Career Undecided? What To ‘Be’…


“So, what do you want to be ?”

“I don’t know.”

Does this sound familiar? Many of us live in developed countries where our occupational choices seem boundless. In fact many people will tell us we can be anything we put our minds to. The people who say this mean only the best for us, hoping to inspire in us the possibility of becoming whatever it is that would make us happy. I wonder though if these kinds of statements don’t somehow handicap many of the very people they are designed to help.

Think about it… if you can be anything you put your mind to, is being a Cashier in a grocery store, a Roofer or a Bell Hop in a hotel going to be enough? Furthermore, if you can be anything in the world you put your mind to, how many occupations do you even know about, and do you know enough about them to make such a momentous decision?

For many of us, it’s during high school when we are about 14 or 15 years old that we start getting asked to seriously think about our long-term careers. We’re told we’ve got to choose between college and university level courses, and getting into one or the other is dependent on the marks we get, and our career choices will largely be determined on which of the two we choose to pursue. The third option of course is to go to neither college nor university and get out into the world and start working at 18 without that post-secondary education.

Two thoughts I have; do young teenagers have the wisdom and knowledge to even make intelligent choices given their limited exposure to occupations, and do high school faculty know enough of the individual student to really know how to best advise them?

I think it would be interesting to sit down with a class of teens and have them individually write down all the careers they have both heard of and believe they have a good understanding of what it is those people actually do in those jobs. How many – or how few would the jobs be that they could intelligently write down and therefore know enough about in order to decide if that job was a potential career choice for themselves?

One big advantage that young people have today over young people back in the 1980’s is the development of technology. The internet has done wonders for bringing young people into contact with a much broader exposure to jobs and the people who hold them both locally and around the world. So without knowing it, many teens may be lying on their beds surfing the net and without intending it, learning about various occupations around the globe when they check out their social media pages, read posts from others or browse items of interests. So you might envision some grandfather asking his teenaged daughter what she wants to do in life and get the reply, “I’m thinking a Marketing Specialist in the Experimental Film Industry sounds interesting.”

Of course, many middle-aged adults who are dissatisfied with their current occupations or whom are unemployed still haven’t figured it out. While a young teen may not know what they want to do in life, they have the great gift of time in order to do so. The older we get, the less time we have, and the biggest barrier to pursuing what we come to see as our dream jobs is the diminished time to get the education we’d need to compete for the job upon graduation. What a pity!

It’s true though isn’t it? I know if I met a 54 year-old who told me they finally figured out what would make them the happiest so they are heading back to school for 3 years, I’d be skeptical that an employer would hire a 57 year old applicant as their first choice in a field they have no direct experience in. Ah, but we can be whatever we want to be can’t we? Or is this sage advice reserved for the young or everyone else excluding ourselves? Is there some cut-off age where the advice changes to, “you can’t be anything you want anymore; you’re too old?”

One thing is absolutely true for young and old alike; if your dream job requires specialized education and training, the longer you delay getting that education and training, the less likely you will realize that dream. Or rather, the longer that dream will remain only a dream. If you want it bad enough, get out of your own way and go for it. The last thing you want to do is sit there in your rocker at 62 lamenting the dream you kept putting off that can no longer come true and spend the next 25 years living a regretful life.

If you’re not sure what you want to do, don’t sit on the sidelines and watch your life play out. Try some jobs, talk with people, browse the internet, read some biographies of people you admire open up a College or University website and check out careers. Take control of your life wherever you are in it and move from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat; adjust the mirrors and focus on the road ahead.

By the way, you’ll likely do a number of things over your lifetime, so give yourself a break and don’t worry about having a 45 year plan when you’re only 18!

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