Updated: Feb 21
The first rule of career planning: Do not plan your career; especially when you’re still in school and haven’t gathered enough data on yourself and the world.
This might seem counter-intuitive as everyone is probably telling you to pick a path and lock in your study and work plans for when you leave school.
But as you read in our future of work post, the world is an incredibly complex place and careers are changing faster than educators can inform young students.
In my own experience, I had no idea careers in data science and artificial intelligence were a possibility when I was in school or uni. And if I had stuck to my original plan of being an actuary, I would have either been miserable in a career I didn’t enjoy or I would have still been stacking shelves at my local supermarket.
So what can you do instead of planning your career?
There are 2 parts:
Get to know yourself
Prototype different paths
1) Get to know yourself
It seems like an obvious and even an unnecessary statement: know thyself. Isn’t everyone experts in knowing themselves?
We all know what our favorite colour is, what our favorite food is and what we like on our pizza and absolutely despise. However, when it comes to our self-awareness around our careers, we could all use a little help.
There are 3 key ingredients that help us get to know ourselves when it comes to our careers:
Ready to get started?
Exercise 1: Write down a few words for each question below in the boxes
Your Interests: What do you enjoy doing and talking about the most? What do you do without anyone telling you to do it? What fascinates you?
Your Skills: What are your strengths? What comes to you naturally? What do other people thank you for?
World needs: What do you think the world needs? What are local or global issues you care about? Which jobs do you want to see more of in the world?
Exercise 2: Find the common links between your answers
Try and find as many links as possible and draw lines, highlight in the same colours, whatever works for you.
For example, I’ve found common links between my interests and skills in technology and health. I’ve also found common links between my interests and what the world needs around mental wellbeing and using technology for good.
Exercise 3: Come up with 3 different statements based on the common links you found in Exercise 2 using this template:
I want to be the kind of person who helps _____________ (3)
by bringing together my interests in _____________ (1)
and my skills in _____________ (2)
For example, I want to be the kind of person who helps improve others well-being by bringing together my interests in psychology and my talents in problem solving.
Or I want to be the kind of person who helps solve social problems using AI by bringing together my interests in technology, and my skills in problem solving.
Or I want to be the kind of person who helps fight poverty by bringing together my interests in health and my skills in problem solving.
Make sure you come with at least 3 lives here. This highlights a really key factor in designing your career: it’s possible to have many successful careers over your lifetime. In fact, the average 15 year old in Australia is likely to have 5 different careers in their lifetime.
Well done on making it this far... here'a 2 minute distraction :)
Okay back to work!
2) Prototype different paths
The fastest way of knowing whether the life you’re chosen suits you is to go out and try it. This might seem like common sense but 1 in 5 students going to university will drop out and 1 in 3 will change their degree. Source. This is because the path they had chosen was not what they thought.
In business, when a company wants to invest a large amount of time or money on a new project, they will typically use a technique called prototyping to assess whether it’s worthwhile going ahead.
So what is prototyping?
Prototyping is simply testing an idea to determine whether it’s worth pursuing further. It allows us to quickly assess an idea, learn from feedback and adjust course if needed.
For example, Google decided to build a working version of Google Glass in just 1 day to test the feasibility of building the final product.
In the context of choosing a career, the majority of students choose degrees spanning 3-7 years and costing $30,000-$70,000+ without knowing if they're making the right decision. They simply don't have enough data to know.
Here's how to fix this problem...
Exercise 1: Take one of your multiple lives statements and write down: What are some ways you can try out your chosen life in the next month?
Just like dipping your toes in the water before you dive in, what are some things you can do to test out your chosen life?
For example, you might have chosen a life where you’re helping bring joy to people through food using your skills in creativity and interests in cooking. Some actions you can take in the next month to test out this life might be:
Create your own recipe from scratch
Cook for your friends and family
Volunteer at your local homeless shelter's kitchen
Speak to local restaurant about getting work experience
Exercise 2: Speak to others who are currently living the life you want
For those who want a faster route to experiencing their chosen life, this one is for you. There's not many shortcuts in life but this is certainly one of them. By speaking to others who are already doing what you want to do, you can get insights that would have taken you years to learn by yourself.
So how do you find these people?
Reach out through people you know - we all have at least 100+ Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin friends. Each one of those has at least another 100+ connections, so you, yes you, have at least 10,000 people just one phone call away. Reach out and ask friends and family whether they know anyone doing what you're interested in. There is bound to be someone who can guide you in the right direction.
Look outside your network - if you're looking a nuclear physicist and no one in your network comes close, then it's time to branch out. Google the job title your're interested + your location. e.g. "Data Scientist, Sydney". Better yet, use a dedicated professional network like Linkedin to quickly find exactly who you're looking for.
Once you find 3-5 people living your chosen life, it's time to politely ask for their time. Here's a great template for asking for someone's time.
When you do get through to them, you want to ask your burning questions first. What do you really want to know about your chosen life?
"What are your daily activities? What are the best/worst parts of the job? Did anything surprise you about this career path? What are the study pathways? What advice do you have for a younger person entering this field?"
You'd be amazed how many people would want to help you. Try it and see for yourself. 😊
So start today, what can you do to try out your chosen life?
If you needed some motivation to take that first step: