This question is a particular favourite of relatives with moustaches, (and yes, they include aunts) at family gatherings.
But knowing what you want to do is not easy. Very few people feel any kind of certainty about their future profession when they are still young. Even though you might have announced proudly when you were five that you wanted to be a be a fireman or a ballerina, you may very likely have changed your mind in between.
So how on earth does one decide what you want to do one day?
Think of the things you enjoy. If you really enjoy one or two subjects at school, investigate which professions they could lead to. In any particular field there is a wide variety of possibilities. If you really like music of any description, you could, for example, become a DJ, a rock musician, play in a symphony orchestra, work for a radio station or become a sound engineer. Bottom line, is that if you can find a way to make a living from something about which you are passionate, you are likely to be happy in your work.
Think of the things you can do. Be realistic. Each person has different talents – choose one where your talents are an asset. Certain professions have specific requirements: there are no jockeys that weigh 102 kgs, or rocket scientists with average IQs, or ramp models that are short, or actors that are really shy and retiring. Choose something where you fit the bill, otherwise you are only setting yourself up for a series of disappointments.
See a career guidance counsellor. These people are trained to help you choose a profession, and they should also be able to give you information about different courses available. Aptitude tests can also point you in the right direction. Guidance counsellors can also give you information about careers you might not even have known about, like food styling, horticulture, adventure sports coach or furniture restoration.
Think of your financial requirements. What sort of lifestyle do you want to have? If the jetset lifestyle is important to you, you might have to get qualified in something that is difficult, such as chartered accounting. If you are looking for something that will pay the bills, but it's more important to you to feel that you're assisting others than to have wads of cash, you could settle for the helping professions.
Think of where your chosen profession is practiced. If you want to be a mining engineer, you are not going to find a job in Cape Town or Port Elizabeth. If you like city nightlife, farm manager is not going to cut it for you. Similarly, most journalists are centered around the big towns and cities. Professions such as teaching, law, nursing, computers and business will take you more or less anywhere – from small town to pulsing metropolis.
What sort of training is involved? This is important as, training costs money. If you can get qualified to do something in six months with which you can earn a decent living, why study for six years and run up a student debt of thousands? Studying is expensive and if your parents are unable to pay your fees, consider the shorter courses.
What does this person do every day? It's all very well to say you want to be a veterinary assistant, but have you got any idea what this person's daily task consists of? It is always a good idea to spend a day 'workshadowing' someone just to get an idea of what it's like. You might have unrealistic expectations or glamourised notions with regards to what a policeman, or a web designer or an art restorer or a restaurant manager does every day.
Take a look at what's needed in the country. There is little point in becoming a teacher or an architect, or whatever, if they are being retrenched left, right and centre. Choose a profession for which there is a demand in the country at the time you have to make a choice. So whether you want to become a church minister, an events organiser, a builder or a psychologist – take a look at where there is a shortage. If you don't do this, you might very well have difficulty finding a job.
Choose a profession that travels. With the exchange rates being what they are, many young people are going overseas to work for a few years to get some capital together and also to pay off huge student loans. Many teachers and nurses are doing short stints overseas to fill their coffers. Check whether your chosen profession's training is internationally recognised.
Don't be pressurised by parental dreams. If your mom always wanted to be an engineer, but never got round to it, don't feel obliged to fulfill her dreams for her. You don't want to be stuck in a profession you don't enjoy, decades after the people you tried to make happy are dead and gone. And even if they're still very much alive, surely they would rather see you happy than frustrated?
(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated June 2010)