles, you can maybe study it or take a job while doing that on the side,” he says.

Ashali, on the other hand, thinks students should be practical first. He says they can always pursue what they really want to do after they start making some income.

“Doing something that you’re 100 per cent passionate about, but not earning you any income, would be good for the short-term, but would be at a higher risk of failure in the long run,” he says. “Think of the future realistically. Don’t sacrifice your long-term future for short-term happiness.”

Ultimately, it all depends on the student’s personality, values, interests and abilities, says Baldwin.

“I believe it’s really important to do work that you’re interested in because if you’re not interested in it, no matter how much money you’ll make or how great the opportunities, are you going to be able to wake up each day and go do that if you’re bored by it?” — Neil Baldwin, career counsellor at Sheridan College.

Some students are fine with forgoing their passions for a more practical career while some can’t see themselves doing anything other than what they love.

“Life is always a degree of trade off and it’s really just finding a trade off you’re comfortable with,” says Baldwin.

Islip says students should seek help if they are facing this struggle.

“Each situation is unique, so sometimes sitting down with an advisor or counsellor to sort out all the ideas you have in your mind is a good starting point,” she says.

Making big life decisions for the future is always tough.

But now when people ask us, “What do you want to do in life?”

We can confidently say, “I have an idea.”


Additional Resources

Neil Baldwin, career counsellor at Sheridan, developed a website called Idea Generator that helps prospective and current students make a career decision by looking at their skills, interests and abilities and what they’re passionate about. The website is based on a well-established career-counselling framework that’s been around since the 1970s. There are six different themes: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising and conventional.

Once students take the quiz and know which theme, or themes, they fall under, a list of programs at Sheridan that match their theme will appear. From here, students can click on a program and look at job titles, wages, working conditions and career path. This allows students to have an idea of what types of jobs they will have if they apply to a certain program.

Even though Idea Generator is a great tool for current students considering a program change, the website was originally for prospective students.

“This way, they can find out about good program fits for them and learn about the outcomes of programs even before they apply,” says Baldwin.