Looking back, thinking forward: Finding your career path

Looking back, thinking forward: Finding your career path

Whilst we often think about where we want to be in the near future or by the end of the year or within a few years, it’s often hard to come up with a clear vision. So let’s look back and see what we can learn.

Think about yourself. What career did you have in mind at 20? Did that change by the time you were 25? Let’s think about what we would change if we could wind the clock back.

Some people suggest that we write to our younger selves. Few of us experience epiphanies at 16, 22 or even 50. Those who do are already making (and perhaps in the process of losing) their first fortune. Some of us look back and think “yes, but I would do it the same way again”. Others regret not listening to useful advice at that time, or noticing key experiences that were already signalling a fundamental shift in direction. You may have been gripped by a career choice that propelled you for some years. Some of us floundered about awhile or even made monumental mistakes. But all the mistakes, or time wasting can help us as we go forward if we look back and learn from our past, rather than lazily repeat history.

If you’re at the young end of those reading this, my advice is simple: keep an open mind (and eyes and ears). Even if you’ve found what you’d like to do, it will not stay immutable. Be glad that your instincts (and perhaps Lady Luck) guided you this far, but make mental preparation for the day when things change – as they will. 

What about if you’ve got into the wrong stream? You’ll know because there’s that inner nudging – “this doesn’t feel right, get off this track”. It may take the form of people nagging you (not just your loved ones) or it could manifest as a low-level unease with your current situation. If you’re uncertain, take a leap and try some different avenues. Leaping into the uncharted waters will always teach you something, both about the industry you’re exploring and yourself. Don’t underestimate the power of chance encounters –­ go out and do.

If you’re older, it may be less that you should write to your youthful self, and more about contemplating where you are now.  

You may or may not have a family of your own, be with / no longer with / without someone, currently employed / retrenched / without work. You may rightly feel you’re doing as well as can be expected. Or possibly you’ve spent years working with not much to show for it? That could well be the case, but it is never too late to correct a “wrong” path. 


Strategies to consider


Keep an open mind. If you don’t yet have hobbies or skills that can be turned to a new source of income, then what about spending the next few month researching widely and considering where the new growth areas and blooming industries might be? You don’t have to become Mr or Ms Geek just because everything’s digital. You’ll need income while you study, so be willing to temporarily “trade down” if necessary. 

Find and listen to interesting people. Go online or in person to hear interesting people speak, where possible. TED Talks are brilliant for inspiration – and they’re free. Everyone needs to get beyond their immediate circle of friends and advisers, and head to less familiar territory. Find biographies of those you admire – contemporary and historical. There may be one small thing you read that sparks a new direction. Ask friends you respect what non-fiction books they are reading and what they get out of them. Watch international documentaries where you can learn and grow.

Read and discuss. There’s a wealth of information there, often overlooked. Explore groups and topics being discussed on LinkedIn. You don’t need to get caught up in conversations that go nowhere or waste time. “Influencers” need not have their names in lights – it could simply be a thoughtful person you’ve heard interviewed on a particular topic.

Think about your future and plan ahead. Yes, of course it will change. You don’t have to be Warren Buffett in your ability to second-guess the job market. But with our economy fastening its seatbelt, your best advice to yourself is shoring up your financial, health and home prospects for you and your loved ones. There are many ways to achieve this (and an abundance of advice and information) so be proactive and responsible.  

Manage your life as you would with anything that you love and value. Make sure you are happy.

Eve Ash is a psychologist, author, filmmaker, public speaker and entrepreneur. She runs Seven Dimensions, a company specialising in training resources for the workplace.


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