A few months ago we took a look at the current state of affairs in the world of career education in the public school system. I will refrain from rehashing my well-intentioned rant and say only that the main conclusion is that young people need to take matters into their own hands when it comes to looking at possible careers for themselves.
In my experience, high school students, and often undergraduate students at the university level tend to experience a lot of anxiety around career planning. Instead of a addressing a looming issue, many students resort back to doing what they do best – procrastinating and justifying that procrastination. Many students will say things like:
“I can’t make a decision on my entire future right now, I have to find myself first.”
“I’m going to change careers a lot in my life anyway, I like adventure, so I don’t have to figure it out.”
“There are lots of things I can do with a BA + 42 extra credit hours of intro-level courses.”
“It’s just such a big decision, and I want to travel first even though I have student loans.”
“I need to watch the Steve Jobs at Princeton video again and then just follow his directions until I found the next Apple – after all, I have the sleeping on a dorm room floor part down already.”I don’t really understand this sort of outlook personally. While looking at careers can be confusing and intimidating, I tend to find exhilarating (even when I’m discussing it with someone else). I mean, there are so many options and opportunities!
What the aforementioned statements usually are at their root, are excuses. They are ways to put off making decisions or making your brain work a little bit. No one is saying that young people should have it all figured out at 16 and then execute this plan to perfection. Don’t pretend you believe that the only two options when it comes to looking at careers are:
1) Choose 1 plan/path and stick to it for eternity while it crushes your soul.
2) Blissfully just soak up knowledge and life experiences as they come at you until you create the next Apple or Pixar.
Instead, think about the various factors that should go into what you want to do for a career and don’t panic at the conclusion that initially these thoughts might be a little vague. Having a vague career plan and an even more vague Plan B, means that you are still miles ahead of someone who refuses to have a career plan at all. Considering what you might want to do in order to be a productive citizen shouldn’t feel like a cell door closing you in, it should look like a series of ladders or escalators that can all take you somewhere great if you take a little time to consider your options.
Just Follow Your Dreams and Stick Your Head In the Sand?
If you’re in high school think about what fields interest you and what fields you might have an aptitude in. BUT DON’T STOP THERE. This is what leads to way too many students saying they are going to become athletic trainers because they like their high school hockey team. Heck, most students have no idea about most careers that are actually out there, so take a little time at the local career fair to check out some things you had not considered before (there will be plenty of time to flirt with that guy/girl from another school that keeps checking you out). Pick a dozen possibilities or even just 2 or 3 sort of fields that you don’t think totally suck and consider them further. Chances are that there are opportunities out there that were unknown to you or job descriptions that greatly differ from what you initially thought you knew.
That Looks Suspiciously Like Homework…
After that, take a couple evenings and check out a few sites like Working In Canada to get a good idea of the pay scale that applies to some of these options as well as the relevant demand for them in the labour market. See, you were probably lied to repeatedly in life when people said that your pay cheque was largely determined by how smart you were, how hard you were willing to work, and if you had a university degree. This is all completely false. There is only one thing that determines most pay cheques and that is supply and demand. If there are a lot of people that can do your job to the same level you can and only a few positions out there (unless you’re a teacher, then all rules cease to apply) then you won’t get paid no matter how smart you are. Now admittedly, sometimes jobs like becoming a doctor require someone to be so smart and hardworking that there will likely never be a surplus of people who can meet those requirements, just understand that it isn’t because they’re smart in an abstract way that they are getting paid. They are getting paid because so few people have their knowledge and skills. If you want any confirmation of this check out the latest news on the demand for architects across Canada and the USA – and I generally think they’re fairly bright people as well!
It’s Better If Your Dream Is In Demand
So how do architects and doctors apply to you? Well, just because you think something might be fun to try, it’s not always the best idea to start working towards it if there are no jobs in that area. This is a harsh reality that a majority of teachers disagree with me on. Following your dreams and using that mindset to provide goals for yourself is a positive thing – but it’s much better if those dreams are shaped by an informed reality. If schools aren’t going to inform you of that reality than you have to inform yourself. Instead, consider something you might not have looked at before and enjoy the process of learning something new and enjoy security that comes with knowing the knowledge and skills you are building are in demand (and consequently will give you far more lifestyle options than blindly following a hunch right into a career brick wall).
In addition to thinking about fields that interest you, pay scales, and if there are any actual jobs available or not, there are a few other things that you might want to think about as you educate yourself on the subject of career paths:
- What schooling is needed? Am I up for that?
- What sort of lifestyle do I want? For example, am I willing to sacrifice a lot of leisure time in order to make more money or vice versa?
- Where do I want to live? Are these possible careers compatible with that? Am I willing to move to pursue that career?
- Could I be the absolute best in this career (people who are the absolute best at what they do are always in demand)?
- Do I want to travel a lot as part of my day-to-day life?
Enough Thinking – Start Executing Your Plans!
Once you answer a few of these questions the picture about what ultimately make you happiest in terms of a career should get a lot clearer. One book that I’ve recently read and couldn’t think more highly of is, “What Color Is Your Parachute? 2013: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers” by Richard N. Bolles. It goes into great detail about how to productively look inward about what might make you happiest in regards to your career, and then how to go about achieving that reality for yourself. If nothing else the section on interview tips alone is worth the price of admission.
Finally, when it comes to planning what you want to do for a living you have to take responsibility for yourself! I know that sounds really boring, really time-intensive, and way too much like something a stupid teacher would say, but it is absolutely true. Don’t be that person who drifts through life only enjoying 2/7ths of the week with no real goals or plan simply because you don’t want to be “trapped” into thinking about possible career opportunities.