Can you remember what you were wearing when you were 18? For just any one who’s 18 year-old self exists only in memory, you may very well have cringed at that question. As we get older, the ideas that seemed good when we were young often fail to last the test of time. In many cases this isn’t necessarily a big deal; we can laugh off questionable haircuts and the odd impulsive romance, but decisions that last into later life are another beast entirely! For a lot of people, the first major decision they will make in life is choosing a career as they graduate from school. In many cases, this can involve further study at TAFE, university, or a training provider. Not only does further education require a significant time commitment, but also a significant financial commitment. Making such an important decision, and one that can have long-term consequences, at a time in our lives where we are at our most impulsive can be a recipe for disaster. Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a teenager who would admit it, we are still really finding our feet in the world by the time we finish school. With the exception of a couple of days of work experience, and maybe a part-time job here or there, we don’t really have much experience of the working world. And yet, we are expected, or at least feel that we are expected, to be able to make a lasting decision about what we want to do in life. For a lucky few, the matter was settled in primary school (e.g., fire-fighters, astronauts, and race car drivers…). For most of us, we had about as much idea about what we want to do in life as we did then about variable-rate home loans. Unfortunately, many people who commit to further study won’t realise if they’ve made the right decision or not until they graduate and enter the workforce. Choosing a university degree, for example, can be a way of avoiding the uncomfortable thought that we don’t really know what we want to do. By heading to lectures and sitting exams, we are actually just maintaining what has been the status quo for most of our lives: being in school. I have two friends who both realised after graduating from uni that they’d made a wrong-turn when choosing a career. Both had to return to square one and start all over again. Starting study before figuring out what you want to do can put at risk of wasting time and money investing in a future that you haven’t really thought through. My friends lost two and four years and tens of thousands of dollars. Others have to wait even longer before they realise their mistake. These people suffer through the awkward first few years when just about everyone feels uncomfortable in their job before understanding that it’s not just early career jitters, this isn’t actually what they want to do in life. A few decades ago, the thought that you could change careers was uncommon. People took jobs in early adulthood, kept them, and retired after decades of service to the one company with a gold watch. The prevailing belief at the time was that money motivates, and a job was something that provided you with financial security, and that was enough. Times have changed though, and more and more people are interested in the non-monetary aspects of their job. We understand now that people are more motivated (and satisfied) in their jobs if they enjoy what they do and feel it makes and important contribution to the lives of others. The question what do I want to do in life is something most teenagers are poorly equipped to answer on their own because their sense of who they are is still developing. Biology has given us a really effective decision-making machine (our brain), but it can only make quality decisions if it’s given quality raw materials. These materials are hard to collect sitting in a classroom, thinking about your crush sitting two rows in front. Just like learning to drive a car (another challenge teenagers face), we need someone to help us when we are choosing a career. The obvious choice might seem to be family members, but you’d be mistaken. Parents in particular can have quite strong opinions on what their children should do. Often these opinions are formed without input from anyone else, which means they are unlikely to reflect the hopes, dreams, and ambitions of the most important person involved. A better solution is to talk with a professional career counsellor (as opposed to a school career counsellor). These people can help you reframe the decision from what should I do to what do I want to do. While this might take more time to answer, it is much more likely to produce an outcome that you will be comfortable with in the long-term. Evidence from psychology shows that enjoying what you do leads to an increase in career satisfaction, and a decrease in job strain. Research also shows that people who undergo career planning are more likely to experience success in their careers. The chances of making good a long-term decision increases when there is a clear strategy behind it. Spending the time to talk with someone who has an objective perspective can help you to identify what your goal state is. Once this has been identified, then it becomes a process of planning out the necessary steps to achieve it. Once you have a clear and well thought-out idea of what your goal is, you can tether yourself to it to make sure that you’re always working towards it. By losing sight of our goals, or failing to really develop a good idea of what they are, we can find ourselves in a position where we are scratching our heads thinking what the hell am I doing? Developing a plan for your career can help you maintain progress towards, and motivation for, your goal. It’s like planning a holiday – think about where you want to go, and then start looking at flights and hotels. A travel agent, like a career counsellor, can help you through the process of comparing different options to make sure that the end result lives up to your expectations. Jumping into a career without this planning then is like jumping on an international flight without knowing the destination. It might be exhilarating and exciting in the short-term, but what if you were relocating for the long-term? For those entering the workforce, retirement can be up to four decades away. How you spend your time working between now and then can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. Sitting down with a career planner is an excellent way to make sure that you get off on the right foot. By Sally Healey  Kuron, L., Lyons, S., Schweitzer, L., & Ng., E. (2015). Millenials’ work values: Differences across the school to work transition. Personnel Review, 44., 991-1009.  Graves, L., Ruderman, M., Ohlott, P., & Weber, T. (2010). Driven to work and enjoyment of work: Effects on managers’ outcomes. Journal of Management, 38, pp. 1655-1660.  Ng, T., Eby, L., Sorensen, K., & Feldman, D. (2005). Predictors of objective and subjective career success: A meta-analysis. Personnel Psychology, 58, pp. 367-408.
- Published: 09 Dec 2016