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Career Development – Understanding the meaning

Career Choice and Identity.

Choosing a career is one of the most profound decisions that a person makes in his/her young life.  It is often a choice fraught with anxiety and contradiction.  While the processes preparing for this choosing can be both satisfying and exhilarating, they can also lead to students feeling vulnerable, confused and inept.

This is because choosing a career is not really about choosing a career. Instead, it is about the creation of IDENTITY.

Choosing a particular pathway necessarily involves a person having to define herself.  And defining ourselves is a multi-faceted, topsy-turvy, non-linear process of searching for our “possible selves”.  It is this complexity in how we define ourselves that makes choosing a career (and all of the attendant decisions leading to that) so problematic.  All of us are deeply influenced by the modelling that we have received in our lives and by the different groups that we are born into, or grow to belong to, through our gender, ethnicity, nationality, culture, religion, sexual orientation, family structure, family dynamics, loss, trauma, grief, love relationships and bonding.

And the mid-adolescent stage is only the beginning of our human process of “individuating”, which requires that we recognise the influences which have moulded us and which have created our unique value system and worldview. We have to recognise who we are as human beings and as learners.  We have to recognise what we like to learn and how we like to learn and, eventually, why we like to learn what we do.

In developing the ability to step outside ourselves and to become self-aware, we also need to be able to articulate our self-understanding to others.  The complexity of this process is often not understood when a Vertical Form teacher innocently asks a Year 11 student to identify their goals for next year!

Maturity and Self-Awareness

 Although many students at our school do have this level of maturity and self-awareness to be able to profitably explore subject selection packages which underpin tertiary degrees or diplomas or trade qualifications, many students do not.  While many of our students are ready to begin choosing their tertiary education providers and the geographic places where they would like to learn and are even ready to choose specific careers, many students are not.

Some of our students have no clear view of the requirements of citizenship or parenting and are not practised in assuming responsibility.  They have not yet begun to think of themselves as people who will soon function in an adult world and they may have a limited understanding of the value of the world of work. Some have never had the chance to grow their self-affirmation through striving to succeed in a self-set goal or by working in a successful team endeavour or by accomplishing a skill previously viewed as outside their comfort zone.  So these students are truly not ready emotionally for career decision-making. These students need the safety of nurturing and boundaries and the opportunities to seek responsibility and to catch themselves doing something capably, before they can seriously choose careers.

Ironically but not surprisingly, it is sometimes, therefore, the world of work, which provides what school cannot.  Through opportunities for work exploration leading to actual work experience, students can move forward and closer to readiness to define self and to choose careers.  Work and non-paid work experience offer students significant learning opportunities which contribute to the development of a self-concept of competence and perhaps even into contemplation of “possible selves”. 

Gifted students or bright individualists can also struggle with decision making because, however self-aware and mature these students are, the process of choosing one’s identity, through choosing what one might “do” or “be” in the world, can still be daunting.  For these students, this may be because making choices means choosing some roles over others, which means eliminating some other choices and therefore closing off or limiting other possibilities.  Therefore, some students have a negative approach to career choosing because they associate it, not with possibility, but with limitability.