Why Is Career Decision-Making Still So Difficult?
November is Canada Career Month. This year, the theme is it’s possible. This month, CPC’s News Feed is featuring a series of posts that builds on that theme. We believe it’s possible to create a bright future. Maureen McCann shares some ideas for helping young people embark on their bright career paths — starting with how we can make career decision-making less of a challenge.
What do an Olympic gold medal diver, a lawyer, a political philosophy professor, and an HR professional all have in common? These are a few of the career paths I considered between the ages of 8-28. I was dead wrong about all four and, still, here I am loving my career. Recently, I’ve wondered why — with more tools and resources than ever before available to young people — career decision-making is still so difficult?
What Makes Career Decision-Making Difficult for Young People?
It would be impossible to offer just one reason, but I’d like to share some of the challenges identified by seven amazing young women met through Plan International Canada’s Girls Belong Here program. As part of the program, CPC hosted an Innovation Hub — Paving the Way for Youth — where the participants gave us some valuable input about their experiences in the area of career decision-making.
In our discussion, the young women shared their thoughts and feelings about the pressure of choosing a field of study. They admitted they felt a certain heaviness, stress, anxiety, and fear that comes with making “the right choice.” And we (society, parents, teachers) aren’t making it any easier for them. In fact, the myth that students should choose one path to set them up for success in life is still alive and well.
“[Career development] is something we should be learning much earlier and working our way up to it by the time we’re prepared to get into the workforce,” said one of the participants.
Youth are provided with an overwhelming number of resources, but little-to-no footing, grounding, or experience on which to base decisions, so they rely heavily on parents, teachers, and mentors for advice and guidance. What these groups of people may not realize is how much influence they can have on a person’s interest in pursuing one career over another.
Another participant shared that she learned to listen to her inner guide. “[I learned to] not listen to other people and their opinions, but choose what’s right for me…” She trusts her inner guide to lead her to a career (or careers) that will make her happy because it is her personal decision.
Still, there is tremendous pressure from parents, teachers, and even friends to choose ONE field of interest as if choosing a career in high school is a singular event to which you are married for life.
With little to no experience in the world of work, how can we be placing so much pressure on young people to get it right?
Asking young people to choose one career path for the rest of their life is like:
- Asking a 12 year old to choose a wine based on reading literature and having no experience tasting wines.
- Asking a 15 year old to play a World Series Championship game having read all the statistics and data about baseball, but having never picked up a bat.
- Asking an 18 year old to paint a masterpiece having read all about the great painters of the Renaissance, but having never placed a brush stroke on a canvas.
It’s in the experience that we learn to lean towards things we enjoy and away from things that spark no interest.
What Did the Survey Say?
Last month I conducted a survey on LinkedIn. I asked: Do you still work in the field you chose in high school?
Of the 4,000 people who answered the poll, just over 20% work in the field of study they chose when they were in high school.
Based on my conversations with young people, that’s not what they’re hearing. They’re hearing about the importance of getting the right credits, to get the right grades, to get into the right programs, or else!
Or else what?!
What came out of our Innovation Hub discussion was the realization that many of us do not have a direct career path. We dabble here and there searching for the right blend of things that create a rewarding, fulfilling career.
Career development professionals are living proof of this. Very few of us started out as career professionals. Many of us came to this field as paraprofessionals.
How Can We Can Help?
- Let’s start educating our kids about career development at an early age.
- Let’s empower high school students on a journey of self discovery.
- Let’s encourage exploration and establish ways to have youth examine and experience careers before being asked to make decisions.
- Let’s stop perpetuating the myth that college and university is the only pathway to a good-paying job.
- Let’s examine and promote the myriad of pathways available to young people today.
- Let’s reduce the stress for students.
We know there are many ways to travel from Ottawa to Toronto (you can travel direct, take the scenic route, the train, airline, bus, etc.). Just like a trip between cities, there are formal and informal education pathways to a great career! Think college, university, gap years, experiential, co-op. There’s job search, volunteering, entrepreneurship, thought leadership, networking, community experience, and exposure.
There’s no one path that suits everyone!
In Summary: How Do We Change the Career Decision-Making Narrative?
Making career decisions doesn’t have to be this challenging for young people. Let’s find ways to support them, encourage them, and empower them to follow what feels right.
Let’s spread the word so other youth worried about choosing “the right career” begin to realize that career development is about lifelong learning and not about staying true to a singular, binding decision made as a teenager.
Let’s remove the pressure from the pressure cooker, begin having conversations about discovery and exploration, and begin to examine, taste, and experience how amazing and wonderful the world of work can be. Let’s share more REAL stories about our career journeys instead of discussing “ideal” scenarios with those preparing to step into their own career paths.
Maureen McCann is a fierce advocate of career development, committed to preparing Canadians for the future of work. Founder of Promotion Career Solutions, she is one of Canada’s top executive résumé writers with 15-plus years’ experience teaching, mentoring, and facilitating career development. She is a senior board advisor to Career Professionals of Canada and an active member of both the Canadian Council for Career Development Outreach & Advocacy Committee and the Canadian Career Development Foundation’s National Stakeholder Committee.
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