Reasons Why Young People Struggle to Find a Successful Career

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In my work, I encounter many youth struggling to find a successful career direction. In this situation, I am not talking about finding and obtaining the right job. Finding and obtaining the right job involves a successful job search strategy. I am talking about choosing the right job. From my perspective, finding a job and choosing a career are entirely separate aspects. Let me explain.

I remember one very specific call. The client was a younger individual who had just finished completing her teaching qualifications. She recently started a teaching position, providing high school instruction to youth. During the call, she very definitively stated that she hated it. I asked her why and oddly enough, she mentioned that a lot of the kids were “unmotivated”. We spoke for a while longer and discovered that she could not quit the position, due to a large outstanding student debt. She was clearly upset and frustrated with her job but was forced to stay in it. This young person found a job but chose the wrong one. Since then, I have encountered many young people who have taken the wrong programs, have completely switched their majors or struggled to establish a strong and successful start to their career. Needless to say, this is detrimental to their career progress, not to mention very costly.

Generally, many early job seekers and young people fail to consider the many career options that are available to them. Many students identify careers that easily come to mind that they might enjoy and pursue them. However, there is no career development process, strategy or deeper exploration. Without deeper exploration, students can make very erroneous decisions. At the same time, all the many job possibilities can be overwhelming, as there are a seemingly infinite number of career choices. There are many reasons why people struggle to get a strong foothold when beginning their career. These need to be considered, if they are going to get a strong start in their career. If you are a younger person, you need to understand the 4 following major factors that will greatly impact your important career decisions.

Influence and Impact of others

Students are typically surrounded by a network of people who significantly impact and influence their career choices. I have spoken to many young people who have been influenced by those closest around them. These individuals can include parents, family members, teachers, counselors, mentors and friends. In general, most of these people are very supportive in a person’s life. Research supports this. Studies have found that these individuals can positively influence a students’ education and career decision making. An American study discovered that family members were the greatest source and had the highest percentage of influence on a student’s career decision. Teachers were cited as the next group, for influencing a student’s decision. The last source of influence was school counsellors.

Indeed, there are many students that follow their parents’ recommendations, generally finding work in the career fields that their parents wanted for them. For students making a critical career decision, it can be difficult to separate what people in their close network want for them and the career they would like to choose for themselves. This difficulty in separation comes from a process termed internalization. Internalization happens when values, patterns or beliefs within oneself are acquired through learning or socialization, as conscious or subconscious guiding principles. Both children and youth have a strong tendency to internalize career values from others around them, especially their parents. As such, the influence of others can hinder a student’s ability to envision their own distinct career path or independently choose their career direction. As a young person, you will need to take the required time to adequately reflect, meditate and plan your own career choices, separate from those around you.

No Direct “Real-World” Experience

There’s a saying I typically mention to clients that I serve, and it’s, “Passion cannot be discovered through thought.” I will use my own personal experience to explain. When I left high school, I wanted to go into aerospace engineering, as I enjoyed the sciences, especially physics. I imagined myself designing and building really cool jet fighters. I knew very little about the engineering field before I got into my program, and I failed to account for one major factor. Everything in engineering revolved around design, drafting and mathematics. There was a lot of math equations! It was only when I faced the non-stop daily grind of performing seemingly endless chemical, math and physics equations and problems that I thought, “Woah, enough!” In high school, I studied many other subjects, and had not experienced the intensity of mathematics and sciences every day, until I got into my program.

Real passions do not evolve out of thoughts, they are a product of experiences. Most people have tendencies to “think” about their passions, instead of taking direct action and trying something new. We habituate our minds to analyze, rationalize and figure things out. However, this is the main reason why many people buy exercise machines that eventually end up sitting in a corner of their homes. The thought of looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger is exciting and great, until a person has to put in the consistent and hard work to develop a body like Arnold. Finding a successful career is about directly immersing yourself into many experiences, actually trying them. Without tangible and concrete knowledge, you will not know what you are truly passionate about and love.

If you are early in your career, it’s well worth to try as many activities as possible, gaining direct experiences. Participate in volunteer work, additional training, hobbies and leisure activities, along with joining internships and extracurricular activities.

No Priorities; Not Knowing What’s Important.

Ask yourself this question, “Have I identified, planned and taken real action on a really important goal that will move my career in a positive direction, significantly moving it forward within the next year?” Unfortunately, when I ask this question to clients, it’s a very difficult one to answer. Most people have a tendency to choose jobs and centre their career around immediate and personal circumstances and situations. People’s careers can be very reactionary. In the case of younger people, the main reactionary situation in their lives is leaving high school. When school ends, they are forced to make very quick and pressured decisions about what career they want. This time crunch can be very challenging, because how does one choose quickly? It can take time to get to an understanding of what’s going to be important in the next 5, 10 or even 20 years into the future, as priorities constantly evolve. As a young person, it is critical to take the time, energy and effort to define what you want and what you consider a successful career. Create, develop and work on a career vision for yourself. Otherwise, like many people, you could end up stuck in job that you seriously dislike and even hate, while become so immersed, it will be difficult to pivot or change career direction.

Your Own Psychology

Career decision making is one of most important aspects of career development, even perhaps the most critical. Unfortunately, despite people’s best efforts, they make wrong choices. These errors in decision making are less about intelligence and being “smart”, as opposed to knowing how your mind specifically operates and the types of operational processes that are integrated into the decision-making process.  

Heuristics are processes by which humans use mental short cuts to arrive at decisions. They are strategies that are part of the operational processes of the mind, being incorporated when making judgments, evaluating decisions and finding solutions. These processes are used to find answers that are most likely to be correct. However, they are not always right or even the most accurate.

There are many different types of heuristics. However, I will provide an example of one specific type, termed the Representativeness Heuristic. This heuristic was first researched by psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in the 1970s. Like other types of heuristics, making judgments based on representativeness is intended to operate as a mental shortcut.  However, it can lead to significant errors. In a classic experiment, Tversky and Kahneman gave research participants a description of a person named Tom W. They described him as orderly, detail-oriented, competent, self-centered, with a strong moral sense. Participants were then asked to determine Tom’s college major. The researchers found that the description led them to use the representativeness heuristic, resulting in the belief that Tom was an engineering major. This of course were only the perceived conclusions drawn by the participants, and occurred, despite the fact that there was a relatively small number of engineering students at the school where the study was conducted.

Heuristics can lead many people to false conclusions about certain occupations, influencing critical career decisions. We all have opinions, perspectives and judgements about specific types of jobs. However, your own psychology and thought processes will greatly impact your decisions. These decisions will eventually lead to significant career consequences. An effective educational planning and career development process can help you to make more accurate career judgements and conclusions. It supports by enhancing your awareness when using heuristics, incorporating deeper reflective processes and applying greater logic and rationality. Overall, it will be beneficial for you to gain a deeper understanding of your career decision-making process and own psychology.

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