How did I choose my career? I explored 16 alternatives
“Your devotion to passion will ultimately light up the way.”
Looking back, I consciously and unconsciously explored 16 career alternatives. I am thankful that my parents allow me space for exploration.
Let me share my story at the 6-year mark of my career.ヾ(*´▽’*)ﾉ
I once saw a Venn diagram for the concept ikigai. The intersection of four circles is the ideal career. It roughly means the purpose of life in Japanese. I thought it was an interesting framework for a career.
1. Fashion design.
Around 4–5 yo to Grade 9
I grow up seeing glamour fashion shots in a magazine called ELLE. Later on, I realized that the fashion curriculum in college wasn’t as interesting as fashion shows; I seem to be more interested in critiquing clothes than creating them; my parents thought competition in this industry is extremely unfair.
Around 5–6 yo to Grade 4
I also read a magazine called “Little Copernicus”. It got me interesting in the universe, space, planets, etc. I wanted to study astrophysics. Not going to space myself, but study it. As I grow up, I forgot about this.
3. Transportation design
Around Grade 3–4
I also read a magazine about cars. As a little girl, I can name all the makes and models of all the cars on the street. I was curious about designing them. As I grow up I forgot about designing cars.
4. Flight attendant
Around Grade 4
After I took a plane for the first time, I thought it’ll be super cool to be a flight attendant. They fly every day in nice uniforms. I didn’t think my body figure and facial features are as nice as other flight attendants, I also got nearsighted. I didn’t pursue this further.
Around Grade 4–5
When I first learned to play the piano at the age of four, I thought pianists were so cool. However, at that same time, I experienced more pain than fun with it.
6. F1 driver
Around Grade 7
I became interested in F1 around Grade 7. I thought I could be a driver one day. However, I didn’t really know where can I do the go-kart, and I forgot about this idea.
Around Grade 7 to 12
At a certain point, my interest shifted from fashion design to architecture. I wanted to pursue architecture all the way until the college entrance examination. I have always been interested in cities, public spaces, etc. I didn’t end up in my dream school; my parents also think there is significant gender bias in the construction industry.
8. Industrial design
Since around Grand 9
I ended up in industrial design, an adjacent discipline to architecture. I seemed gifted in my field. I study 10 hours a day without feeling tired. I noticed that I am not great at designing forms. I enjoy doing research and strategy, and I am good at storytelling. I decided to pursue design research and service design in graduate school.
9. Mechanical engineering
Around freshman year
I took classes like AutoCAD and engineering mechanics. My mom’s company was looking for mechanical engineers and we seriously discussed this potential career path. I could do it but I chose not to do it.
10. Graphic design
Around sophomore and junior year
The workload for an industrial design major is very heavy. It’s like you need to first complete the assignment for 3D design, then do another one as a graphic design major. I was very interested in typography and poster design. However, some graphic design friends and my college bestie were so gifted that their 5-min work is better than what I get after a half-day struggle. I think I’ll let them do it.
Around freshman and sophomore year
Photography was popular among college kids. I was lucky enough to own a DSLR. I was very creative with ideas and storytelling. I think I understand enough about techniques and composition, but there’s no particular subject that I want to continue to shoot. I’ll appreciate nice work from others.
This was one of the photos from my final assignment. I decided to talk about my experience going to a new city from getting lost to thriving. This is one of the photos in the first chapter to express the feeling of being overwhelmed.
12. Furniture design
Around sophomore year
Contemporary Chinese furniture was so cool. Check out brands like Fnji, Banmoo, and Shang Xia. Objectively speaking, our school didn’t provide us with enough hands-on opportunities. Now that I think about it, I’m probably more interested in owning a piece than to create one.
Around sophomore and junior year
I went to many exhibitions during college. I volunteered at the Kenya Hara exhibition and Shanghai Contemporary Art Museum. I thought it was very interesting to tell stories and design exhibition paths. However, realistically speaking, the income isn’t enough for my living standard, and my interest in curation isn’t enough to tolerate that.
I was able to get a signature from Kenya Hara (top) and Zhu’E who translated his book Design in Design.
Around sophomore and junior year
I am gifted in languages. I took lessons and briefly explored translation as a profession. In Shanghai, around 2013, the average pay for written translation is 100–200 CNY per thousand Chinese characters. Simultaneous interpretation is 500–800 CNY per hour. Consecutive interpretation is 1000–2000 CNY per day. To put it into perspective, one Starbucks grande latte is about 23 CNY at that time. I thought the income is not good enough and I don’t prefer to work on weekends. The most important thing is that I could sell things in English, why would I do the interpretation for others?
15. Service design
Senior year in college and first year in graduate school
Starting out, I thought I would draft a magnificent service blueprint. After collaborating with a hospital on a project, I started to understand real-life constraints. There are also significantly fewer job openings in service design compared with industrial design and interaction design.
Second-year in graduate school
I geeked out on my thesis. So much that I thought about doing a PhD if I couldn’t find a job. Part of it is afraid of failure, to be honest. Then I thought I don’t love foundational design research so much that I want to spend 5 years on it. I also doubt how useful the research insights would be. I might as well join the industry.
I went to interaction design.
Many touchpoints of service design land on digital products. They enjoy the immediacy of this digital medium, and there are plenty of job opportunities, I think logically and meticulously, my graphic design skills are good enough, and the culture and compensation in this industry are good.
I landed a job in enterprise software design and I’ve been happy with this industry.
If I compare my own experience with that Ikigai diagram, I think it was a pretty good way to summarize it.