Reality Checks for Career Planning

Get in the Right Mindset

Ever feel like you’re expected to have your whole life all planned out by now? Early on, the pressure can be there to answer the question, “So, what do you want to be?” Well, guess what? It’s in your best interest to remain flexible and explore your options.

Stay Flexible

Here are some principles to help you keep things in perspective, whether you know exactly what you want to do, have some general ideas, or are still figuring things out.

You can’t plan your whole life ahead of time.

Have you ever heard someone say something like, “I fell into my career”? That’s because as important as planning and research are, chance still plays a role. Keep an open mind and learn to tolerate some degree of uncertainty.

You change over time.

As your life circumstances evolve—you get older, develop new insights—your feelings about what you want to do will evolve. You need to be able to reorient yourself when necessary.

The work world changes over time.

The job title webmaster didn’t even exist a generation ago. Developments occur so rapidly that the form a career takes now could be very different in a few years. It’s a balancing act. Keep track of your own changing wants while also keeping an eye on the horizon.

No job will be without some things that bug you.

Don’t fall into the trap of expecting to find the perfect career. Identify the elements of your ideal path, and then decide where you’re willing to compromise.

Satisfaction, not status, is key.

Many people feel pulled to a field that’s familiar, popular, or high status. You’ll be much happier and far more successful if you find something that relates to your own interests and strengths. Qualities that you take for granted can be valuable assets in many career fields.

So What Can (or Should) You Be Doing Now?

Okay, you don’t have to make a 10-year plan today. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start discovering what you’re passionate about. Here are some quick exercises to get going:

Write down 10 qualities that create a portrait of you.

Are you friendly, creative, impatient, silly? To test your list, ask yourself if your friends would recognize you from your description.

List five strengths and five weaknesses.

It’s probably obvious how your strengths can be used—look for careers that tap into them. But your weaknesses are important, too. Are there things you need to improve in order to reach a goal?

Describe three experiences that taught you something about yourself.

Identify the one that gave you the greatest sense of achievement or satisfaction and write a clear sentence that states why. Experience can teach us about ourselves and guide our life choices.

Make a list of 10 things that you’re passionate about.

What classes have been especially engaging? What activities pass the “time flies” test—where you’re so absorbed in something that you don’t even notice how much time is passing? This list of interests can become your springboard to careers.

Browse Major & Career Profiles.

What does an actuary actually do? Does the future look bright for architects? Imagine yourself in different roles as you research careers on collegeboard.com. The Major & Career Profiles cover over 300 careers, ranging from air traffic control and athletic training to veterinary medicine and Web design.

Remember, even if you know someone who has been certain since age seven that she wants to be a doctor, in reality, very few people know at a young age what they want to do or be. You have time to get to know yourself and find careers that fit.

Source: collegeboard.com

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