Whats a good career for an idealist?

Hi. I just graduated high school, and I’m undecided and that’s why I decided to go to community college. I’ve always thought about becoming a teacher but I’m unsure if that would be right for me or if I should pursue a career in the health field like a physician assistant. I’m a romantic at heart and I just really wish I could just be pragmatic. It’s a blessing and a curse I’m too idealistic and that’s why I think I have such a hard time finding a career.

24 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    You’re right that idealism does not lend itself well to a career. Because people don’t get paid to be idealistic. But the good news is that not everyone needs a career.

    There are some people who are born to have a career and we would never suggest that they stay home and take care of a family.

    And there are some people who are born to take care of a family so why do we think they should also have a career?

    All people who have children together are mutually dependent on each other – whether they take care of children or earn money. Neither could have the family without the other.

    So maybe don’t worry so much about a career and plan a life to do what you really want to do.

    Here are a couple of blog posts to read on this topic:




  2. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Hi, Penelope gave similar advice to idealists in Mailbag, but she included other tips as well:

    “So you can get any job, as long as it pays the bills, and tell yourself it’s temporary.”


    “If you don’t want to sell your soul then you can’t keep that salary.”


    “I think you can do good wherever you are in the world. So you may as well find opportunities for growth and financial success.”


    “But you are a person who has high emotional needs -you need to be connected to people and helping them and you need to be someone keeping order.”


    “You can do any job, to pay the bills, and then do meaningful work after work.”


  3. Terese Hilliard
    Terese Hilliard says:

    Idealism DOES lend itself very well to a career. Just do a quick google search and you will find MANY carriers specifically geared toward idealism. A local museum called Imagine Museum in my community is advertising for a retail manager to lead and develop staff. Idealistic lawyers have steadily pushed legislation and enboldened the justice system (Christian Science Monitor). John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Sally Ride, Princess Diana, the teachers I had in High School, they all were idealists and they moved the world. The Free Dictionary defines idealistic as of high moral or intellectual value; elevated in nature or style; “an exalted ideal”; “argue in terms of high-flown ideals”- Oliver Franks; “a noble and lofty concept”; “a grand purpose” “. People who are idealists are the ones who DO TEACH children; as a matter of fact they are the kind of teachers that inspire and encourage those who cannot see their own potential. DO NOT EVER stop being an idealist and believing that you can accomplish many wonderful things. Being a parent and raising children can be a fantastic way to bring your optimism and forward thinking into the world. Don’t limit yourself – go out and do as much as you can and want to do. We need more optimists and visionaries at this time in the world. Go out and make your life and your fabulous career everything you can imagine it can be.

    • LisaP
      LisaP says:

      “A local museum called Imagine Museum in my community is advertising for a retail manager to lead and develop staff.”

      You don’t seem to understand the letter writer’s real problem, which isn’t that she can’t find enough cool-sounding jobs. But that her romantic ideals are getting in the way of the reality of actually pursuing or working in them. So you’re not really helping.

      • LisaP
        LisaP says:

        ….and Penelope is of course right that you don’t get paid to be idealistic. Even at the “Imagine Museum”. Try going to a job interview for the retail manager and convince them to hire you on the basis of how much you value imagination. They’ll say, “That’s great, but do you have any management experience?”

  4. Tina
    Tina says:

    I feel like the failure of Penelope’s advice is that it makes certain assumptions and does not meet the writer where she is in life. This is why Penelope always gives the same types of advice and even she said she’s getting sick of her own advice.

    P — you need to evolve.

    From the letter, it does not sound as if the letter writer is married or in a serious relationship. What is she to do until she meets this “prince charming” when she can stay home and raise babies?

    I agree that most women don’t want to go back to work when the kids are little, but when we consider the economic trends with a shrinking middle class, where can all of these women find a spouse who can earn enough money to both maintain a reasonable living standard and for one spouse to not have to work?

    And I get that it’s all about choices. We all have the ability to build a good life for ourselves. HOWEVER, you shouldn’t blindly follow someone’s advice if it’s not a good fit for you, your life and your family.

    So, to the letter writer, if you don’t know what to do, just pick something you are interested in that doesn’t require a ton of expensive schooling and do it. Spend as long as you need to at the job to figure out what you like and what you don’t. Once you’ve gotten some experience, look for a job that has more of what you like and less of what you don’t. No job is perfect, so you have to accept that there will always be things that you don’t like.

    It’s also important to look for a life partner, especially if you want kids. It would be better if you could find someone who is a hard worker and more ambitious. Try to think about not only who s/he is now, but the traits you want later on down the road. If you end up with someone who earns more money, then it will be great because you will have more options and flexibility if you want to take time off with the kids.

    But as we all know, life doesn’t always end up the way we expect. So make the best of where you are.

  5. Melissa Davies
    Melissa Davies says:

    “What is she to do until she meets this ‘prince charming’ when she can stay home and raise babies?”

    “where can all of these women find a spouse who can earn enough money to both maintain a reasonable living standard and for one spouse to not have to work?”

    It’s all there in your comment. That’s why Penelope has advised the OP to pursue a stable, rewarding relationship as if it’s her job. Because it is work. It’s enough work that it doesn’t leave much time or energy for climbing a corporate ladder. And it’s probably work that she will find much more satisfying than contorting her values for a dubious career trajectory.

    It’s not always easy for someone who has a strong idealist and romantic streak to just accept that there are parts of the job that they won’t like. I had a coworker (and friend) like that and she pretty much had a nervous breakdown because of the internal mismatch. It’s almost like telling someone with depression to “snap out of it”.

    • madeleine
      madeleine says:

      I did this (and found my prince charming – an INFP who makes very good money and is happy to support us) and I did treat it like work: prioritised dating above all else, including my job, went on so many dates and so often that I didn’t see my friends for 5 weeks at a time, and got so good at dating that I could almost guarantee they’d want to see me again. It’s doable, it’s fast (I met my guy within 2 weeks of this dating regimen) but you do need to prioritise it.

  6. jessica
    jessica says:

    17/18/19 is a perfect time to be confused about what you’re doing in life.

    I don’t think you need a job, right now (do you?). You are in community college. Make really good grades there, volunteer, take on a hobby or sport. Apply for a top school to finish your degree. Find a spouse at the top school. There is some idealism (great spouse) in this trajectory that is more realistic with your situation.

    Career is a secondary situation for you.

  7. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I notice how Penelope often emphasizes that both spouses are always dependent. It’s true but the way she writes about it makes me sense dependence as an idea has some deeper significance for her.
    At any rate, ther best career/life advice I would give any young woman is: you’re so pretty even though you don’t know it!

  8. Joyce
    Joyce says:

    Is the career advice different if the idealist was a man?
    Is it necessary for idealistic men to become pragmatic?

    • Cáit
      Cáit says:

      Men have to be pragmatic if they want to support a wife and children. Confirmed bachelors can float around the world dreaming..

      • Elizabeth
        Elizabeth says:

        That’s the type I tend to be attracted to. Great for relationships, not so good for raising a family. Since I’m child-free, it’s not a problem.

  9. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    While you are at community college, go take a career test. Maybe something interesting will come back, you can do some research, and if you want to pursue that then at least you can put a roadmap together.

    You are young. Try lots of things like life is a buffet. Meet interesting people. Travel. Doesn’t sound like you are really being pressured into anything, so why are you creating pressure on yourself?

  10. J.E.
    J.E. says:

    P’s advice seems to be that if you don’t know what you want to do right away then it means you aren’t meant for a career and to stay home and raise kids. She also seems to have negative views of any job that doesn’t pay tons of money like non profits or other “do gooder” jobs. Some of us don’t want kids. We just want a job that pays enough for a decent life and not dread going to work each day. We aren’t trying to be millionaires or constantly climb the ladder, in fact, we’re happy to stay worker bees. We’re looking for a way to go be our best worker bee selves. Maybe I’m projecting, but there are times I feel that P’s advice and site isn’t for me because I’m not trying to be some hot shot rock star at work. I have no desire for that, but I also don’t have a desire to have kids and stay home.

    To the original poster, talk to people who have jobs that sound interesting and find out what it’s like. Ask about the parts of their jobs that they don’t like and if those negatives would be deal breakers for you. Find out what a typical day is like for them. Also, ask what kind of training/schooling they needed. Maybe even see if you could shadow someone at their job. Look into internships in areas that are of interest.

    • me
      me says:

      “… there are times I feel that P’s advice isn’t for me because I’m not trying to be some hot shot rock star at work [and]… don’t have a desire to have kids and stay home.”

      Yes. I have the same issue with P’s advice: What about us non-Type A, non-mother types?

      I’ve followed her blog for several years & find a lot of value here, but often dont feel I fit neatly into P’s targeted audience ….

  11. Mysticaltyger
    Mysticaltyger says:

    I sort of agree with P’s advice. I think the missing ingredient is that most people are going to need to live frugal lives to get what they really want. The Standard American Lifestyle isn’t frugal. One needs to combine Penelope’s career advice with Mr. Money Mustache’s frugality. Save and invest the difference. Then you won’t NEED a job/career to fund your life goals–or at least you’ll be much less dependent on one.


  12. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I’m in agreement with Penelope’s advice. I’ll add the following based on this sentence that you wrote – “I’m a romantic at heart and I just really wish I could just be pragmatic.” – I wouldn’t advise aspiring to be someone you aren’t. I think the best path is to discover who you are and your strengths. So it’s also in agreement with YesMyKidsAreSocialized’s advice to try many different things at this time in your life. You say you just graduated high school and you’re undecided. That’s the problem with school – they had you so busy doing things for them that you didn’t have time to figure out things you wanted to do for yourself. Maybe the best advice I can give is to be patient with yourself and believe in yourself because with time things will get sorted out and fall into place.

  13. Anon
    Anon says:

    Hi Penelope, I’m an INFP with notions I may have Asperger’s . I’ve a 13-year-old whose father I split up with. He was speaking to me but stopped. I haven’t heard from him in ten years. His parents were separated .Mine are not , my Father died recently. I’m in relationship now after a few bad experiences and being celibate for about 5 years. He is unusual .His Mother was from abroad, his parents married when they were older with no thoughts of children, yet he and his sister appeared. His Mother worked as a bookkeeper and had her own car which wasn’t the norm at the time. She separated from his Dad, he stayed with him, his sister went with her. He had no taboo about me being a single parent. He won’t go to anything he doesn’t want to including weddings. I don’t mind this , it gives me an excuse. I’m 35 and he is 42. The odds are there will won’t be anymore children.He likes having me around and so does my daughter . I buy most of the food, but he will pay if we go out to eat. He buys stuff for my daughter too but I cover most most things for her.
    I havn’t had a proper job in years.I recently did some seasonal work . I liked the briefness of it, the people were nice, the boss was very flexible as he needed us and paid us in a way that suited everyone.I felt good. I have some other tourism based income -which may change if a family member takes over.I was involved with a network marketing company. I joined because I like the people on my team and when people asked what I was doing I could just say that
    I had a lot of savings until my daughter was about 5. A bout of depression due to a few issue set me back and caused me to lose a job. I lived off my savings for a year. A job I applied for had Community Employment for those on welfare. I didn’t know any of this until I applied. It was in an Art Gallery and I was allowed receive two payments -CE wages and Lone Parent Allowance . They government has now decided both count as welfare so now you can only get one. Very few people want those jobs now as they only get a minimum top and you spend this on travelling to work.
    After another year off I had another CE job where I could drop and collect daughter from school (she likes it, she currently dislikes the idea of me trying to home-school her). I voluntarily help them there sometimes now. I like doing one off volunteering for a few hours. I feel I’m doing something , it’s not too long, its generally appreciated and I feel I’m giving back without being stuck doing the same thing day in , day out. They would have me back but most places I’ve worked have probably thought I was nice but thick. Same with friends. I’ve let lots of friendships drift. I think when people are around me they get used to me but when they’ve had a break from me they realise I don’t add much value . Other friends are more fun, make plans, are not scared to drive to unfamiliar places in case they get lost.
    I’ve written a few short pieces which have been published, dropped out of college , signed up for correspondence writing and proofreading course which don’t have deadlines, I’ve done some modules but should have finished years ago. I’ve taken classes in crochet , sewing, art , pottery, upcycling . And done nothing with them after when left to my own devices(or made things very badly). I’m afraid to sign up for anymore coaching or courses as I don’t take enough action based on them and I should be saving the money in case my old car doesn’t pass its next test or my daughter needs something. I’m afraid you would give out to me but my thin skin would take it the wrong way making it a waste. I have written this so badly -I should keep it as a first draft but if I do that I may never send it. My daughter is doing woodwork in the corner , with a Dancing with The Stars programme on in the background and occasionally talking to me. How do manage to write, make phone calls or do anything at all with everything going in the background??? I’m jealous you write well( I know you have an editor but still) and that you are not afraid to write in your own name about very personal topics. Is it even worth my while paying a few hundred euros to finally diagnosed( or not0 or do I just need to cop on and accept my life as it even if I wonder if there is any point to me at all.Thanks for reading .

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