Another year comes around and I find myself reflecting on our Year 12 group, about to rush out through the school gates. I have a few pointers that I would like to send them off with.
As we know we spend the majority of our lifetime at work. That’s why getting it right (not perfect) is so important. But it takes time to refine. I find the more experiences (not just jobs) we have throughout our lives; the more informed career decisions can be. This is something that every career advisor talks about to their students, particularly in application forms, resume creation, interview practice and thinking about the future. Experiences can be valuable lessons in teaching us what we like, what we are good at, and what we don’t like.
Kathryn Taylor, from Turning Point Consulting (and my careers hero) says “Take a chance by stepping out of your comfort zone, reaching for new opportunities and meeting new people. Whether it be a conversation, a casual or volunteer opportunity, or a work experience, gain real insight into different workplaces, their people and positions without judgement or assumptions.”
An important part of career-navigating can be to find out what you are good at – what works well for you – and link this to your values/interests. I wish I was told this when I left my school gates. Very often what we are good at, is what we enjoy, what feels natural, where we can flourish and also grow. I know a lot of people in roles that don’t excite them, and their days are not filled with much joy. When you can tap into the skills that you feel come naturally to you – that can be a great path to travel down. But it takes time, and feeds back into point number 1, the more jobs, experiences, opportunities and industries we get exposed to – the more likely we are to find them.
The ‘passion’ paradox
‘Do what you love and you will never work another day in your life’. I am not a big fan of this phrase. Firstly, I don’t think it’s always true. I have personal experience of the opposite. Secondly, it can sometimes be a difficult path, especially if there are issues with job prospects, job instability or a saturated market. Thirdly, other traits may be needed alongside that passion – such as tenacity, grit, determination, a thick skin and good old luck, timing, connections. You can be the most talented person, with buckets of passion, but without determination, that passion may not get you where you want to go. Lucy Sattler, Career Practitioner, from Study Work Grow – prefers the question ‘What problem would you like to solve?’ – that can show us where we want to put our energy into.
A more balanced approach could be to ensure that passion remains present throughout life. Keeping that passion alive is important. Whether it’s performing, music, drama, art, sports, academic pursuits, a hobby…the importance is to hold on to that passion. It could be as a hobby, a sideline, a potential future side-hustle, a future club to join, or an area you will want to be involved in. If you pursue it and turn it into your future career – then good on you! Just don’t feel under pressure to do so. And don’t feel bad if you have not found your passion, or ‘a’ passion. They can turn up at any stage. I have friends who have started new hobbies later in life, only to realise its been the best thing they have ever done, the joy of their week. Passions can change. Jim Bright, from Bright and Associates, creator of the Chaos Theory of Careers, talks about the ramifications of following your passion. Here is his article on the 12 things to consider when weighing up career options.
Sydney, oh Sydney
Studying and working in Sydney is an expensive pursuit. We know house prices are out of control, rents are rising and inflation is squeezing us all at every level. Over the last few years, I have heard more and more students not choosing teaching, nursing, social work and community services, due to the lower salaries. In short, and I can fully empathise with this, these salaries will not be able to sustain mortgages in one of the world’s most expensive cities. To be honest, there are not many professions nowadays that will. This is a very real concern for a lot of our young people. And I appreciate where they are coming from, as I am stunned each week with my growing grocery bill. But, we have to remember that what we study can stay with us for a long time into the future (particularly if we are professionally bound and it provides accreditation to a profession). Our jobs may move us around. Job mobility is high. People transfer, travel and globe trot. There are other cities in Australia, not to mention international opportunities. Keeping a wider lens can help when we consider the longer game.
Use your personality
Our personalities tend to remain a constant over time. Yes, people can change and I have no doubt that everyone leaving their school gates is going to grow immeasurably. But our personalities – our core – tend to remain the same. The extroverts at school tend to be extroverts as adults. Those really organised students. tend to make organised adults. The same for those that are funny, kind, bossy, empathetic, talkative, musical, creative, whingey…those traits tend to stay with us throughout our lifetime. How can we harness those traits – the positive ones – to aid our career? For me, when I was at school, I liked connecting and talking with others. And I liked being organised. I now use these traits every day in my job. Reflect on your own personality and think how can you use them to your advantage?
If school wasn’t for you…
What if you found school a bit confusing, a bit annoying, a bit tiring or a bit stressful? What if you felt like you didn’t really excel at anything or you never found your great strengths – like some of your friends did? You are not alone. Or what if you are the 20% of people that are neurodiverse and you felt that your learning profile did not blend well with the school system? School is not for everyone. But more so, the school system tends to test and appraise only a certain skillset. Your HSC and your ATAR only measures a small set of future skills you are going to use in your job, a very small set. Not to mention the fact that the HSC and ATAR are a measure at a point in time, they are not a future prediction. I know lots of people who got ATAR’s in the high 90’s who are not in particularly enjoying or fulfilling careers. And I know people in the exact opposite situation too, people who didn’t do very well at school who are now thriving in their careers. So it’s worth keeping it all in perspective.
Exams at the end of school in a lot of countries, do not measure abilities such as people skills, being a good team-player, being co-operative, being entrepreneurial, energetic, positive, and so on. This is important. If you felt school was a place where you did not excel or find what you were good at – there is a whole testing ground out there waiting for you. When future-You finds those great skills – and you will – use them to make strides in your career and use them in industries that really value them.
Keep on learning
Sue Ellson, careers development practitioner and careers expert, cites the most important thing you can do for your career is to ‘keep on learning’. I think no matter which direction your path takes, we can all learn from every success, failure, venture or new opportunity. We know that Artificial Intelligence is here to stay with unknowing possibilities. In a post-covid world, the nature of employment has also changed. Workers need to stay fresh, current and up to date with our changing environments. Learning new skills and knowledge has never been so easy. It can also be a great way to test an industry or academic area, without having to sign up for a whole degree. This is why sometimes doing a Diploma to test out a Bachelor degree, can pay dividends. Micro credentialing can be cheap and accessible. Not to mention the knock-on effect this has on recruitment software which can now bring the job opportunity directly to the candidate.
So, as we farewell the Class of 2023, and watch them head out of the school gates – we wish them all the best. Good luck. Have fun. Learn lots. Make lots of mistakes, learn from them, change directions often, meet a tonne of new people, have some adventures and enjoy all that is ahead.
And best wishes.