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Kevin Tokar, who quit his job as a sound editor for TV documentaries after realizing he made the wrong career choice, is photographed in Winnipeg Thursday, November 6, 2008. (John Woods)
Kevin Tokar, who quit his job as a sound editor for TV documentaries after realizing he made the wrong career choice, is photographed in Winnipeg Thursday, November 6, 2008. (John Woods)

Work satisfaction

Did you make the right career choice? Add to ...

Kevin Tokar's light bulb went off in the darkened confines of a television editing suite.

After four years of working as a sound editor for TV documentaries, he watched as yet another set of images flickered across his screen. But this time, he suddenly realized he was more interested in the stories on the screen than in his job of perfecting the sounds that accompanied them.

"I found myself wanting to be more involved with the people, places and problems presented on the screen in front of me than I could ever be from my comfy chair behind the sound mixing board," Mr. Tokar recalls.

It wasn't the first such twinge he had felt. Mr. Tokar often found his mind wandering on the job. And as he looked around, he couldn't help but notice colleagues were far more passionate about sound editing than he was. Moreover, he felt the job was far more technical, and far less creative or people-oriented, than he wanted in work.

Truth is, it had probably been the wrong job for him all along.

"I don't think I had outgrown that career. It wasn't really [ever]suited to what interested me," he reflects.

Mr. Tokar isn't the only person to look back and realize he or she had made the wrong career choice. More than one in 10 - 12 per cent - of Canadians figure they "definitely chose the wrong career," and another 24 per cent are "not sure" they made the right pick, according to a survey last year of 11,000 Canadians by temp agency Kelly Services Inc. That amounts to more than a third of Canadians not really being happy with the career they selected.

The figures are even higher in other parts of the world, where up to half of those asked figured they'd picked the wrong career, according to Kelly's global survey, which polled about 115,000 people in 33 countries.

In another more recent survey, 56 per cent of more than 2,100 U.S. workers polled by Adecco Group North America said they would pick a different career if they could choose all over again.

In this day and age, with so much career information available, why do so many people still continue to choose the wrong career? The reasons are many.

Blame the parents, for one. Since most people make their key career choice during high school or postsecondary studies, parental pressure plays an early and key role, says Jacquie Latham, the Midland, Ont.-based president of the Ontario School Counsellors Association (OSCA) .

Some just blindly follow in their parents' career footsteps. "Family and friends are large influences on anybody. So some students still have [the idea] 'My dad's a doctor or a lawyer, so I need to do that,' " Ms. Latham says.

Others succumb to what their parents think they should do, says Cecile Peterkin, president of Cosmic Coaching of Toronto.

Some enter a career that's not a good fit just to pay their bills or student loans, thinking they'll get into what they really want to do later. But once they get pay raises or promoted, "that two years [of temporary work in the wrong career]stretches into five or 10 years," Ms. Peterkin says.

"The older you get, the more you realize this is not the career [you]wanted to get into."

Some choose the wrong career based on their desire for social status or prestige, rather than playing to their own interests and skills, adds Maureen McCann, a career strategist who runs Ottawa-based ProMotion Career Solutions. "A lot of people feel that you are what you do. They think: 'If I'm not a financial adviser but a childcare worker instead, then for some reason that's not as valid.' "

Media images also factor in. Glamorizing some professions also steers people toward careers that don't really suit their personalities or abilities, says Lisa Nerman, an employment counsellor with the Women in Successful Employment (WISE) program, a career-resource service run by the non-profit agency JVS Toronto.

Mr. Tokar figures his ill-advised choice came out of pressure he felt to make a quick career pick right after finishing his BA degree.

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