There is a myth promoted by career advisors, teachers and the media that choosing a career is a milestone in our lives from which are two outcomes. First, the choice leads to a planned, sequential ordering of events that are typically given the name ‘career’.
The second outcome is the assumption that once the choice is made, it is final.
In reality, careers are frequently not such neat, planned events. Chance, opportunity and circumstances play a vital role, such that the resultant career may be no more than a rationalisation of unrelated events. Second, there are an increasing number of people for whom the idea of a final choice is ludicrous. Many men and women, especially in large organisations, have two or three careers in the space of their working lives and, indeed, continue to ‘work’ in their retirement.
So, how do people make choices?
From the early teen years on, people are pressured to decide what they want to be ‘when they grow up’. This is probably the worst time to ask that question.
The teenager is taking examinations, relating to his or her peer group, falling in love, separating him/herself psychologically from parents. So much is happening that it is unfortunate that the education system chooses this time to ask the question: ‘what do you want to be?’
It is perfectly normal not to know; the best advice is to keep your options open.
What is ironic is that for many people the field or area they decide to study (economics, business, geography, drama, calligraphy, etc.) is almost irrelevant to their subsequent career. This is demonstrated in those advertisements from multinational firms seeking graduates. The actual subject studied is invariably given little attention by recruiters. However, the graduate’s activities at college, polytechnic or university, the standing of the institution and the grade of the qualification are accorded far more importance.
It is only in professions like medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, where specific knowledge is required. And even the, many of these graduates end up leaving that profession, probably because the decision was taken too early in their lives, often to satisfy the aspirations of parents.
Most individuals drift towards a so-called career. Learning more and more about themselves, their goals, their abilities, their interests and their values, they interact with others and begin to have experiences of the world of work.
It is not surprising to learn that the most dissatisfied employees are in their 20s. Drifting uncomfortably towards a career, establishing and breaking off emotional partnerships in their private lives, and employed in what they often consider boring jobs, are all states conducive to high levels of dissatisfaction.
This is aggravated by the quite unrealistic expectations many people develop as a result of a media industry which presents the mythical opposite. Good television is based on beautiful people who make successful career choices, have harmonious relationships and endlessly riveting jobs. The drifting individual perceives him/herself as a failure.
By the mid to late 20’s, most individuals will have begun to link their abilities, goals, values, interests, to industries, organisations and jobs. A semblance of ‘fit’ will have emerged from the fog. Others may return to education to start again.
Business Schools depend on this section of the population which takes a year or two out of work to sort out the fit between themselves and jobs. A minority continues to drift uncomfortably into their 30’s, often spending more and more money with career consultants in the hope than an obvious choice will emerge.
There is no easy answer – it is a process of experience and elimination. The moment of brilliant inspiration is certainly a myth.
Hoping that a career counsellor will have “the answer” is also dangerous. By all means, ask the counsellor to help you link your goals, values, abilities, etc. to jobs, but the decision must eventually by yours.
How do you know you are getting there?
– You begin to accept what and who you are,
– What your Abilities, Skills, Goals, Values, etc. Are.
– You move towards maturity, you stop trying to be things you are not.
This is the most important stage in the process.
Choosing a career label (Manager, Salesperson, Consultant..) is not.
– You begin to move towards a career label without feeling uncomfortable.
– You find yourself reading avidly about that field of work.
– You begin to seek out others in that field.
– You seek out training courses or examinations necessary for admission to that field.
– You can see the logic of your answer, the link between goals, values, skills, etc.
– You feel comfortable about the industry/service, produce, organisation and your place in it.
This merging of experience and understanding of yourself is the process. You will find yourself moving towards the choice with increasing enthusiasm. One day, you will wake up and say, ‘I am a….’, and not feel at all strange or uncomfortable.
For a minority, this is a continuing process.
Some highly autonomous polymaths drift from one label to another throughout their lives, and feel quite relaxed about it. For most people, this long-term drifting is too uncertain, and they settle, by their 30’s, for a label around which their career is focused.