“When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
I love visiting with high schoolers and college students about their career plans. It takes me back to when I walked in their shoes. I remember feeling excited, confused, and a little bit anxious, but stayed positive for the most part. Eventually I found my way, but it was a circuitous path that taught me a lot about life and myself.
Some of my mentees are quite certain of their career interests and have laid out detailed plans to get there. (I’m the first to affirm them, but also let them know it’s okay if they change their mind as many often do.) However, most of my conversations go something like this:
Me: So, what career or major are you considering?
Them: My parents want me to take up ____. My dad (or mom) has had a great career in it. But my friends think I should go into ____. My school counselor has even different ideas. It’s confusing.
Me: So, what do you think?
Them: (Anxious pause) I don’t know yet.
Several things always strike me about these exchanges. One is how often they focus on what others think, rather than themselves. Two is the depth of anxiety, doubt, and pressure they are feeling about their future career. And, three, they are making this critical decision without the benefit of self awareness. They’re shooting in the dark, and it’s a shame. In fact, earlier this year, Gallup released the results of its survey of college graduates and found that an alarming 40% of Bachelor’s Degree recipients now regret their choice of major! 40%!!! Fortunately, there is a better way!
Just as when we build our dream house, good career planning begins with a solid foundation. In this case, it is a foundation built on the understanding of self—knowing who we are, how we are gifted with unique talents, experiences, and attributes, and what we’re interested in and passionate about. The who, what, and why… of us! If we don’t fully understand ourselves first, finding a career that fits is a random exercise, at best.
Career assessment surveys are indeed helpful, but tend to focus on skills and interests rather than the complete picture of self. As such, we encourage educators, mentors, and parents to take a broader view.
At LifeSmart, we take a holistic approach to self assessment that helps students discover the unique value (assets) they have to offer to this world. It considers a wide range of asset categories that builds self confidence, a sense of identity, and inspires a healthy life vision. Here is an abbreviated summary of some of the asset groups we believe are essential for career and life readiness training:
- Foundational Assets:
- Physical: strength, speed, agility, endurance, dexterity, vocal, visual, auditory, sport-specific, appearance
- Mental: intelligence, aptitudes, analytical ability, reasoning, creativity, conceptual thinking, intuition, memory, concentration, subject specific
- Behavioral: personality (pace and people/task focus), attitude, social attributes, outlook, emotional intelligence, communication, productivity, soft skills
- Spiritual: faith, values, inspirational experiences, encouragement
- Aspirational Assets:
- Experiential: credentials (academic, career, skills, service), life experiences, leadership, perspective
- Interests: knowledge pursuits, recreation, leisure, industry, activities, entertainment, travel, nature, spiritual life, creative arts, social
- Passions and Dreams: desires, causes, purpose, personal and professional goals, bucket list items
Knowing that self awareness comes through self discovery and affirmation from others (note parents!), we’ve developed a personal leadership assignment you can access here. It not only helps identify your unique assets/strengths, but it also captures the invaluable perspectives of others who know you well and have your best interests at heart. This is a great personal leadership assignment that can be led by educators or parents. Be sure to explore other self awareness resources, too.
It’s important to remember that some of these assets will be used directly in our careers while others help in different arenas. Regardless, by taking an inventory of our unique assets, personal nature, and desires, we’re much better equipped to select a great career match that fits us like a glove.
Successful people lead from their strengths, but first they have to know what they are. Help the students and children in your life understand their uniqueness and value. It’s one of the greatest gifts we can give—for their eventual career and for all of life.