I have worked in a number of demanding jobs throughout my life. The experiences I’ve had should help anyone making a career decision take the right path.
The first job category is physically demanding, repetitive labor. The only reason you should consider this sort of job is if you need the money urgently. You might think (as did I) that taking a job that requires little mental energy could be a good idea so that when you arn’t working you can put all your energy into a side project. Unfortunately, energy levels don’t work like that. When you get home from a physical job, your body is so exhausted it tells your brain that “work time” is over and it’s extremely difficult to fight the urge to rest. Especially, when you have to do the same demanding work the next day.
The second type of job involves high volume but repetitive tasks. This is a dangerous type of job as the busyness can fool you into thinking you are improving yourself and gaining new skills. These jobs are normally found in large corporations and can make you look successful to your family and friends, making them difficult to leave. The reality is that you will learn the skills you need to do the job in a couple of months and then any skills acquired after that are aimed at solving minor inefficiencies within your main role. If you come across new problems, you just escalate them to your boss or blame another department. This is the type of job you should probably take if you want to climb the corporate ladder to reach a mid-level manager role.
The final type of job involves solving interesting problems on a daily basis, requiring you to pick up new skills as required. The job will be stressful but unlike the jobs in category two, it’s the good kind of stress. It’s the kind of stress generated when you are expending mental energy to pick up a new skill or learning to think in a different way. Programming is a good example of this type of job-especially in smaller companies. You get given a task to build something and it’s your responsibility to learn the skills required to execute. Once you successfully acquire one skill, you can begin a new one. The idea is you are getting paid to learn new skills and as you are learning more, the knowledge is compounding and you are becoming more accomplished, valuable and fulfilled within your work. I believe this is the type of job you want. Of course not everyone can/wants to be a programmer but the same can be applied in other fields. A good rule of thumb is to figure out whether you are getting paid to solve new problems (which hence acquiring new skills) or if you are getting paid to perform the same repetitive tasks daily.