I recently found myself in a time machine and travelled back to my last year of high school. There, I actually “found myself” and had a series of conversations with him—or rather me. We talked about finding the ideal career path.
Though my present self enjoys the career path that I have chosen, I wanted to give my past self some advice. Maybe it will cause some disruption in the time-space continuum and cause my present self to cease to exist.
Who knows? We’ll see. But bear with me as I tell this story. Here’s what me, myself, and I talked about in regards to seeking a career path out of school. (PS: We all agreed that these are things a student should begin to consider long before school is even done.)
Hey, Past Self. Do you know who you are?
Chances are you don’t. You don’t know half of what you need to know in life. I’m not going to tell you what happens, though. That’ll rob you of your chance to experience with wonder the amazing things you’ll do. Oh, the places you’ll go, and that sort of thing. But listen carefully.
Even though you don’t know who you are yet, you better start with outlining your values. What is valuable to you will guide you on your path. When you are lost and confused, you will need your values to reset you back in the direction of your goals.
I’m going to list a few values, but don’t stop here. List as many as you can think of. Then narrow them down to 5. Do this by comparing 2 similar values at a time and discarding the weaker ones. Once you’ve narrowed your list, then you can take a look at this skeleton, or template of who you are and who you want to be, and have a better idea of which career path you want to take.
Here’s that list from Art of Manliness by Brett McKay:
- Financial Security
- Peace of mind
Starting off this way, with a good idea of your values, will put you SO ahead of the game. You’ll be surprised at how many lost souls you’ll see in college.
Your values list will give you a lens with which to view important life decisions. Its purpose is to redirect your path, and even your relationships into becoming your best self.
Get this done, and I’ll see you again in a week.
Hey, Past Self. Thanks for taking a week to think about and define your values. Now here’s your next consideration. Whom do you admire? Whom do you aspire to be like? Who has given you valuable food for thought over the years?
List these people and rank them as to who you would like to be your mentors. Ask them questions about their life. How did they get to where they are now? What are the steps you need to take? Set aside time every week to talk to these people, even if only to have lunch with them.
Don’t be afraid. Most people generally want to help you. You have nothing to lose in asking for help, but everything (and clarity) to gain. Do this, and I’ll see you again later.
Hey, Past Self. I’m glad you found a mentor. Hopefully you talked to them weekly, addressed your values, bombarded them with questions. I want you to remember one thing, though. Your career is not the end all, be all of who you are. Your career must serve a purpose, and that is to fulfill your values.
Let’s just say that you plan to get married and have children. This will have an impact on how you pursue your career path. Although your hope is to raise a family, your focus needs to be on you during this formative time. It has to be on building the best “you” that you can possibly become.
For instance, if you value creativity and music and the arts, but plan to have a family later on, you had better practice incredibly hard. Accelerate your growth and play to your highest capacity right now. You won’t have time to excel later when you have other souls to care for. This translates to other disciplines as well.
Study hard and grow now, not when you have less time for self. At any rate, thanks for indulging me in this slight diversion.
Hey, Past Self. Document everything. You have term papers? File them away safely. You have projects that don’t fit in files? Either find a place to house them, or take snapshots and save them. If you don’t want to store things, like model houses or science volcano experiments, then take ample pictures or videos and store those in the cloud. Choose an online digital portfolio to centralize your documentation. Save EVERYTHING.
Not that you have to present everything in future interviews. It’s so that you have a database and warehouse to pull from. You’ll be writing resumes. Lots of them. Start compiling all your pertinent data now, and have a file on yourself, complete with dates of accomplishments. That means test scores as well. Keep an inventory of skills that you acquire over time.
You do not have to recreate the wheel for every resume that you have to write. We have this amazing thing nowadays called “cut and paste.” Bottom line, it’s your resume (you’ll see it called a CV sometimes) and your portfolio that will help you land jobs.
Hey, Past Self, does that give you enough to choose your path? I hope so.
Knowing where you’re going is half the story. And the ‘where’ is not so much your career path, as it is your values. I mean those things and qualities that you hold dear and wouldn’t sacrifice even if you had another person in your life. Or several.
Now, Past Self, I’m going to point you to a few websites that have exercises to help you in making the right decision.
This one I found extremely helpful, even for someone my age and experience: How to Decide on a Career (Even If You Don’t Know What You Want). The author of this blog, Annie Favreau, has some good points. Basically, there are 3 problems, or hurdles we have to overcome in choosing our career path. Here’s what she says they are, with my worldly and wise commentary (Ha!):
Not enough information
In my opinion, this drives every problem. You’ll see why when you read the next problem, because those problems are only extensions to this first problem.
At any rate, your head might be spinning, because you lack focus on where to begin. The solution? I agree with Ms. Favreau that research is the key. I want you to take 1 sacred hour every day to do some note-taking on careers. Use books, libraries, people; anything. Be a sponge. Don’t judge careers at this time. Just gather information. This information will help you with problem #2.
You don’t know what you want
Why? Because you don’t have enough information. See? Of course, my previous advice to get a mentor or a counselor still stands.
The blog author outlines some points you need to address in case you don’t find a mentor. Here they are:
1. What are you interested in? List those careers that interest you, which is what I told you to do when we talked about problem #1.
2. Do these careers have skills that you’re good at? I’m going to interject here. In the light of Growth Mindset, let’s rephrase—skills that you’d be interested in improving? I say this because your skill set now is nothing compared to what it can become later in life. In other words, don’t choose a career based on only what you can do now. This limits you. You will be able to do a whole lot more later in life.
3. Does the career fulfill the essentials? I’m going to be practical here and say money. And not just money, because money is only the means to an end, which is security and freedom.
So again, remember when I asked if raising a family is important to you? You’ll likely want to factor for this in the long run if your career choice will help you feed yourself (and others), clothe you (and others) and keep a roof over your head (and others), and take you (and others) to Disneyworld (or others) once in awhile.
Don’t stop at money, though, as being essential. Remember those values? Individual fulfillment, Those are also essential to your own well-being.
4. Job availability? Does the world need this career? Knowing what I know now, I’m going to pick this apart. We know now of people who are able to create jobs or forge their own career paths, unconventional, aside from the tried and true careers that other people have pioneered. How much experience those unique people have had working for other people, I can’t generalize or guess.
I do know that experience and world-savviness, and ability to find answers to questions, is essential if you want to overcome this hurdle. In other words, you can go the traditional route by choosing a career that other people have done before. You can also create a whole new career. This brings us back to problem #3.
See? You are indecisive, because you don’t have enough information. Well, here’s the kicker: one way to get information is through experience.
Neil Howe in Millennials Rising says that only about 5% find the perfect career match on the first try. What this should tell you is that if you’re indecisive, then simply find work.
I worked at pizza restaurants, movie theaters, temporary clerical services, and volunteered in different parts of the world before I even attempted my first teaching job. In the meantime, I also played music wherever I could. I taught private lessons to whomever would take from me.
I then taught for 10 years, got married, had kids, and what am I doing now? I’m a writer. As I look back, that was not what I thought I’d be doing. But you know what? A writer can change the world.
Basically, the gist of this advice is to be prolific. What is it that I can do now with the information I have? Chances are your career path will change.
On the Future
Hey, Past Self, you don’t have to be wishy-washy like I was. You can be more informed, more prepared, more equipped with information that I didn’t have or was too lazy to get.
Come with me for just a bit to my time and I’ll introduce you to the Internet. The information available to you now is staggering and often overwhelming. What was available in the past, when I was young, doesn’t compare to today. Resources for looking at college are now multiplied exponentially. There’s a lot of good information, but also a lot of not-so-helpful information out there.
Here are 2 websites I found that have activities to help you fill that gap of not having enough information:
I hope that I’ve been able to narrow things down a bit, and get you to thinking about important issues when deciding your path in career. And more specifically, in LIFE in general.
Decisions, decisions, decisions. Good luck. Have a good life.
Now the Real Trip Begins
My little time travel trip is over. Thankfully, I still exist in the present, and no major time-space flux has caused my non-existence.
I hope you’re able to use these stories to help your own students with career path decisions. Just remember that the driving force in all decision making, whether in life or career, is that list of values that we talked about. That list will change over time. I advise students to make that list first, post it on the bedroom wall, and revisit it daily.
One final word about models. Students should have people in their lives that challenge them and hold them accountable. These are people who will offer questions and share their experiences—those mentors and models. Those who have gone before us can help us obtain our best selves. Be one of those, if you can.